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Mayoral Detachment in Downtown Chicago

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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.

By Jessie Platz

“I’m not even from here.  And in fact I can’t stand America.”

Stephen, an exchange student from Britain studying at Columbia College this semester, coolly voiced his opinion while smoking a cigarette outside a downtown dorm.  He was flanked by continental confidantes and fellow students Fisnik and Agon, from Switzerland, who echoed his views with slightly less sarcasm and a few appreciative laughs.  None of the guys seemed to know much about tomorrow’s mayoral election—Chicago’s first in years—but the name Emanuel was thrown around a bit, mingled with the good-natured banter on a bitterly cold evening in the city’s downtown between Michigan Avenue and Dearborn Street.

Several conversations, though not all of them as bitingly unpatriotic, followed this model.  It would seem that the heart of Chicago is full of people from other places.  Commuters and recently relocated students gathered in warm coffee shops and bars to chat, local politics far from their minds as they sipped and smoked and reluctantly admitted apathy or lack of information.

Where are the voters?  Probably huddled away at home, planning the tedious trek to a local library or public school tomorrow to have their say at the polls.  Who knows!

But downtown, with its reeling skyscrapers, fast walking suits and smattering of drifters and panhandlers, people assumed an especially distant and impersonal character on February 21, the night before 2011’s historic mayoral election.  It is the nature of a city to house the nation’s new-comers and travelers, but it is surprising to realize suddenly the literal transience of the place.  Everyone moves fast here, quickly exiting the gridded corridor of Midwestern America’s largest metropolis.

No one really lives downtown.  Those who do are clustered in high-rise apartments and condos near the lake or crammed into little 10 to 14-story dorms located a little to the east of their affluent neighbors.  The former of these groups seemed absent from the inner-city scene, and the latter emerged as fundamentally uninformed or misinformed, tired and nonchalant about the whole thing.

Maybe this detachment from events of city and state signals a change for the make-up of the city in the future.  Presently, the loop, a virtual epicenter of human life and culture, appears void of cohesive understanding of the environment.  After all, what do students, the homeless and the ultra-affluent have in common, really?  Not much.  And how long do any of them plan to live in the middle of the city?

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