Next week, Mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel will walk into the vacated offices of the only Chicago mayor to have voluntarily left office in recent history facing one of the city's largest budget deficits and a news media that will fawn through a short honeymoon before unleashing an avalanche of criticism.
That's the way it has been in Chicago since the 1950s, when Mayor Richard M. Daley's father, Richard J. Daley, took office and built the Chicago Machine.
The Chicago news media has changed several times since those early days of Chicago politics, when newspapers often knowingly and unknowingly hired reporters with close ties to Chicago mobsters. The media changed during the years of the first Boss Daley, becoming fiercely critical, but the recent economic hardships have eviscerated editorial staffing, resulting in coverage of Chicago politics that has been cliche-ridden, shallow and lacking any depth.
But one thing will never change at City Hall, though: new mayors will begin their administrations enjoying a honeymoon of sorts, characterized by adulation and journalistic ass-kissing. Reporters almost always start out as "friends" or friendly to new mayors. The media plays the good-guy-bad-guy routine, with the beat reporters trying to maintain friendship in order to get inside scoops and the reporters based at the newspaper offices doing the heavy hitting.
This will change because eventually, the news media won't want the positive stories Mayor Emanuel will hope will be broadcast and published. In today's tough economy the space available for broadcast or published news has been cut dramatically, leaving room only for the kind of sordid drama and innuendo-based reporting that sells papers.
Six months is what I give Emanuel before the media turns sour on him and the honeymoon comes to an end. It might not even last that long. The media coverage may sour even sooner, with the impending doom and gloom over the city's economic landscape growing more and more ominous.
Emanuel's administration will be plagued by scandal and stories of corruption, driven by the inherent nature of Chicago machine politics. When someone scratches your back, you scratch theirs. Maybe that's why many people refer to money as scratch.
Emanuel's first major challenge is the tax rate. It's too high. But how does he maintain the city's services without increasing revenues? What ingenious ideas will he propose that have not yet been proposed? Emanuel will be able to use the tough economy to help himself, though. The best way to hire your friends and campaign contributors, and scratch a few backs, is to begin by laying off workers at City Hall. Fire deputies and employees, and then within a year, fill many of the positions with your cronies. That's the way it works. Emanuel doesn't have to stump for campaign cash as hard as his predecessors. No one has raised more money for a mayoral election than Emanuel.