Today marks one of the most important mayoral elections for the city of Chicago in over 40 years, and lots of Chicagoans — including SAIC students — have an opinion. To see what the locals are actually thinking, a group of SAIC students hit the streets, questioning people about who they might be voting for, and which are the most important issues in this election. Here’s what they had to say.
There is one thing that no mayor can change in this town: the wind. As men and women begrudgingly schlepped themselves up and down State Street I attempted to get the inside scoop on the Mayoral Elections, however, my fingers were numb and the pedestrian’s patience was short.
The public library seemed like a better place to talk politics, but alas, it was closed. As I walked back a young woman asked me: “Is the library open?” She didn’t have much to say about any of the candidates, except that Gery Chico spoke well enough to get her vote (which is a theoretical one more than tangible. She, like most of the people I harassed in the cold, is not voting). When I mentioned Chico’s ties to Mayor Richard M. Daley, her face went blank. ”I didn’t know about that.” Daley certainly isn’t in the hearts of many Chicagoans, and in fact, this 22-year-old seemed to dislike him enough to forget about ever theoretically voting for Chico. ”Why don’t you like Daley?” ”He’s not a good Mayor.” The answer was blunt. She didn’t even bother offering an explanation. I might as well have asked, “Why don’t you like bumble bee stings?” or “Why does Nixon have such a bad rap?” I brought up Daley’s successes, like increased attention and funding to Chicago’s public school system. I thought maybe I had her stumped, but I was far from right. ”That’s good, but it messed everyone’s hours up.” ”What do you mean?” ”Like the library. It’s always closed.”
A nearby college bookstore offered shelter from the cold and possibly a few bookworms milling around the current events section whose brains I could pick. The 27-year-old who worked the information desk was quick to let me know that he was disenfranchised by politics, from whoever is running Chicago all the way up to the White House. His vote depended on one crucial element: whether or not he had work on Tuesday. Even if he did, he seemed less than enthused about going to the polls. ”I can’t help but look at all the talk on TV as a slow news day. I’m not chomping at the bit to make a decision.” I asked about pensions and someone asked for the bathroom key. This reporter knows when an interview is over.
Downstairs was an older man (old enough to make asking his age an awkward question) sipping coffee and perusing a stack of books. Perfect. ”Are you going to vote?” ”Absolutely.” Finally. He, much like the apathetic information desk clerk, felt like most of the news coverage has been sub-par. ”It’s upsetting that we talked about Emanuel being from Chicago for over a month. There were more important things to talk about that affect all of us.” Much like the younger people I spoke to, he had major qualms with the system in place. ”One hundred fifty years ago we decided corporations are people and that’s a poison. When campaigns can get so expensive, it leaves us with business and oilmen running the country. How’s that worked out for us so far?” Being in a bookstore, the topic quickly went to good reads on the topic. He recommended “Oil!” by Sinclair (of which the film “There Will be Blood” was based), saying the only difference between Chicago in the 20’s and Chicago in the 2000’s was that everyone got around in Model T’s. ”There is a lesson on ethics in that book. The main character takes his son to a local politician and hands him cash in exchange for help building a road. The road is built quickly and the father says: ‘Son, that is how ethics work.’”
Chicago politics: the stuff of an Upton Sinclair novel.
Maybe that was the problem. It seemed that everyone I talked to, even those voting, didn’t trust the system our government has in place. Few offered reasoning, and I question if they even have any ready. Is there a permanent pall in the air of distrust? Has our government thus far done so poorly that in the midst of a crucial election, we can’t imagine a system not poisoned by corruption, even one we put in power? What should a businessman teach his son about ethics? The romanticized American ideal, one with checks and balances, a system that will pay off if you play along? Or should he get his son a restored Model T and teach him how to discreetly slip busboys a $20 bill?
Upstairs, a man with long dreadlocks and a braided beard seemed like everything I was looking for in an interview. Maybe he could explain to me why no one was voting, what really mattered and who the real deal was. I asked him what his opinions on the election were and if he planned on voting. He looked up from his books and shrugged. ”Tough one.” Do our beat poets not even care anymore? We’re toast.