Transitioning Washington to the Chicago Way
By Brian A. Bernardoni
As perceived by many, the Chicago Way is a get it done or make it happen style that is big on results and brutally short on diplomacy. It involves allies, friends or enemies as tools to leverage desired results. Diplomacy among friends is usually no more than a well-placed phone call, while diplomacy when leveraged against enemies crushes many who stand in opposition by the shear perceived and often not-so-perceived weight and power of those who are running the organization.
Diplomacy can reward everyone in a perfect world. Friends can gain access or contracts, and enemies who get crushed are sometimes brought back into the system if they have value and if they play ball when part of a future shared need. As statesman and philosopher Edmund Burke once said, In politics there are no permanent enemies, no permanent friends, only permanent interests.
Romanticized by many and despised by other, the Chicago Way can be an effective way to run government. Both Daleys in Chicago (Richard J. and Richard M.) are the masters of the system. Controlling the legislative and administrative systems, maintaining support from both unions and business groups and populist public support through clear messaging and visible achievables are all parts of the Chicago Way. And like the new economic platform that President-elect Barack Obama campaigned on, it has transformed and reinvented itself over the years to maintain its success.
The success of the Chicago Way is without equal, as attested by much of what Chicago is today, but it does rely on everything working in tandem and it does have some pitfalls.
Washington, D.C., is not Chicago. Obama is not Mayor Daley, and, truth be told, when you take a closer look at the Chicago Way, the system itself was built over decades. Obama will not have the benefits of a system in place, which leads us to the key question: Will the Chicago Way work in Washington, D.C.? As a veteran of both cities, I think that the importance of this question may indicate the success or failure of an economic recovery in this country.
The Chicago Way at its heart focuses on solving problems, quickly. This is a good thing for Americans wanting change and demanding a solution-oriented government. In achieving this, from a legislative perspective, you need absolute control of the legislative branch of government, something Obama almost has. However, Congress is not the City Council nor the Illinois General Assembly.
In the Chicago Way you have to have control of its leaders, and that’s not an easy thing to do. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Senate President Harry Reid (D-NV) are smart and resourceful politicians who have paid their dues in a system that has few rewards. These leaders know that the trade-offs are where the spoils are in Washington.
In Chicago, Mayor Daley has key leaders such as Alderman Ed Burke and Alderman William J.P. Banks who can be relied on to move the Mayor’s agenda forward. While both Burke and Banks are brilliant and heavy with political power, both understand the City, the Mayor’s goals and the greater good for Chicagoans. They are hardly pushovers and know trade-offs better than anyone. To successfully negotiate those trade-offs in Washington and to argue for President-elect Obama’s agenda will take a deft hand, and that is where Rahm Emanuel comes in.
President-elect Obama made a masterful decision in selecting Emanuel. The Chicago congressman is among the smartest and toughest politicians Chicago has ever produced, and is a master strategist who is formidable in any room, in any place. In Emanuel, Obama found a ruthless and loyal collaborator who demands loyalty from everyone and has the ability to humble and punish those who oppose him. Expect Emanuel to be deft at handling the tough-minded Pelosi and for him to have equal skills with Reid at least for the first 18 months or so. If stimulating the housing market is part of the Obama economic priorities, expect quick action in this area. If it is not, the market may have to run its course until NAR can prioritize its agenda with that of the President.
Emanuel will also bring a toughness and provide a direct hand in making hiring decisions. The Chicago Way demands toughness, loyalty and putting the mission above personal gain. Expect key Obama staffers to reflect those traits, and any army Emanuel builds will be on message and will be selfless.
The challenges for Obama and Emanuel outside of the economy and two-front war will be how Emanuel is able to keep together the coalition that brought Obama to power, while keeping the President-elect’s priority legislation on pace at the same time. Congress can be easily distracted, and the message was clear from the public that Obama was elected to solve problems quickly. In order for the economic part of Obama’s plan to be passed, unions and other traditional Democratic constituencies, such as environmental and human rights groups, may have to be put on hold, or be told to re-focus their needs until the economy stabilizes. Emanuel will have little patience with egos and will be forceful in how he lets interest groups know that if a group’s priority is not that of the administration, then that group may have to wait.
Expect the constituencies who supported Obama during his campaign to be brought into supporting his policies through the first term. Emanuel and his team will aggressively maintain the database and will continue to advise their supporters to lobby the government and will pursue public statements on the issues.
Obama’s platform on housing primarily relied on reforms to the mortgage industry and wage-based tax credits. If NAR is successful in reforming Fannie and Freddie, coupled with other traditional items, Realtors may see some brighter skies ahead.
Coming back from Orlando at the NAR National Convention, the big news was that Realtor priorities are now focused on NAR’s four-point housing stimulus plan. Here are the points:
1. A $7,500 first-time homebuyer tax credit for all home purchasers without repayment.
2. Making the increased FHA, Fannie and Freddie loan limits permanent so all American families can find a safe and affordable mortgage when buying a home.
3. Getting the $700 billion Treasury relief program focused on providing stability to the nationÕs housing markets and reduction of foreclosures.
4. A permanent barring of banks from real estate brokerage and management activities.
BRIAN A. BERNARDONI IS THE DIRECTOR OF GOVERNMENTAL AFFAIRS FOR THE CHICAGO ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS AND IS ALSO THE CHAIRMAN OF THE GOVERNMENTAL AFFAIRS DIRECTORS FOR THE NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS FOR 2007-2009. HE CAN BE REACHED AT BBERNARDONI@CHICAGOREALTOR.COM.
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