March 24, 2021


In a political context, the so-called "opportunity structures" are a precious commodity. They are a euphemism defined by an acronym - OTRF, which means a plethora of Offices To Run For.

Chicago's estimated population in 2019 was about 2.6 million, New York City's 8.4 million, and Los Angeles's 3.8 million. That makes the Big Apple the most populous, as always, and Chicago "The Third City." But when it comes to opportunity structures, meaning elected jobs for ambitious politicians, Chicago remains the Second City, far better than LA and devoid of those annoying term-limits. But when it come to homicides, Chicago ranks Number One, with 774 homicides in 2020, compared to 447 in NYC and 349 in LA.

In a culinary context, New York City is like a layer-cake, with sweets piled upon sweets, and an abundance of superfluous public jobs (and attendant bureaucracy). Chicago's 2020 budget is $12.8 billion, NYC's $88.2 billion, and LA's $8.75 billion. All have Democratic mayors. All got a hefty bailout in the recently-passed "COVID-19 Relief Bill." All have intractable pension deficiencies. All are still in some stages of COVID lockdowns. And NYC and LA have mayoral elections in 2021 and 2022. What happens there has portents as to what could happen in Chicago in 2023.

NEW YORK CITY: "Borough" is an archaic word describing a town or a fortified place. It was adopted in England for district seats in the House of Commons, and later when the Dutch founded New York City, which was essentially what is now Manhattan. As time progressed, four boroughs grew around Manhattan: Brooklyn, Queens, Bronx and Staten Island, encompassing 302.6 square miles. NYC's 1898 city charter, passed by the state legislature, created a municipal corporation and merged all five boroughs into the existing city but granting unto each of them a form of government administration and making each a county with a "borough" president, district attorney and assessor and giving each president a seat on the now-abolished Board of Estimate, which set tax rates.

A mayor and comptroller was elected citywide every 4 years, and the mayor ran the NYPD, NYFD, school system and infrastructure, but the boroughs elected their president, assessor and DA conterminously. It's sort of like having five Kim Foxx's in Cook County, with crime being prosecuted in five different ways by five politically ambitious DA's in five different areas. Come to think of it, that's not a bad idea. They set their own local government tax rates, but presidents have no legislative power. They can, however, appoint unpaid members to their borough's "community boards," of which there are 59 in the city. It's a good place to start a career.

At present Manhattan (also known as New York County), the self-proclaimed "cultural, financial, media and entertainment capital of the world," which includes Harlem, Bedford-Stuyvesant, Central Park and Times Square, has a population of 1.6 million. Brooklyn (also known as Kings County) has a lengthy beachfront shoreline and Coney Island and has 2.6 million people. Queens stretches onto Long Island east of Brooklyn into Flushing, contains JFK Airport, Mets Stadium and a 265-acre zoo, has 2.25 million people The Bronx has 1.4 million and contains Yankee Stadium. Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx have extraordinarily diverse populations, with large concentrations of Jamaicans, Asian Indians and Puerto Ricans.

Staten Island, which can only be accessed by the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge or the ferry, is a suburb in the city - and wishes it wasn't. Its population is 476,000, and it elects Republicans to Congress, aldermanic seats and borough offices. The area is mostly white, sort of like Chicago's 41st or 19th Ward. Tough-on-crime borough DA Dan Donovan won the area's congressional seat and was set to run for mayor in 2021, but lost his House seat in 2018.

It should be noted that Cook County's population is 5.1 million (including Chicago's 2.6). NYC contains five counties, covering 302.6 square miles, and will always be Number One. If NYC was just Manhattan, Chicago would be the Big Apple. Manhattan DA Cyrus Vance Jr., the eponymous son of Jimmy Carter's Secretary of State, is positioning for a run for mayor or governor.

And when it comes to the number of aldermen, Chicago loses again. NYC has 51 compared to Chicago's 50 and LA's 15. A NYC alderman has about 163,467 constituents, while it's about 52,000 in Chicago - but a whopping 254,000 in LA. With that kind of service load, a Chicago alderman could triple his/her staffers and double his/her salary.

NYC has a mayor, Bill de Blasio, who is term-limited-out, a comptroller, Scott Stringer, who is running for mayor, and a "Public Advocate," a somewhat amorphous office dedicated to making mischief and generating headlines. The PA incumbent is Jumaane Williams. Prior to being elected mayor in 2013, de Blasio was PA. In Chicago that would be like an elected Inspector General who could delve into consumer and corruption issues.

And there's another anomaly: NYC still has partisan system. There are Republicans on the ballot and party primaries. There are two Republican aldermen, both termed-out in 2021. But there is also a stunning 29 Democrats termed-out, plus 3 have retired and 7 have resigned. Can you imagine that in Chicago? 40-plus aldermen out the door? There would be no work for the U.S. Attorney.

NYC voters by 1993 referendum approved 8-year/2-term limits on all elected officials. The clever Bloomberg in 2008 had the city council revise that to 3-terms, so he could run again, which he did in 2009. Voters approved another referendum in 2010 re-installing the 2-term limit. De Blasio should consider himself fortunate. After his 2020 NYC COVID shutdowns and prolonged school closures, he could never have been re-elected.

And politically correct NYC differs in other ways: (1) It has never elected a woman as mayor. Chicago did it twice, in 1979 and 2019. (2) It has elected a Black as mayor: David Dinkins in 1989, when he beat Rudy Giuliani (R). Giuliani, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York (1983-87), came back in 1993, lambasted Dinkins as soft on crime, and won (and was re-elected in 1997. Chicago elected a Black mayor in 1983, 1987 and 2019. (3) It has elected Republican mayors periodically: Fiorello La Guardia (1934-45) three times, Giuliani (1994-2001) twice, and Michael Bloomberg (2002-13) three times, although in 2009 as a Republican/Independent. There are multiple parties with ballot spots in NYC: Conservative, Liberal, Green, Libertarian. A candidate can have several nominations, and the vote is cumulative. Chicago last elected a Republican mayor, "Big Bill" Thompson, in 1915, 1919 and 1927. Never since.

The state legislature abolished partisan Chicago mayoral elections in 1996. There is just a multi-candidate primary with a runoff between the top two finishers. Chicago aldermanic elections have been non-partisan since the 1920s, with runoffs.

NYC has implemented "ranked choice" voting in primaries, with no runoffs. That means a voter can pick 3 candidates, with a 1st, 2nd and 3rd choice/ranking. If a voter's first choice is not among the top two, then the second choice is applied, and so forth until somebody gets 50-plus percent. This is the future. NYC's 2021 field includes almost 20 Democratic candidates, the most prominent being Andrew Yang, a wealthy Asian-American entrepreneur who ran for president in 2020.

The situation is much like 2019 in Chicago, with 13 candidates running and Bill Daley and Toni Preckwinkle the best-known. The top-tier candidates are Yang, Springer, Brooklyn borough president Eric Adams, and Maya Wiley, an anti-police activist who was chair of the city Police Review Board. Shaun Donovan, Barack Obama's HUD Secretary, is running. The "woke" candidate is Springer, who has been endorsed by allies of congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of Brooklyn, but not yet by her. The primary is June 22.

Unlike Lori Lightfoot's 2019 win with 18 percent, ranked-voting means a candidate must have crossover appeal and be an acceptable alternative choice.

Lightfoot had appeal that Preckwinkle didn't.

BUT FOR ranked voting, Wiley could be NYC's Lightfoot. Now, being the LEAST UNACCEPTABLE candidate to the most voters is the pathway to victory. Just be inoffensive.

The Republicans have an interesting mayoral choice between Curtis Sliwa, founder of the Guardian Angels, an unarmed not-for-profit whose members walk around and ride the subway to deter crime with their signature red berets, and Fernando Mateo, founder of the NYC Federation of Taxi Drivers. Both have a considerable political base. If Democrats nominate Springer or Wiley, Sliwa could win.

LOS ANGELES: The city's population is 3.8 million, but the population of Los Angeles County is 17.8 million, and it extends from Riverside to LA to Long Beach, covering 469 square miles. A 5-member Board of Supervisors runs the county's unincorporated area, and each district has a population of 2 million. And you think Cook County's 17 county commissioners have a tough job? LA mayor Eric Garcetti is termed-out in 2022. He could run for governor if Gavin Newsom is recalled. Past mayors like Sam Yorty, Tom Bradley, Richard Riordan and Antonio Villaraigosa have failed in statewide bids.

CHICAGO: Democrats should be happy with what they've got.