The New York Times: "When voters go the polls Tuesday to pick Chicago's first new mayor since the 1980s, they can reflect on a lively campaign that featured topics ranging from education and crime to whether one of the mayoral hopefuls had smoked crack.
"But one issue dwarfs all the others: like most local and state governments, City Hall is facing a gaping budget deficit with few prospects for new revenue streams in the near future."
The true measure of the city's next mayor will not rest in the quality of his or her accounting skills. As Paul Krugman rather lucidly pointed out in a recent New York Times column, budgets aren't about money (no matter how loud Republicans scream to the contrary), they're about priorities.
The next mayor needs to realize this and frame the current budget crisis in a language that isn't primarily economic, but moral. In a moral-centric society, accounts accrued by the government to educate children; to ensure that everyone, regardless of his bank statement, has access to health care; to ensure that the streets are safe and that houses don't burn to the ground when they don't have to - these aren't considered expenses, but investments; not deficits, but duties. They're simply not amenable to a discussion that might take place in a shareholder's meeting.
To quickly assess where the next mayor's priorities are, listen to his or her language. The moment he or she starts aping party talking points like "fiscal responsibility" and "mortgaging the future," with no mention of cutting defense spending or raising corporate taxes even on companies whose pollution contributes to rising health care costs or the fact that the budget crisis is less a crisis in itself and more of an indicator of the real crises of education and unjust wealth distribution and disproportionate corporate influence on the democratic process, beware.
And remember the enduring words of John Maynard Keynes: "Instead of using their vastly increased material and technical resources to build a wonder city, the men of the nineteenth century built slums...[which] on the test of private enterprise, 'paid,' whereas the wonder city would, they thought, have been an act of foolish extravagance, which would, in the imbecile idiom of the financial fashion, have 'mortgaged the future'...The same rule of self-destructive financial calculation governs every walk of life."