Monday, October 17, 2011

Thomas Friedman puts on Rahm-colored glasses

Posted By on 10.17.11 at 12:15 PM

New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman

Is this a trend? The big guys from out east sweep through town, swoon with our mayors, then proceed to gloss over nearly every reality in the city.

The New Yorker did it with Daley. And now Thomas Friedman, the NYT's mustachioed pundit, has penned a column on Mayor Emanuel that reads like a long campaign flyer.

Friedman exalts Rahm's plan to "cut and invest" as a model for other cities. And the columnist points to two of the mayor's initiatives: the move to put more cops on the streets, and the push for a longer school day.

But if Friedman had stepped outside of City Hall on his visit and, say, picked up a few recent copies of the Reader, he might have seen a different picture.

Mick Dumke, for instance, on more police:

The number of police supervisors, administrators, and support staff shrank 14 percent between 2006 and 2010. In 2006, for example, the police department had 15 assistant superintendents, deputy superintendents, and assistant deputy superintendents on the payroll. By last fall there were only 9. Now there are 8.

Also, I’m not the first to note this, but of the 750 “additional” officers Emanuel claims to have mobilized, 500 were already on the street—working in special units created to move into high-crime areas as needed. These kinds of units are favored by many departments, in part because they’re viewed as more efficient and cost-effective. On the other hand, they also tend to know and engage people in the community less than traditional beat cops.



Ben Joravsky, on the longer school day:

The showdown over the longer school day comes in the midst of an ongoing tussle between the mayor and the teachers union over money. Teachers want to hold on to what they've got and the mayor wants to give them less, probably so he has more left over to spend on other things, like deals for cronies and contributors.

But don't let anyone fool you—this fight over the school day is not about kids. Fundamentally, it's not even about money. It's a political power play by a crafty mayor who's looking to undercut the teachers union, one of the few sources of potential opposition left in this town.

In Friedman's world, the budget hole in our schools arose solely from faculty greed. He praises Emanuel for going after city funds but refusing to raise taxes. "Every source of revenue has to be tapped," the columnist writes. Funny then, that he leaves out one rather infamous source of revenue—-one that remains frozen and removed from schools for 24 years and, incidentally, raises taxes.

Friedman could have talked to a Chicago cop or a schoolteacher or a parent — or he could have consulted James Warren, whose columns appear in our Sunday NYT, via the Chicago News Cooperative, and offer a more nuanced, complex portrait of how these policies are really playing out.

But no. He didn't.

Rahm's policies may be a good model for other cities. It'd be nice to see some journalism that digs into this question.

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