Chicago has just thrown out an incompetent, arrogant, and far-left Democratic mayor who presided over an explosion of crime and the collapse of the city’s schools, only to elect a mayor pledged to even more extreme leftism with higher taxes and lower educational standards. The new mayor is a former lobbyist for the teachers union.
It’s as if Chicago voters thought the city’s decline has been a matter of mere personalities rather than policies too.
State government in Illinois, also under Democratic administration, is in no better shape itself, scaring business and residents away with backbreaking taxes and overwhelming government employee pension obligations — kind of like Connecticut.
Chicago and Illinois show the future of cities and states that cannot put the government employee unions back into a subordinate position and put the public interest ahead of the special interest.
It can be done, or at least it could be done 45 years ago when Ed Koch, then a U.S. representative, ran for mayor of New York City as what he called “a Democrat with sanity.” The city was falling apart amid crime, incompetence, corruption, and failing schools while being cannibalized by the city employee unions.
As the other candidates for the Democratic mayoral nomination ran to the left, Koch ran to the right, toward the center. Several of his 1977 mayoral campaign’s television commercials are archived on the internet, and today they are stunning for their candor and detail and relevance to the circumstances in which Chicago, Illinois, and Connecticut find themselves.
In one commercial Koch said: “The Board of Education spends almost $3 billion of our money but we don’t control how it’s spent. All we know is that we graduate children from high school who read at the 8th-grade level. We pay teachers $26,000 in salary and benefits to work 161 days a year, and the Board of Education wastes millions of dollars. The next mayor of New York must get control of the money spent in our school system and he must set higher standards for our students and teachers.”
In another commercial Koch challenged the city police department: “We pay the average police officer $30,000 a year in salary and benefits to protect us. But of 25,000 police in the city, only 1,500 patrol the streets on an average shift. More cops than that call in sick every day. Obviously we need more police on the streets and we can do it without spending more money — by better use of the police force we already have. That may mean taking on the police bureaucracy and the PBA [Police Benevolent Association]. But that’s what a mayor has to do.”
A third Koch commercial struck the most powerful blow: “My record in Congress is strongly pro-labor but our municipal unions consider me anti-union. They don’t like the fact that I want city employees to live in the city, that I want educators to account to the mayor for schools that don’t teach, and that I don’t want patrolmen to get two days off with pay for donating a pint of blood. There’s no point in getting angry at [teacher union leader] Al Shanker or [New York City AFSCME President] Vic Gotbaum. They’re doing the jobs they were elected to do. It’s time we had a tough bargainer on our side of the table.”
Running on this platform Koch unexpectedly won the 1977 New York Democratic mayoral primary and the election and then won re-election twice with more than 75% of the vote.
It would be nice if state government in Connecticut had a “tough bargainer” for the public interest. But under Governor Lamont state government remains mainly a pension and benefit society pretending to be proud of schools whose student proficiency has been crashing for many years and cities that are drowning in poverty, shootings, and unsolved murders. Can any Democrat in Connecticut tell people the truth about anything that matters? If not, can any Republican?
Chris Powell is a columnist for the Journal Inquirer in Manchester, Connecticut