I wouldn’t actually call it an “election.” That would suggest there was more than one side who would benefit by a victory.
The truth, as it usually is, was a little more prosaic: the city of Chicago chose another politician to head up the corrupt Machine that has dominated politics in the Windy City for nearly 80 years. Former White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel became the city’s 46th mayor and first Jewish leader. He succeeds Richard M. Daley who, together with his father Richard J. Daley, ruled the city, the county of Cook, and the state of Illinois for all but 14 of the last 55 years.
The Machine is also known as the “regular Democratic Party.” There is nothing “regular” about it. It is an obscene blight on the idea of representative government and republican principles. The 95% Democratic vote cast last night are the kind of numbers Soviet leaders used to get in their “elections.” Hugo Chavez doesn’t do as well in his rigged contests.
The fact of the matter is, Chicago is held in thrall to a one-party dictatorship as firmly ensconced in power as any banana republic dictator. The enforcement mechanism is not an army or secret police (although the Machine has been known to play rough on occasion), but rather a network of ward bosses, corrupt businessmen, the odd mobster, and those who owe their livelihood to the party in power. The uniting expedient behind the Machine is money — taxpayers’ money — that is fleeced in many ways, both old-fashioned and novel.
The current Machine replaced the fractured ethnic amalgam of rancorous factions from the 1920s that was not only corrupt, but under the thumb of brutal, murdering gangsters. At least the new Machine had the decency to keep the gangsters off of the city payroll — most of the time — while assigning them a lesser role in the city’s hierarchy. Today, “the Organization,” as the mob is called, stays quietly in the background, sticking their fingers in several legitimate pies while generally refraining from carrying out their wet work inside the city limits. Today, most Chicago gangsters die in their beds or in prison.
Once Emanuel has his hands on the levers of Machine power, he is, in effect and for all practical purposes, Mayor for Life. The Machine may not have quite the influence it once had in that the mayor will not be able to crack his whip and have 13 subservient congressmen doing the bidding of a Democratic president as Daley the Elder could claim. But when it comes to elections — local, state, or national — the Machine is supreme. A steady flow of patronage jobs, city contracts, and outright bribes maintains the loyalty of ward bosses and ward heelers alike.
Challenges to Emanuel in the future will almost certainly be futile efforts by the few reformers who lack everything the Machine has in abundance: organization, money, and the will to intimidate all those who refuse to play ball. The meek and mild liberals, clustered around the University of Chicago where Barack Obama lived, don’t have the imagination, guts, or ruthlessness to put forth a credible alternative to Machine candidates. In the end, their forlorn hopes, placed on people like Barack Obama, are crushed when the candidates make a deal with the regular Democrats for higher office like the president, or fail miserably in gathering the support necessary for victory. In short, reformers are divided, argumentative, and politically naive — a combination that doesn’t give them much of a chance for power.