By: Mark Glennon*
Last week, a union leader and Mayor Emanuel teamed up to dump on Governor Rauner for repeatedly saying our business climate is bad. “I think now that the election is over, the governor needs to switch from a detractor-in-chief to a cheerleader-in-chief,” said Jorge Ramirez, Chicago AFL-CIO. “Having your agenda should not come at the expense of running down either the city or the state you’re out there promoting,” Emanuel added.
Cheerleading before candor, in other words. It’s not new. Before Rauner showed up, Illinois’ political establishment had others to blame for the same thing. A few years ago it was the Civic Federation then the Chicago Tribune who were pegged as the troublemakers. Senate President John Cullerton, for example, has included in his standard stump speech, for years, his claim that we suffer from politically exaggerated economic issues. Much of the media has done the same, particularly
union spokesman influential columnist Rich Miller, who has regularly told us, “the sky isn’t falling.”
Hogwash. Candor is best. Nobody is exaggerating our problems. Cheerleading won’t fool anybody.
The national media is all over Illinois’ and Chicago’s problems, and they are far harsher than our local press. Skim the stories on our home page on any given day. They’re brutal. We’ve linked to hundreds of them from leading national and international publications over the last few years. Any politician who tries to spin a different story will be labeled a denier, or worse. Pat Quinn’s campaign theme, “Illinois is coming back,” made him look buffoonish. Cullerton, especially, ought to know better. He was nationally ridiculed for saying there’s “no crisis” with our pension debt.
Just who is going to have their minds changed by comments like Ramirez’s or Emanuel’s, or by a change in the governor’s dialogue? Businesses considering moving? The unemployed? Underwater homeowners who can’t sell at any price because their property taxes are so high? They see reality more clearly than anyone. They want honest recognition of problems — and solutions, not pep talks.
Those solutions will be painful, no matter what form you think they should take — taxes, pension cuts or whatever. The first step towards getting voters to accept hard solutions is educating them about how badly they are needed. That’s the job of responsible leadership. Cheerleading doesn’t cut it.
This is actually about just another facet of denial, and denial has been a key reason we ended up here. Our financial motto has been, “deny, delay, extend, pretend.” No matter how miserably that strategy has failed– and it always does end in failure — it apparently still has its believers.
But isn’t cheerleading part of the job for a governor and a mayor? Aren’t they responsible for recruiting new business and economic development?
Absolutely, but effectiveness requires credibility, and that’s the whole point. Some things are going well here and we do have special assets other places envy. Tech, tourism and agriculture continue to thrive, for example. We’re inexpensive compared to most international financial centers with universities and transportation hubs like ours. Most importantly, Chicago is exactly the kind of big city in which young professionals increasingly want to live and work. Those and more are the selling points.
Emphasize those, but be honest about the rest and offer a game plan to address it.
Boo your own team when they deserve it. We’re Bears’ fans and do it all the time. It’s OK.
*Mark Glennon is founder of WirePoints. Opinions expressed are his own.