David Orr's take on what Chicago needs to do next
Published: Monday, September 27, 2010
Updated: Monday, August 27, 2012 16:08
It may not have been a long reign, but David Orr's seven-day mayoral career was one void of any tax increases, he reminds us jokingly. Now the Cook County Clerk and a former adjunct professor in the College of Liberal Arts and Science, Orr reflects on his fifteen minutes in the golden seat, speculating on what today's Chicago needs in a mayor, and which, if any, of the current candidates can deliver it.Elected Cook County Clerk in 1990, Orr has not spent the majority of his political career in mayoral seat limelight, which was given to him in 1987 after the sudden death of then-mayor and personal friend, Harold Washington. Instead, he has spent his time behind-the-scenes focusing on the county's day-to-day.
Albeit brief, Orr's time spent holding city keys gives him a unique perspective on the upcoming scramble for the fifth floor office, one no other local official entering the battle for City Hall can offer. In reflecting upon Chicago's political past, the days of the first Daley and Mike Royko, he notes the importance of civic history when looking toward the next mayoral era.
"The spectrum has changed so much. What used to be hard right is now the far left, and vice versa," he says as describing society's shifting definitions of what's conservative and what's liberal.
What hasn't changed? According to Orr, the very nature of politics.
"Politics is the art of managing conflict," he says, "and politics is all about conflicts of interest."
One may assume this to mean a less-than-optimistic outlook on the city's future from the Cook County Clerk, but Orr assures us that optimism is exactly what Chicago needs.
"I believe in Democracy," Orr states, citing the city's opportunity with the upcoming mayoral election. "In hard economic times, we may be able to be civically optimistic and rebuild morale."
Candidates like City Clerk Miguel Del Valle, Congressman Luis Gutierrez, State Sen. James Meeks, Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr., and Ald. Leslie Hairston promise a decorated ballot like never before, and in Orr's opinion, a heightened pressure for candidates to be coalition builders across race, party, and gender lines.
Looking back once more, the weeklong mayoral alum says, "Harold Washington was my friend, and he was turning this city around."
Without endorsing any one candidate, Orr concludes that come February, Illinois' most notorious city demands a mayoral candidate committed to coalitions, transparency, and urban planning to give the city the turn it needs.
With the economic boom era of his generation's childhood a distant memory, Orr notes the city's wealth disparity, poverty statistics within Chicago Public Schools, and disproportionate expansion as evidence of inside jobs over the past three decades.
Orr reiterates, however, that economic despair, like all aspects of political strife, is fueled by conflicts of interests and the inability to manage them.
How will number 55 manage? Orr emphasizes the need for Chicago's next mayor to actively build coalitions, and do so with transparency.
According to the civic veteran, "How can we control growth so that it helps more than the lucky few?" is the question these rookie candidates must be consistently asking themselves.