'Chicago-Style Politics at Its Worst'? Fact-Checking Romney's Jab at Obama

Politics as usual in the The Windy City these days is transparent, efficient, innovative, and defying its ugly caricature.



As if he just exited a cave in Utah or New Hampshire, Mitt Romney has ripped President Obama for "Chicago-style politics at its worst" after Obama filled an important regulatory position that Senate Republicans had filibustered.

"Chicago-style politics." It's part of the growing Romney lexicon of facile pejoratives, whose best example is his rather craven use of the word "entitlement" as something dastardly and insufficiently redolent of the private sector.

But what does it mean exactly?

Rahm Emanuel, the new mayor, announced the very same day that he'll close libraries on Mondays in what reflects frustration with an allegedly obstructionist AFSCME, the major public-employees union. A Republican should like that.

Ditto his taking on the teachers union and steamrolling a dramatic increase in the length of the school day in the public schools. There are private-public partnerships galore and even an ongoing competition between private contractors and city workers on who can collect household recycling the cheapest and most efficiently (the private guys are supposedly winning so far).

It's even brought Emanuel praise from a conservative darling, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker. Yup, Chicago-style politics.

And Mr. Romney, the former management consultant extraordinaire, might turn orgasmic over the new empirical bent Emanuel has brought to the nation's third-biggest city. He's got a chief technology officer (via IBM) and a chief data officer who are harnessing technology and trying to bring efficiency and transparency to a long-calcified government -- and all for the ultimate goal of economic development.

Go to a city website and find well more than 200 "data sets," including calls to 311, breakdowns of crimes, vendors banned from city business, the rodent-baiting requests of individuals and businesses, processing time for building permits and the removal of fallen trees.

You want more? There are response rates to graffiti-removal requests and how long it takes to install a new 96-gallon plastic garbage can at single-family homes. Can't find your car where you left it last night? Well, maybe you can now discover quickly online whether it's stuck in a city pound on the city's new wasmycartowed.com.

As for the actual politics, Romney plays to a the moth-eaten image of a rough-and-tumble, blue-collar town with the packinghouse squeals of Upton Sinclair's The Jungle in the background. A sophisticated fellow like Stuart Stevens, one of his chief strategists, surely knows better, given the worldly fellow he is -- even if his client does not.

Even I, a snooty native New Yorker, must concede that Chicago is a cosmopolitan place these days whose economy is deemed in some academic studies as the fifth most globally important, after only New York, London, Singapore, and Tokyo. Hell, the former Sears Tower and Standard Oil Building, which remain two of the world's tallest, are now named after mega-insurance brokers, Willis and Aon. It's all very slick and white-collar.

Presented by

James Warren is the Chicago editor of The Daily Beast and an MSNBC analyst. He is the former managing editor of the Chicago Tribune.

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