Chicago has been in the news twice recently, once for being ranked as the most corrupt American city and this week for losing its opportunity to hold the Group of 8 economic summit meeting in May. The economics of the two events are related.
A study at the University of Illinois at Chicago and the University of Illinois Institute of Government and Public Affairs found that Chicago city officials, especially aldermen, were convicted by the federal government for corrupt activities while in office more often than officials in other cities.
It’s been decades since a Chicago mayor has been convicted of a crime while in office. But something has seemed different in that office too, because its holder had been named Richard Daley for 42 of the 56 years from 1955 to 2011 (first Richard J. Daley, then his son Richard M. Daley). It’s also been at least decades since a Chicago mayor sought a higher office.
A promotion tournament is one way that labor economists have suggested that people can be provided incentives to behave well in their jobs, be they in the private or public sector. The idea is that people have an extra reason to do their job well when they expect to be closely evaluated on the occasion of a promotion decision.
Promotions are sometimes a factor in political careers, too. Aldermen sometimes become mayors and mayors governors. Both George W. Bush and Bill Clinton were governors before being elected president. Officials are sometimes criticized for looking toward higher offices, but those aspirations might give them an extra reason to stay away from corruption, lest credible accusations of corruption mar their campaigns.
Many Chicago mayors have not been expected to pursue higher office. Richard J. Daley and Harold Washington died in office. Richard M. Daley retired, and Chicagoans do not expect him to run for governor, senator or president.
The current mayor, Rahm Emanuel, could be different. He is a prominent figure in the national Democratic Party. If, hypothetically, he were building a résumé for governor or another office, that could be good for Chicago. The better Chicago performs while he is mayor, the better his résumé will look.
Indeed, Mayor Emanuel has already involved himself in statewide, national and international interests. He was eager to play host to the G-8; although that was moved to Camp David, Chicago will be the site of a NATO meeting this year.
Mayors often concern themselves with the city’s public school system through high school. Mayor Emanuel has looked a bit presidential in tackling higher education, too.
Thus, while Chicagoans have wondered why their city should endure the hassle of G-8 and NATO meetings, perhaps they should appreciate having a mayor who might have “career concerns.”