Is Chicago the dream or the nightmare

Devolution for England's big cities provided they have a directly elected Mayor is the offer. It's the U.S. Model. Will Birmingham or Leeds be the next Chicago? What have we to look forward to? Chicago's Town Hall politics are notorious. 
There is no doubt the Mayor of Chicago is a very powerful position. The city is responsible for Housing, Education, Police, transport infrastructure and economic development. The city also grants or with holds planning permission and can change the zoning regulations to benefit local communities or big business.The city is a major employer but most significantly it places very large contracts in the private sector and has considerable funds to make grants to community groups. This is how the Mayor wheels political power or as people in Chicago rather  pragmatically put it "gets things done". To British voters this amount of power invested in one high profile charismatic leader is foreign to our system of local government. We think our system is more honest, open and transparent. Chicagoans recognise their system has on occasions resulted in corruption in the way contracts are awarded, favouritism in the way grants are distributed, cronyism, the undue influence of big business and the exploitation of ethnic tensions but they consider that this is preferable to a stifling bureaucracy and political stalemate that is open, fair and incapable of delivering against the competing demands. 

Does it work?
Big business as in Washington has a big influence on politics whether through powerful lobbying groups or large donations to election campaigns.  It is the third largest city in the U.S. It is a very diverse city,45 percent are white the rest are black or Hispanic with 5 percent Asian. In politics the Irish/American vote is significant. City hall politics reflect this ethnic make up. As is typical of US cities the very rich and the very poor live there. The murder rate is high but not as high as some smaller less prosperous cites like Detroit or New Orleans but crime rates, and gang related shootings vary tremendously depending on the area, poor neighbourhoods have much higher murder rates, crime and gang related shootings. There is a big gap in life expectancy between the affluent parts of the city and the poor neighbourhoods. But that's the U.S. way they believe in making wealth not redistributing it.
The problem is not more power to the cities or more power to Local Government but more power to directly elected Mayors. The money from central government comes with this big string attached. If we look to the U.S. where this model comes from we can see the increased risk of creating personal fiefdoms and political corruption but which cash strapped council wouldn't be prepared to take this risk in order to make things happen?

Blair Mcpherson former local authority director,blogger and author www.blairmcpherson.co.uk

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