From rising violence on the city’s South and West Sides to the largest public school closure in American history, Chicago has been making national headlines. Chicago is a politically active city, and most Chicagoans, you will find, know their Chicago politics. For those who are new to Windy City, here is a brief walk-through of major city issues and events from the past year, and some stories to keep your eye on in the upcoming one.
CPS School Closures: In 2013, Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s administration made a highly contentious decision to close 50 under-enrolled Chicago Public Schools (CPS), the majority in minority communities on the city’s South and West Sides. The closure, the largest in any city in American history, sparked anger and protests across the city as students and teachers were displaced from their established communities. Among critics, the event earned Mayor Emanuel the title “Mayor 1 Percent.” This fall, CPS will lay off 1,000 of its employees while increasing its investment in charter and selective-enrollment schools. In the 2014–2015 school year CPS graduation rates are projected to reach 82 percent, a 25 percent increase since 2007.
Homicides and shootings: In 2013, when homicides topped 500, Chicago was named murder capital of America by some, and by others, “Chiraq.” Violence in the city was yet again on high this summer with more than 70 shootings over the July 4 weekend and the murder of 11-year old Shamiya Adams, who was struck by a stray bullet at a slumber party in West Garfield Park. Community organizers across the city held vigils and anti-violence protests, and Governor Pat Quinn and police Superintendent Garry McCarthy recruited state troopers and FBI agents to the city’s South and West Sides for the month of August. Critics of the City complain that adding officers is only a short-term solution to a problem that stems from the dearth of economic opportunities on the city’s South and West Sides. So far, the homicide rate is the lowest this year since 1967. Shootings are up.
Housing for Central American Immigrants: You’ve probably heard about the growing border crisis: thousands of unaccompanied Central American minors who have fled violence in their home countries are being housed in detention centers along the Mexican border and many neighboring communities are protesting that these children be deported. This summer the City of Chicago announced that it will welcome 1,000 immigrant children in November, and city officials are currently arranging for their housing. Some Chicagoans argue that tax dollars should instead be allocated to the city’s most vulnerable communities, while others argue that Chicago should continue to foster a large and diverse immigrant community.
George Lucas Museum: This summer Star Wars creator George Lucas finalized the search for the site of his Museum of Narrative Art. After considering San Francisco and Los Angeles, Lucas selected Chicago as the future home of the museum that will house his art collection and Star Wars memorabilia. Mayor Emanuel pushed hard for the museum to come to Chicago’s Museum Campus, and many taxpayers and Cubs fans are upset with the expensive plans that will remove tailgating space from the area surrounding Soldier Field. Prominent Chicago architect Jeanne Gang, whose firm is building the new North Campus dorm at UChicago, is already lined up to design the garden surrounding the museum.
2015 Mayoral Race: February 2015 promises to be a big month in Chicago politics. Emanuel, former chief of staff to Barack Obama, who left the Capitol to run his hometown, is up for reelection, and the polls aren’t looking promising. So far, the only serious contender is Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis, who has a 47 percent lead on Emanuel in a recent Tribune poll. Lewis, who went head-to-head with Emanuel during the 2012 teachers; strike, says she will run a grassroots campaign. The polls show her support lies with the black and Latino communities. But Lewis hasn’t officially declared whether or not she will run and Emanuel, who already has $7 million in his war chest and the backing of several Super PACs, will have little trouble raising many more millions. Alderman Bob Fioretti is also considering a run.
Minimum Wage: The $8.25 minimum wage in Chicago could see a major hike in upcoming months. Emanuel and Governor Pat Quinn have recently pushed for an increase to a $13 wage by 2018. Some say this isn’t high enough, while other say this will result in the loss of jobs. The measure could appear on the ballot this November.
CPS Civil Rights Violation Investigation: CPS is currently under a civil rights violation investigation by the U.S. Department of Education. Two South Side schools, Dyett High School and Mollison Elementary, claim they have been stripped of resources such as teachers and honors courses as enrollment has dropped. “Discrimination and segregation are alive and well in the city of Chicago,” one member of the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization said at the announcement of the federal investigation in July. If the claim is determined to be valid, the schools will try to reach a settlement with CPS. The outcome of the case could have large implications for CPS.
Obama Library. Recent polls show that Chicagoan are split on whether tax dollars should be spent on the Obama Presidential Library. According to a Tribune poll, only 47 percent of Chicagoans are in favor of Emanuel’s proposal to spend $100 million on the project. This fall New York, Hawaii, and Chicago will continue to duke out their proposals for the Obama Presidential Library. Many Chicagoans feel that the library should be on Chicago’s South Side, where the president began his political career and grassroots organizing. Proposals have been made for Woodlawn (the neighborhood just south of the University) and the North Side’s Lincoln Park.