How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Chicago Politics

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The problem, as Nelson Algren once put it, is that when you love this town, you have to love it warts and all.

In his classic 1951 book, "Chicago: City on the Make," Algren paints a picture of a place split in two, with one side for the haves and one for the have-nots. In page after page, he talks about the myriad ways the city—even back then—makes it tough for those without connections, cash or clout to get a leg up, a fair shake or a dream of a better life.

“Chicago,” he wrote, “forever keeps two faces, one for winners and one for losers; one for the hustlers and one for the squares.” Living in Chicago, he felt, was like playing in rigged baseball game, but that didn't mean you didn't live in it all the same.

That’s because for Algren, and writer after writer ever since, Chicago was a town worth loving and defending, even with its fatal flaws laid out for all to see. For me, the same argument can be made for the state of Chicago—and Illinois—politics today. It’s easy to point to the way politics is broken in this state and this town, and even easier to throw up our hands, shrug our shoulders and ask “what can be done?”

But you don't love a city like Chicago or a state like Illinois without wanting tomorrow to be better than today and expecting each of its citizens to be their best, including its politicians. The chance to write for NBC Chicago and Ward Room represents an opportunity to put those ideas into action, and work, as it says on the masthead, to hold “this state's notoriously corruptible politicians honest and accountable.” It’s a privilege few get to have, and one I expect to take seriously every time my name shows up on a byline. Besides, one doesn't get to work with the kind of talent that makes up NBC Chicago’s political team and not hold yourself to the highest standards you can.

Algren also knew that Chicago is a great city precisely because it’s made of both the haves and the have nots, and those with too much power and those with too little. In the days, weeks and months ahead, I hope to help take Ward Room wherever it needs to go to make sure that balance of power is a little more exposed, a little more understandable and maybe a little more even.

And perhaps have a bit of fun while we’re at it. After all, Algren was known to show up at fancy dinner parties with light-up electric bow tie on. Just to make sure no one—no matter how rich or powerful—took themselves too seriously.

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