Just before Mayor Richard M. Daley retired, banners throughout the city declared “Chicago/A World Class City/Thank You, Mayor Daley.”
Daley’s successor, Rahm Emanuel, is determined to keep that designation alive. Emanuel used his clout with the White House to bring the 2012 NATO and G-8 summits to Chicago.
But do either of those meetings qualify Chicago as a world-class city? The last NATO Summit was held in Lisbon, the last G-8 Summit in Deauville, France. We’re getting the meetings because we’re the president’s hometown. When George H.W. Bush was president, he brought the G-8 to his hometown of Houston.
Chicago is only the fifth-most influential city in the United States. New York is the capital of finance, media, literature and fashion; Washington, D.C. is the seat of political power; Los Angeles is the entertainment capital; and Boston is the pinnacle of academic success.
Chicago really isn’t number one at anything, except airline layovers, meat preparation and daytime talk shows. People come here to prepare for life in one of the Big Four cities.
John Malkovich and Gary Sinise started the Steppenwolf Theatre, before moving on to careers in Hollywood. Elena Kagan taught at the University of Chicago Law School, before becoming dean of Harvard Law School, and a Supreme Court Justice. Lester Holt was at our station, before getting his big break as weekend anchor of Today. Barack Obama left New York because he shrewdly realized that Chicago offered a young black man a better chance at political advancement. His destination was D.C. Even Oprah left town, once she folded her talk show and didn’t need to be in the middle of the country, for the convenience of her Middle American guests.
That’s Emanuel’s destination, too. His real ambition was to be the first Jewish Speaker of the House. When his service as White House Chief of Staff interrupted that goal, he returned to Chicago to start on a new path to power in Washington. His sudden status anxiety may be one reason he insists on calling Chicago world class.
Your Ward Room Blogger is Your Ward Room Blogger because I’m not ambitious enough to move to New York or D.C. Actually, I did live in D.C. for three months. I didn’t like the humidity, or the fact that a Washingtonian’s social value is only as good as his job title. And I’ve spent enough time in New York to know that my apartment would cost five times as much money there. I don't want to live in a world-class city.
Chicago may not be world-class, we may not be number one at anything, and we may not be the final destination for America’s most talented, most ambitious people. But Chicago is the most livable city in America.
We’re not the Michael Jordan of cities, even though we’re the city where Michael Jordan made his name. We’re the Oscar Robertson of cities: good at everything, but not the best an anything. Mayor Daley’s real accomplishment wasn’t making Chicago a world-class city. It was transforming Chicago from a city that ruled a league that included Detroit, Cleveland, Minneapolis, Indianapolis and St. Louis to a city that’s on the same circuit as New York, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C. and Boston.
Emanuel’s job is to make sure Chicago remains the most livable city in America, and that means keeping it safe. More on that tomorrow.
Buy this book! Ward Room blogger Edward McClelland's book, Young Mr. Obama: Chicago and the Making of a Black President , is available Amazon. Young Mr. Obama includes reporting on President Obama's earliest days in the Windy City, covering how a presumptuous young man transformed himself into presidential material. Buy it now!