Who should judge political success?

By Samuel Rosenberg

On November 14, Chicago’s City Council approved the budget for the 2007 fiscal year. The $5.7 billion plan received unanimous approval coupled with spirited critiques of the administration by aldermen. Despite the 46–0 vote, the aldermen decried the budget as being little more than an attempt to placate all parties during an election year. But then why did they end up voting for it?

The budget is very much a success. It continues the freeze on the city’s property tax levy for a third straight year and holds firm on all other taxes and fees. The budget also discusses how $94 million of the $1.83 billion the city received from privatizing the Skyway is going to be spent. Large portions of this funding will go toward improved social programs and neighborhood initiatives. Perhaps the aldermen who critiqued the budget have better ways of spending the money. Perhaps they believe that “After School Matters,” the program that keeps young adults off of the streets and in programs at their local park district and library facilities doesn’t deserve that extra $5.5 million. Perhaps they believe that the 5,000 teens who will benefit from this are not worth aiding.

One of the most interesting things about the aldermen who decried the mayor is that it is their districts that will be getting the largest portions of this funding. While Aldermen Burnett (27th District, Near Northwest Side) and Haithcock (2nd District, Near South Side) both noted the way their constituencies will be assisted, others did their best to bite the hand that feeds them. Programs that increase the tax credit to $400 per person for companies that hire ex-offenders and those that increase homeless job training are specifically designed to help more impoverished districts on the south and west sides of the city. Even with these measures in place, some aldermen still needed to hear their own voices.

Despite the fact that the districts of Aldermen Toni Preckwinkle (4th District, Kenwood), Ed Smith (28th District, West Side), and Arenda Troutman (20th District, Woodlawn) will be significantly assisted, they were the ones who led the verbal barrage. Hitting particularly close to home are the comments of Alderman Troutman. She stated that her “constituents want a fair shot at jobs and contracts…[that her] constituents want white fraud and black front companies to be purged from the city’s procurement rolls.” As wonderful as those ideas may be, perhaps the alderman should get her facts straight and clean up her own garbage before shooting at others.

First, Chicago is one of the few cities in American that has not scraped money from its assistance programs. Two weeks before Alderman Troutman’s verbal outburst on the floor of the Council, the city’s procurement department increased its efforts to recruit minority-owned firms. Second, as one of her constituents, and as someone who pays attention to the situation in the neighborhood, I believe that Arenda Troutman is significantly out of line with the needs of her voters. If she is willing to critique, she should clear the air regarding the romantic relationship that she had with Donnell “Scandalous” Jehan, a well known leader in the Black Disciple’s street gang. Their frequent appearances together have lead many to believe that he is the father of one of her sons. Upon raiding the Black Disciple’s headquarters early last year, Chicago Police found a letter from the CPD to Troutman discussing patrol activities.

To take advantage of power as Troutman has, is not only an abuse of her position on the city council, but a blatant slap in the face to those whom she represents and to Mayor Daley, who appointed her following the death of Ernest Jones. Not only is the alderman disrespecting these individuals by making such comments, but she is showing great vanity.

It is true that Woodlawn has shown tremendous development in the past 10 years, yet the true success of that development is arguable, as is the amount of development actually caused by her. One could even argue that Alderman Troutman has only prevented further successes within her ward. In case it’s not clear already, if anybody is not qualified to critique the mayor, it is Troutman.

While the City of Chicago may have its difficulties, we must also embrace its successes. One such triumph is this year’s budget. With many cities across the country being forced to cut funding for human services, Chicago is not only increasing the funding to these programs but is doing so without increasing taxes. Even DuPage County, one of the wealthiest counties in the nation, located directly west of Cook County, is facing major budget shortfalls this year and is scaling back, if not completely canceling many of its human services programs. With this in mind, we must note how this city is moving in the correct direction and that at the end of the day, even the critics are at a loss for words.