Chicago politics

Chicago politics


As much as Chicago is one of the big cities in the United States of America, people still consider it as having a backward metropolis. It has for a long time been made up of people from diverse races. Fremon (360) notes that the issue about race has in turn become a very sensitive one. It is true to note that as much as no mayor has faced conviction due to illegal deeds, many of them have played a role in corrupt deals and unethical practices during their campaigns. Chicago represents a city which experienced active struggle for a democratic type of governance. All related events took place within a political structure, growth of a political party system, the movement of European settlers, changing economic status and aspects of gender and class. The city has witnessed situations where honest mayors engage in corrupt deals. This paper uncovers the situation in Chicago including its politics, thirty years ago. 

Important changes in Chicago and its politics

Politicians in Chicago were known to be crafty men who could be engaged in corruption and only turn to their subjects when it was time for their re-election. Officials even in the ranks of the mayor’s press secretary had been accused and even faced conviction, (Fremon, 360). They could irregularly fix contracts and award tender to companies of their choice. The various leaders were also caught taking bribes from the public.

Fremon (360) reveals how generally the municipal authority was selfish in the way that it took part in corrupt practices to benefit themselves and not the city as it was supposed to be. The politics of Chicago as a city represent the emergence and steady growth of urbanisation in the USA. In the early 1990’s, the representation of women in the political parties was very negligible. This meant that the women were not in a position to control the municipal offices as much as they were seen to vote for an individual rather than a political party. 

The ‘white flight’ that happened in the 1950’s refers to the period when many citizens of Chicago moved to suburbs. In the early 1950’s, it was observed that quite a good number of inhabitants of Chicago’s inner circle moved to the suburbs thus significantly reducing the population. This group mainly consisted of the middle and upper classes of citizens. The city council quickly took initiative and drew a plan to contain the situation. This resulted into poor neighbourhoods. However, by the year 1990, Chicago started to realise a new wave of diversity, (Grimshaw, 206). Large groups of Latinos, Mexicans and Puerto Ricans started to move in to Chicago. The World War II also played a major role in terms of making Chicago a metropolitan city.

Grimshaw (206) asserts that Mayor Richard J. Daley’s reign in the period between 1955 and 1976 dominated politics of the machine. He controlled the Cook County Democratic Central Committee. It was entrusted with the responsibility of choosing the nominees of the party. The party nominees used to come from democratic strongholds. During his reign, he was able to construct major expressways. This steady transformation of the city led to growth of suburbs from neighbourhoods. No woman was elected into the city council until Marylou Hedlund and Anna Langford secured some positions in the offices.

The first female mayor, Jane Byrne, was elected in 1979. She won the Democratic Party on the grounds of a city outrage, (Grimshaw, 206). It was basically related to removal of snow in the city. This interesting turn of events was enough to earn her a position as the first female mayor in the county. In the 1960’s, the Great Society necessitated the accessibility of funds by the Democratic Party. Using the same vehicle, it was able to come up with programs that affected the slum clearance initiative, housing, education and finally urban renewal. Grimshaw (206) reckons that all these procedures were meant to contribute towards the control of the entire city. An example is the cook county which was charged with the responsibility of funding social services and public hospitals.

The above mentioned structure gave the mayor powers to manage learning institutions and the funding system across the city. The year 1983 came with a lot of surprises as it witnessed the election of the first ever black mayor of the city. He was known as Harold Washington. Six years later, Richard M. Daley, become the mayor and has since been re-elected.

The reign of Richard M. Daley in the prestigious mayoral capacity brought about the destruction of public housing projects. This gesture was met with a huge debate. On the brighter side however, new projects that were established by him, have extended the boundaries of Chicago by a big margin. In addition to that, Chicago has since achieved better accessibility and environmental friendliness. The atmosphere surrounding the city has also changed. New skylines had been formed by the year 2009.

Masters (270) claims that the Park district has surprisingly been able to recover natural areas that had earlier been damaged. Other new natural areas were also created in the process for instance the gardens on rooftops of skyscrapers. This came true because district was fully devoted to the well known biodiversity recovery plan. These among other positive indicators are what led to Chicago being referred to as the city of the year in 2008. This title did not come that easily. Chicago played major roles in various areas including contributions in literature and architecture, politics, and starring on movies.

The high level of diversification also contributed towards its recognition as having an economy that was the most balanced when compared to other states of the United States of America, (Masters, 270). The period between 1953 and 1966 experienced a sharp deterioration of the quality of education in the city. The then superintendent of the city’s public schools, Benjamin C. Willis embraced the belief that leadership with strong roots of education was due to professional educators. Both politicians and activists who wanted favours were strongly resisted by him. The result was that his influence at the times was not clearly felt. Later, Mayor Washington worked towards reforming the public schools. The era saw the strengthening of local schools. He campaigned for the support of public schools in order to improve the general quality of the city’s education. The strike that occurred in 1987 led to a crisis that resulted from what was thought to be educational problems.

A parent community council was created from the local groups by the mayor. A summit was organised to discuss the various issues relating to educational standards.  The situation became worse when the mayor passed on. The shortage of teachers, insufficient finances to run the schools and violence were examples of what was happening during that time, (Masters, 270). Political leaders and activists were forced to unite in order to improve education. A major overhaul of the education system was badly needed.

Pattillo (254) points out that the then mayor, Richard M. Daley either increased or reduced powers of the principals as a way of managing the schools. Many more schools emerged and others renovated when Paul Vallas was in power as the new mayor. He was driven by bottom-line principles. He had a blunt-talking personality. He was able to stabilize the finances of the entire district. Many cities later took up Vallas’s example and tried to implement the same practices in their respective areas of jurisdiction. A general observation was that the quality of education improved by a significant margin.

A typical example is the scores of maths and reading improving from 30% to 40% in 1995 and 2001 respectively. Further signs of improvement followed, including closing down of schools that were not performing well, sacking incompetent teachers and consulting specialists of various fields in order to improve education standards of the city, (Pattillo, 254).

The reputation of the city was shaped by personalities from different disciplines including: journalism, architecture, business, science, sports and poetry. The image of the city was painted and even written about by writers and artists. The newspapers also played a hand to inform the public about issues relating to Chicago. Every single progress or setback however small was categorically noted. Vital aspects of the city were clearly revealed through these papers. It is for this reason that anyone was sure to get full information of what was happening in Chicago through newspapers. A notable innovation relating to newspapers is the local colour columnist.

Pattillo (254) reveals that the newspaper columnists usually used satire as a stylistic device. Their articles were therefore satirical. The ordinary class of the Chicagoans were obsessed with sports while the middle class was absorbed in newspapers, theatre and opera. Chicago also experienced some disasters which have played a part in the way this city has grown. The memorable ones include: the burning of the Iroquois Theatre, the rolling over of the S.S. Eastland (cruise ship) and the burning of Our Lady of the Angels School, (Pattillo, 254).

An assessment on the general impacts of changes in Chicago

Simpson (316) thinks that despite the many challenges that Chicago has faced since the 19th century, there is a general feeling of improvement. This city has come a long way. Different leaders have come up with different structures to help steer this city in the right direction as much as they took part in corrupt deals. A negative indicator of these corrupt deals is the fact that Chicago is ranked sixth most corrupt state in United States of America. Chicago comes after Louisiana, Mississippi, Kentucky, Alabama and Ohio, (Simpson, 316).

The growth of Chicago is evident by the reputation which Mayor Richard M. Daley holds to this day. His programs based on education, innovativeness, community development, safety of the public and general admiration of the American people shows how a lot of work has been done in Chicago. From massive trade union backing and good business relations, the mayor was able to solidify his power or rather political muscle.

The city, best known to be windy has been transformed into a region of economic stability, declining unemployment rate and general growth. Simpson (316) asserts that the fact that the city is in the race to win a bid to host the 2016 Olympics games is a clear indicator that people of Chicago are confident about their capability. This translates into the high standards of the economic stability, education and security. A personal opinion is that Chicago is a better place to live now than it was thirty years ago, of course not necessarily comparing it to other states of the United States.


Chicago has for sometime been an icon to other states of United States of America for instance the economic stability. This means that quite a number of lessons can be drawn from Chicago to help in the running of another city. If we compare Chicago to an organisation, that every organisation has got its strengths and weaknesses and it is the duty of the subjects to use their strengths in order to minimize their weaknesses. On quite a number of occasions, Chicago has struggled with setbacks but at the end of the day their achievements stand out to put them on the map.  


Works Cited

Fremon, David: Chicago Politics, ward by ward Indiana: Indiana University Press. 1988, 350-371.

Grimshaw, William: Bitter fruit: black politics and the Chicago, 1931-91. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. 1995, 200-231.

Masters, Charles: Governor Henry Horner, Chicago politics, and the Great Depression. Illinois: Southern Illinois University Press. 2007, 269-271.

Pattillo, Mary: Black on the block: the politics of race and class in the city. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. 2007, 250-279.

Simpson, Dick: Rogues, Rebels, And Rubber Stamps: The Politics Of The Chicago City Council, 1863 To The Present (Urban Policy Challenges). Colorado: Westview Press. 2001, 320-324.