Tony Murga is sitting at the counter at a Cuban cafeteria in the city’s Kelvyn Park neighborhood, drinking a café con leche. He lives nearby.
“I own a two-flat,” Murga says. “Been there nine years.”
Murga likes his neighborhood and his neighbors, because they work hard, taking care of themselves and their families. The neighbors also work together when city services flop.
“The sweepers don’t come by maybe once every other month. And we paying for this and we don’t get it. So we got to go out there and clean our own streets,” Murga says. “I try to take care of my whole neighborhood. Which is fine – don’t get me wrong – because, you know, if I live somewhere I want to be able to be comfortable.”
He doesn’t sound comfortable. Murga runs through a list of complaints about the city and about his life. First, business is slow. He’s an electrician who does heating and air conditioning work, and feels squeezed by his customers. Everybody wants a discount.
“People are not wanting to spend the money. I mean, they want to take money out of my pocket, in order for them to accommodate themselves. And it’s understandable. Everybody needs to save money where it needs to be.”
With his personal finances down, he’s also feeling squeezed by the city. Squeezed by traffic cameras. Squeezed by taxes.
“You know, my house is not even worth what it used to, but taxes still going up,” he says. “Prices going up – it doesn’t make any sense. I think they want to [gentrify] this city, and get rid of everybody – all the Hispanics and a lot of people that can’t afford it. They want to get them out the city for whatever reason they want.”
Murga used to live in Bucktown, a bit southwest of here, but says he was priced out of the neighborhood. Now he feels like it’s likely only a matter of time before he has to leave his current place. Leave the city. Leave the state.
“I’m going to get pushed out,” Murga says. “I figure maybe another 5 to 10 years.”
But if he’s so unhappy, why not just leave now?
“I’ve been here all my life. Where else am I going to go? I go somewhere else I got to start all over.”
In his 50 years, Murga has lived through eight mayors now, if you count short-termers like David Orr and Eugene Sawyer. How’s the new guy, Rahm Emanuel, doing?
“I don’t like him, honestly,” Murga begins. "It’s just another political – I don’t want to say that word – but just another guy looking out for his own benefits. They really don’t care. I mean, just look at all the corruption we have in this state. Chicago is just as bad.”
I’ve heard similar comments in various corners of the city and the state. This is the non-specific criticism of someone who feels like government is failing them, and who sees all government officials as crooks. These residents are depressed by what they see and skeptical about what they hear.
As I shut off my recorder, Tony motions to his cup.
“So you got the coffee or what?”
Yeah, Tony. I got the coffee.