As 2016 ends and 2017 begins, too many lives in America’s “Second City” are in free fall.
Last year, 762 people were murdered in Chicago — an increase of 58 percent over 2015. It’s a body count higher than those of New York City and Los Angeles, combined. The vast majority of victims were young black men.
Chicago’s police commissioner suggests this death epidemic is a consequence of escalating gang warfare, insufficient sentences for gun wielding criminals and anti-police attitudes. The city, he promises, has a plan to reduce the murder rate in 2017.
Truth is, Chicago is broken. More neighborhood cameras, better-resourced police-community relations teams and stricter sentences might help reduce crime on the margins. But those efforts won’t alter the fundamental issue: misguided liberal policies have failed Chicagoans. Too many of the city’s neighborhoods are ones in which the American dream is rarely dreamed.
Of course, Chicago is far from the only American city where the potential for good futures is wasted. The nearby city of Milwaukee offers another example as to how endemic violence is ruining lives. Many of the social pathologies are the same: the collapse of families, the surrender of neighborhoods to gangs, and the absence of school places and good jobs.
Yet a broader problem in Chicago is the city government’s long-term failure to support civic society. Enter Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel. The mayor claims to be an enlightened liberal. Carefully cultivating the nickname “Rahmbo,” he promises to act tough in making the city better. But he has failed.
THE CITY’S CURRENT EFFORTS WON’T ALTER THE FUNDAMENTAL ISSUE: MISGUIDED LIBERAL POLICIES HAVE FAILED CHICAGOANS
On crime, Emanuel has increased spending on the Chicago Police Department but failed to rein in the department’s bloated pension budget. Let’s be clear: Chicago police officers are risking their lives to save lives. Yet in comparison to many other departments in America, too much of the Chicago Police Department (CPD) budget goes to compensation in lieu of increasing police patrols and confronting criminals. The CPD’s 2016 budget was just over $1.446 billion for around 12,565 officers. That amounts to a major cost of $115,104 per officer. While all Americans should respect Police Officers, all Americans also have the right to expect a baseline of security. In Chicago, especially in minority-heavy neighborhoods, that baseline is absent.
On education — the one sure path for poor kids to have richer, more fulfilling lives — Mayor Emanuel is supplicant to one of America’s most hardline teacher unions. In November, Emanuel agreed to payoff that union without reciprocal reform. Teachers will receive tenure rather than skill-based raises, and fiscal inefficiencies in the Chicago school system remain entrenched. Chicago kids deserve much better. Over 25% of high school students still don’t graduate.
But let’s get specific here.
One problem, as the Illinois Policy Institute has shown, is that Chicago spends most of its education budget on salaries, not children. The president of the Chicago Teachers Union, Karen Lewis, for example, receives a very generous salary and owns three homes. But the dichotomy between her life and those she is supposed to serve is not pleasant. When Lewis has a bad week, she can escape to her Hawaii condo. When poor kids in Chicago have a bad week, some end up in the morgue. And for too many, a good week means making it home with a below average education. These are lost futures.
Then there’s the local economy. While Chicago’s role as the Midwest’s hub provides some economic sustenance, the future doesn’t look bright. Emanuel’s 2016 city budget raised taxes on just about everything. The Mayor repeated the feat in his budget for the 2017 fiscal year. But what Emanuel did not do is take on the special interests that force such unrelenting tax hikes. Emanuel might claim he’s looking out for low-earners, but those with government jobs are far better off than those families just trying to get by. And getting by is getting very hard.
The upshot? Residents and businesses are evacuating Chicago, with millionaires representing a sizable share of that exodus. Remember, Chicago is deeply in debt, so every time that a business or individual leaves, Chicago’s capacity to balance the books is further degraded.
So what’s the solution?
Well, put simply, Chicago needs conservative leadership focused on growth and opportunity. Here’s a basic outline of what conservatives could fix.
PUT SIMPLY, CHICAGO NEEDS CONSERVATIVE LEADERSHIP FOCUSED ON GROWTH AND OPPORTUNITY
First, on crime, a conservative willing to take on the police union could hire a lot more officers. Imagine what CPD could do if its 2016 per-officer spending figure was reduced from $115,104 by even 10 percent. It would mean nearly $145 million extra a year to hire new officers. An opportunity-oriented conservative could support parents (who worry about their kids playing on the street) and police officers (who struggle to keep the peace) by pushing for far tougher sentences for criminals that carry guns.
But a conservative leader could also offer prison reforms to ensure former criminals have a chance at better futures. Too often the cycle of crime begins with young age and ends with long prison sentences at middle age. The victims of such lives are not just those a criminal hurts, but the criminal himself or herself. Finally, a conservative Mayor could address the avoidable mistrust currently separating government from innocent minorities.
In all this, a conservative leader should embrace unconventional thinking.
On education, a conservative could ensure the best teachers are paid more and empowered more—and the worse teachers are fired. Children from poor families deserve better than a political speech that expresses regret for their plight. They deserve an equal opportunity to a prosperous, aspirational futures. And they deserve better than a choice between dead-end jobs and criminal enterprise. On social policy, conservatives could join with those within the LGBT community to strengthen families. No longer should this be an issue of social conservatism versus social liberalism, but rather a shared cause of bettering lives. Strong families, after all, mean stronger communities.
On the economy, conservatives could offer the renegotiation of union contracts in order to close Chicago’s pension black hole. This will, of course, be unpopular in some quarters. But taxpayers should not be forced to sacrifice their futures because government lacks the courage to take on special interests. And businesses that want to create jobs should not be pushed away from Chicago because the city’s fiscal reputation is so dire. If Chicago rediscovers reform, business confidence would grow and good jobs would follow. Who would benefit most? Those at the lower end of the economic table who need good jobs the most.
The need for action is clear. Today, in the Windy City, the lives of the poor and disconnected are too often ignored. Joining bold ideas and endeavor, conservatives should make it our mission to change that status quo.
Tom Rogan is a senior contributor for Opportunity Lives, a former panelist on The McLaughlin Group and a senior fellow at the Steamboat Institute. Follow him on Twitter @TomRtweets.