Chicago politicians made sure to keep things pretty interesting in 2016. An alderman was indicted in the middle of a city council meeting. One got into a rough-and-tumble battle with a squirrel. Several fought with gusto for access to World Series tickets.
We spoke with a trio of talented political reporters — ABC 7’s Charles Thomas, WTTW’s Paris Schutz and Mary Ann Ahern from NBC 5 — about their takeaways from the year that was and what they’re looking for in 2017.
Q: We ended the year with more than 760 murders. Do Chicagoans feel like politicians are doing enough?
Charles Thomas: We’re talking about this problem and not identifying what it is. It’s black on black crime and violence. And the media and political leadership don’t acknowledge that. We’re not talking about it in terms of historic racism that leads to economic dysfunction and dysfunction in the education system. We talk about it in terms of $130 million to hire a thousand new cops but no money to deal with economic and education issues. The other issue is black self-hatred that we’re not dealing with at all in terms of trying to attack some of these problems. Some of these shooters come from generations of unemployed and undereducated people. How are we going to deal with those root causes? And I don’t hear the political dialogue happening in that regard, and that’s troubling to me.
Paris Schutz: If you’re an alderman, I don’t understand how job number one isn’t begging the Chamber of Commerce or begging businesses to locate their plant in your ward.
Q: Is this Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s comeback year?
Charles Thomas: I think he wants to build a foundation and then make a decision a year from now on whether or not he wants to run.
Mary Ann Ahern: At the same, time, talking to some people they say he could be Mayor for life. When there are eight or nine or 10 who want that job, we know him. What’s that expression, the devil you know? So folks might be a little more reticent to say, let’s start over with a newbie.
Q: Has there been more working back and forth between Mayor Emanuel and City Council than past years?
Paris Schutz: The mayor is the consummate politician. He knows where the political winds are blowing, that he can’t just dictate his will because he’s not popular. By the time the vote comes it still looks like a landslide, but elements in city council have pushed him to the left.
Mary Ann Ahern: I think we should keep an eye on the U.S. Attorney’s office and city council. There are rumblings out there of more to come. As we have seen with Ald. Willie Cochran, wasn’t that quite a day? The day he came to the council meeting, and the hallway chase of reporter’s through the hall. There are certainly rumblings of more indictments of other aldermen to come. Everybody is looking to make a deal, and perhaps people will start making a deal.
Q: What are you going to be watching closely for the coming year?
Paris Schutz: First the justice department investigation of the police department. They want to wrap that up before the new presidential administration, and the new administration may not share the same priorities around civil rights, so will this investigation even hold up. Will it be enforced. The other thing I’ll look for is the effect of Donald Trump on Chicago. I think there will be a lot on what the repeal of Obamacare means for Cook County, how does the sanctuary city fight go, does Chicago lose national resources. And I think Rahm Emanuel and other progressive politicians will make it an issue because it looks good for them standing up to Trump.
This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity. Click the ‘play’ button above to listen to the entire interview.