Chicago-style politics

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Chicago-style politics

 LIM JONG-JU
The author is a Washington bureau chief of the JoongAng Ilbo.


The night view in early summer in Chicago is spectacular as the city is recovering from the pandemic. Lit-up skyscrapers and Riverwalk, a riverside attraction, adds modern beauty to the city, along with Marina City, corn-shaped twin structures. The 100-year-old Chicago Theater turned on its neon sign as it reopens.

Behind the splendor of the Windy City is political stigma. Chicago-style politics is a synonym for corruption. Barack Obama, the first African-American president, started his political career in Chicago, and he was not free from the moniker. In his two presidential election campaigns, Republican rivals John McCain and Mitt Romney recalled the cities shameful history.

The collusion between politics and violence originated from gambling sites in the late 19th century, and it earned notoriety during the 21-year administration of Mayor Richard Daley from the mid-1950s. Political positions were bought and sold, and those close to the mayor were arrested. The governor of Illinois was impeached as he attempted to sell the senate seat vacated by Obama’s election victory. It is a shameful part of history that Chicago wants to part with as it pursues transparency.

Another Chicago-style framing has become controversial. Last month, Mayor Lori Lightfoot, the first openly LGBTQ and first African-American woman to hold the position, declared in an interview marking her second anniversary that she would only have one-on-one interviews with journalists of color. More than half of Chicago’s residents are people of color, but the reporters are predominantly Caucasian and lack diversity.

The local community was stirred. Her comment was criticized as anti-White racism and reverse discrimination. A constitutional lawsuit has been filed for infringement of freedom of media. There were many posts urging mass resistance. There are reporters of color who refuse to interview her, while others accepted it.

Others say her decision constitutes meaningful progress to improve racial equality. They argue that those who have been enjoying superior status until now are outraged at becoming a target of discrimination, while racism in any form should be rejected. Confrontation is intensifying between the Chicago-style racism of excluding the White and the Chicago-style racial discrimination of suppressing people of color.

Economic inequality is serious in Chicago as Caucasian residents are richer than the U.S. average while 65 percent of the families of color are poor with few assets. The night view of Chicago is far more complicated than it seems.
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