The Politics of Snow

The British magazine The Economist -- which seems to be paying more attention to Chicago since friend-of-investors Rahm Emanuel became mayor -- has an article this week about the city’s snow-removal plans for the upcoming winter.

The article doesn’t explain why snow removal is such an important political issue in Chicago. Because the mayoral election is in February, a mishandled snowstorm can destroy an incumbent’s campaign. The last three mega-blizzards -- in January 1967, February 1979 and February 2011 -- all occurred within a month of an election. Richard J. Daley, who was by then so inseparable from the mayoralty than not even an a failure to defend the city from Godzilla could have shaken the populace’s faith in him, survived his blizzard, even though the streets were filled with abandoned cars. In 1979, recently-appointed Mayor Michael Bilandic lost his re-election bid, partly because he ordered packed L cars to speed past inner-city stops. Last year, Mayor Richard M. Daley -- who knew when to quit -- wasn’t on the ballot. Candidates Rahm Emanuel and Gery Chico made sure to get out in the streets for photo ops with shovels.

Here’s what The Economist has to say about the city’s snow-removal plans:

Fortunately, Chicago is well prepared for snowfall which, for the past four winters, has been over 50 inches (127cm). A secure facility on West Madison Street known as “Snow Command” houses some impressive toys. On one wall vast display-screens reveal everything you might need to know about the city’s weather conditions: the whereabouts of the fleet of up to 500 GPS-equipped snow-moving trucks; views from some of the city’s 1,000 cameras; the readings from a dozen road sensors (which pick up icy conditions); and a live feed of the regional weather system.

The planning started in the humid heat of summer. Mr Emanuel badly wants to avoid a repeat of the previous mayor’s “Snowmaggedon” earlier this year.     One innovation this year is an internet snow portal. It will allow citizens to organise themselves around snow-clearing activities, adopt a stretch of pavement to clear, offer to share shovels and snowblowers, or even volunteer to clear snow for people who cannot do so themselves. Traditionalists may not be keen to brag on Facebook about how many pavements they have cleared, but plenty of others are—thus helping to spread the city’s message that everyone has to do their bit.

Here's a link to the Internet snow portal on the Department of Streets and Sanitation’s website. This year, we didn’t have a measurable snowfall until Dec. 5, one of the latest dates in history.

Streets and San does have an “Information For The Winter of 2011-12” page, which brags about Snow Command and the snow removal fleet, and includes a link to a site where residents can request snow removal.

Soon, there may be an app for shoveling snow. 

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!

Contact Us