March Mayhem: Mayor 'Never Waste a Crisis' Oversees Chicago Free-Fall

The weekend chaos in the North Michigan Avenue area is likely to have a different impact on visitors to the city, and on businesses thinking of moving there or perhaps of leaving Chicago. The fear of random violence is higher in Chicago than in New York , Los Angeles, or Houston, the only other U.S. cities with over two million people.

The personal safety test may be the first test a city has to pass when people think of living there or visiting: is it safe? Last summer, a physician attending a convention in the city was brazenly attacked near his hotel on the North Side. Will that convention consider Las Vegas or Orlando next time around? Chicago has been losing convention business for decades, most of it relocating because Chicago’s union contractors have behaved as if extortion on exhibitors at McCormick Place is the way to conduct business.

Chicago only has so many police to go around -- around 13,000. If the Saturday night attacks are a sign that warm spring and summer nights will bring the attackers back to north-side streets, police patrols in high-visibility areas means fewer police to patrol the highest crime areas in other parts of the city, where most of the shootings and murders occur.

Ben Joravsky of the Chicago Reader confirmed the manpower shortfall:

"'The problem is there's not enough police on the street -- period,'" says one senior officer. "'I've been at this job for 20 years and it's never been this bad.'" Which another of his subjects connected to the idea of legitimacy:

“Hudson had never before seen such brazen defiance in the face of authority, but the incident was far from the first this summer in his corner of Logan Square, near Drake and Cortland. "The gangbangers will shoot off guns or keep us up late or break a window, and we'll call the police, and they're slow to respond," he says. "If they're openly defiant to police officers, how are ordinary citizens going to be safe? There's a loss of authority here."

By some estimates, there are twice as many police per resident in New York than Chicago. A major part of the difference is the ratio of street police to total force size in the two cities. New York is a wealthier city than Chicago, and has a city income tax, and a larger per capita tax base to support city services. New York has become one of the safest big cities in the world in terms of total crime, and America’s safest large city in terms of murder rate (e.g San Francisco’s murder rate is 60% higher than New York’s).

The perception that New York has become a safer city has led to the city’s reversing its population slide. It now has more people than it ever had. Chicago’s population has dropped by more than a fourth since its peak, and is still slipping. The stories of a soaring  murder rate coupled with assaults in the Gold Coast only reinforce the negative patterns already in play –that the state of Illinois and the city of Chicago are basically broke, and that everyone is fighting to protect their turf and unwilling to make any sacrifice for the greater good (witness the recent teachers' strike in reaction to an attempt by the mayor to lengthen the school day, which has been far shorter in Chicago than any other major city).

A few months back, there were stories about Rahm Emanuel’s political ambitions -- including perhaps a White House run. Given the mayor’s troubles and the city’s troubles the last year and a half, Rahm may want simply to run from Chicago.