The Mayoral Sham | Letters | Chicago Reader

The Mayoral Sham 

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To the editors:

Make no mistake about it: David Moberg's "How's He Doing? A Daley Report Card" (February 22) was an important contribution to the stripping away of the layers of imagery and toady journalism which have conspired to portray the creeping social disaster of the elitist mayoral administration of Richie Daley as being instead a progressive and reform-minded administration--just the sort of R and R the doctor ordered for "Chicago."

In fact, Moberg was at his critical best when emphasizing the antidemocratic character of the Daley administration. "Unlike the Washington model of participatory democracy," he wrote, "the new Daley model of government calls for increasing centralization of power, less open government, less democratic participation, and a more tightly managed style of government. This new managerialism fits neatly with the demands of media-money politics and the growth coalition, which is tired of pesky grass-roots questioning about where public and private investment should go."

In other, franker words (and with apologies to John Jay): Those who own the city of Chicago ought to govern it. Being the essence of the Daley model of government, what is good for the elite and narrow band of interests that own Chicago must then be "good" for all. Moreover, when government serves the needs of those elite interests first and last, then it, too, must be a "good" government. A heck of a plutocracy, wouldn't you say?

On the other hand, three principal flaws ran throughout the whole of Moberg's text. In all fairness, they should be corrected.

(1) With regard to what is popularly known as the "Daley administration," no noun phrase in which the head noun refers to a real flesh and blood person named Richie Daley should ever be connected with a verb phrase that predicates mayoral qualities of any sort whatsoever to him. As Moberg himself pointed out, media-money politics are geared to creating an image called "Mayor Daley," and, secondly, to controlling the flow of information regarding that image--not the flow of information regarding a real flesh and blood person who may or may not really exist, and whose real life is the inessential part of the image-as-created.

Thus the noun phrase, "Mayor Daley," is a category mistake: What it really names are the elite groups running the Office of the Mayor from behind the image called "Mayor Daley." We can see this more clearly, for example, when we recall that although Richie Daley, the candidate, ran for mayor in early 1989 as an opponent of a third major airport; "Mayor Daley," that is, the elite groups which own Chicago and could therefore position themselves to profit from a third major airport, is now gung ho for it. But the important lesson here isn't that Richie Daley has somehow changed his mind. It's that Richie Daley simply doesn't matter and has little input, if any, into deciding who "Mayor Daley" is and what "he" stands for.

(2) The goal of media-money politics, as Moberg is keenly aware, is to disenfranchise the voters. Precisely this is what happened during the recent primary election, and will continue to happen, so long as media-money politics prevail.

Readers will recall that during the months leading up to the February 26 mayoral primary, Chicago voters had it drummed into their heads that the incumbent was a shoo-in for reelection, because he had no viable opposition (etc). In turn, the success that media-money politics had at getting this message out was reflected back to it by any number of opinion polls, the main purpose of which was to measure the success that money was having at drumming this message into the voters' heads. Throughout the first two years of the "Daley" administration, media-money politics has drawn a vicious circle, with the voters on the outside looking in. It has driven voters into a state of apathy (expressed by the drop-off in voter turnout from 1983 to 1991), and persuaded them to acquiesce to the reelection of the incumbent. Such is the rollback strategy of the money using the "Daley" image. The spirit of activism and democracy, which had but eight years before elected Harold Washington the mayor of Chicago, has been recaptured and returned to its master. In such a dreadfully antidemocratic condition, small wonder that Chicago's corrupt media would portray the "Daley" administration as the godsend they have. As with money, the media despise the people.

(3) Finally, it is often said that the "Daley" campaign and his press staff are skillful manipulators of the local media. Moberg also subscribes to this truism. However, nothing could be more false.

As was true of the national media's treatment of the "Reagan" administration, so is true of the local media's treatment of the "Daley" administration: the media have acted as de facto extensions of the "Daley" administration by allowing it to determine what they cover, and how they go about covering it. And though Lynn Sweet, Fran Spielman, Robert Davis, Thomas Hardy, and others, including the editorial boards of the Chicago Tribune and the Chicago Sun-Times, most of the rotating cast of Joel Weisman's Chicago Week in Review, and the major television and radio stations, would pretend otherwise, blaming their active collusion on behalf of the "Daley" campaign on their passive manipulation by its shrewd managers; we need only remind the reader that it has been no harder to get them to serve the "Daley" candidacy than it is to get them to pick up their weekly paychecks.

Debra Marie

W. Crystal

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