The Progressive Review
BACK TO TOP
Big Easy to Big Empty: The Untold Story of the Drowning of New Orleans
BACK TO TOP
301 East Capitol: Your editor bought this book because it's title placed it within four blocks of his last home in DC. It turned out to be one of the most pleasant reading surprises he's had in a long time.
BUILDING POWERFUL COMMUNITY ORGANIZATIONS: A Personal Guide to Creating Groups That Can Solve Problems and Change the World, by Michael Jacoby Brown, Long Haul Press, $19.95.
CALLING ALL RADICALS: How Grassroots Organizers Can Save Our Democracy, by Gabriel Thompson, Nation Books, $14.95.
TOOLS FOR RADICAL DEMOCRACY: How to Organize for Power in Your Community, by Joan Minieri and Paul Getsos, Chardon Press, $29.95.
BACK TO TOP
We have in recent decades been so intent on making our cities neat and orderly that we have forgotten that the major contribution of the city is its explosive and random potential. Our goal has been physical order and fiscal benefits; the results have been social disorder and huge deficits. A thriving urban ecology should not just be about clean air and trees; but also about communities and economic survival, justice, decent education, security, happiness, the joy of chance, variety, and opportunity.
Cities often fail us but it is their enduring service to both shelter and venture that makes even the grimmest among them continuing magnets. Even as those who have used them well and long for their own purposes flee to the quiet, comfort, and safety of another place, the artist, the drug dealer cashing in his chips for a legal business, the ambitious new immigrant, the young college grad, the entrepreneur, move in and begin the urban story again. Free from the predetermined human and physical geography of a rural or small town community, we have a chance to design our own environment. In the end, the city, becomes not just a place but, as Brown University's Arnold Weinstein has suggested, "work being done."
We now comprehend the hazards of blithely pouring DDT over crops, slashing through treelands, or fouling the air. But we still act as thought we can, without penalty, wipe out neighborhoods, force mass migrations, rip out favorite meeting places for people, or tear down centers of communications, culture and commerce that are as important to a community as a marsh is to a flyway
One of the reasons liberals don't do better is because they use phrases like "urban sprawl" to describe the places where about half of America lives, most by some degree of choice. While there is nothing wrong with trying to encourage denser, less traffic dependent communities, it doesn't help to bad mouth all contrary communities while doing it. What is happening now is the suburban equivalent of the 1960s when liberals and urban planners disparaged inner city communities by calling them ghettos. Like Toronto planner Terry Fowler, one can speak of the importance of replacing mobility with access or of the advantages, with high fuel costs, of having more of what we need closer to where we live. People will respond to practical solutions far better than to vague goals disrespectful of their communities. The key point should not be to reach some abstract goal but to improve the life of communities affected by decades of poor urban planning. Many of these communities are already attractive places to live but suffer from transportation, shopping and energy inefficiencies. The key is to plan for the people who live there and not for the soulless desires of master plans. The next time you're tempted to use the word, just remember: it ain't sprawl, it's somebody's home.
Good urban economics would be the economics of small business, of self-generating economies, of cooperatives and of neighborhood-owned companies. It would be the economics of recycling money within the city, of making things other cities need, and of giving every resident a fair chance to make a buck.
The key to the economic revival of the older city is the development of these self-generating economies. The self-generating economy has a long history in America. Many of the country's early communities were largely self-sufficient. This self-sufficiency, however, disappeared with the concentration of industry and land ownership. In cities, one can easily find self--generating economies although we seldom recognize them as such. The explosion of the legal profession, for example, reflects in no small part the ability of lawyers to create jobs for each other. The yuppie phenomenon can be seen as a self-generating economy: yuppies creating artificial needs for other yuppies and with some selling and others buying items that fulfill these needs. The importance of such economies tends to be disregarded because they don't have the visible form of a single corporation or factory. Yet the impact can be dramatic. For example, if all of Washington's taxi drivers worked for a single company, they would form the largest firm in the city. You'd never guess it from public policy, which is far more concerned with the regulation of these activities than with the encouragement of them. They are treated more as a nuisance than an essential part of the economic life of the city. Thus, one of the few industries anyone in the city can enter without the vagaries of "personnel procedures" and without a college education is actively discouraged. . .
The more we step into a paradigm of urban ecology, the more we find ourselves drifting closer to other things -- our work, our food, our environment, and our neighbors. Our sense of order no longer relies -- in the tradition of American city planners from L'Enfant to Robert Moses -- upon outward symmetry, illusions of order, and grandeur. Rather it seeks inner integration and grace. Our concept of the city steps away from the cold rigidity of the blueprint and comes closer to the joyful exuberance of a Richard Scarry drawing. We stop worrying about the sleek exterior of the car and concern ourselves with the less aesthetic but more essential engine.
For each of us there is a public and a private city. Some live primarily in former and typically describe the city with concrete numbers -- so many of some problem per 100,000 -- and abstract phrases such as "we need a public-private partnership." Many, many more, though, know the city as a collection of specific stories and people. It is not just understanding that gets lost in this gap. Urban policy seeks to improve a city's numbers rather than the specificity of individual lives. The result is that many plans still -- although more covertly than in the days of "urban removal" -- implicitly assume that part of the solution is a better class of people moving to the place being planned. We do not yet require human impact statements that might reveal a plan's true cost in higher rents, ethnic and economic change, effect on existing social structure and institutions, or access to places that matter.
The problem with urban planners is two fold. First, they work for the wrong people, the government, rather than for the citizens. As local governments have become more corrupt and more beholden to the interests of a small number of developers and other businesses, urban planning has inevitably come to reflect these perverse priorities. Second, urban planners believe in sweeping physical solutions to social problems. The idea, Richard Sennett has written, goes back to the 1860s design for Paris by Baron Haussmann. Haussmann, Sennett suggests, bequeathed us the notion that we could alter social patterns by changing the physical landscape. This approach was not about urban amenities such as park benches and gas lighting or technological improvements such as indoor plumbing but about what G. K. Chesterton called the huge modern heresy of "altering the human soul to fit its conditions, instead of altering human conditions to fit the human soul."
Modern planning was in part spurred by the desire of the elites to recover their cities from the immigrant politicians and riff raff who had seized urban America in the late 19th and early 20th century. Much of what was described as "reform," was in fact just a transfer of power - including the power to corrupt - back to the elites.The same thing would happen again folloowing the migration of blacks to the cities in the last half of the 20th century. It was not urban development for the masses but urban recovery for the elites.
Bill Quiqley, Truthout - Katrina hit New Orleans and the Gulf Coast three years ago this week. The president promised to do whatever it took to rebuild. . . This is what New Orleans looks like today.
0: Number of renters in Louisiana who have received financial assistance from the $10 billion federal post- Katrina rebuilding program Road Home Community Development Block Grant - compared to 116,708 homeowners.
0: Number of apartments currently being built to replace the 963 public housing apartments formerly occupied and now demolished at the St. Bernard Housing Development.
0: Amount of data available to evaluate performance of publicly financed, privately run charter schools in New Orleans in 2005-2006 and 2006-2007 school years.
0.8: Percentage of rental homes that were supposed to be repaired and occupied by August 2008 which were actually completed and occupied - a total of 82 finished out of 10,000 projected.
4: Number of the 13 City of New Orleans Planning Districts that are at the same risk of flooding as they were before Katrina.
10: Number of apartments being rehabbed so far to replace the 896 apartments formerly occupied and now demolished at the Lafitte Housing Development.
11: Percent of families who have returned to live in Lower Ninth Ward.
20-25: Years that experts estimate it will take to rebuild the City of New Orleans at current pace.
32: Percent of the city's neighborhoods that have less than half as many households as before Katrina.
36: Percent fewer tons of cargo that move through Port of New Orleans since Katrina.
38: Percent fewer hospital beds in New Orleans since Katrina.
41: Number of publicly funded, privately run public charter schools in New Orleans out of total of 79 public schools in the city.
43: Percentage of child care available in New Orleans compared to before Katrina.
46: Percentage increase in rents in New Orleans since Katrina.
56: Percentage fewer inpatient psychiatric beds compared to before Katrina.
80: Percentage fewer public transportation buses now than pre-Katrina.
81: Percentage of homeowners in New Orleans who received insufficient funds to cover the complete costs to repair their homes.
6,982: Number of families still living in FEMA trailers in metro New Orleans area.
8,000: Fewer publicly assisted rental apartments planned for New Orleans by federal government.
10,000: Houses demolished in New Orleans since Katrina.
12,000: Number of homeless in New Orleans even after camps of people living under the bridges have been resettled - double the pre-Katrina number.
14,000: Number of displaced families in New Orleans area whose hurricane rental assistance expires in March 2009.
32,000: Number of children who have not returned to public school in New Orleans, leaving the public school population less than half what it was pre-Katrina.
39,000: Number of Louisiana homeowners who have applied for federal assistance in repair and rebuilding who still have not received any money.
46,000: Fewer African-American voters in New Orleans in 2007 gubernatorial election than in 2003 gubernatorial election.
71,657: Vacant, ruined, unoccupied houses in New Orleans today.
132,000: Fewer people in New Orleans than before Katrina, according to the City of New Orleans current population estimate of 321,000 in New Orleans.
1.9 billion: FEMA dollars scheduled to be available to metro New Orleans for Katrina damages that have not yet been delivered.
2.6 billion: FEMA dollars scheduled to be available to State of Louisiana for Katrina damages that have not yet been delivered.
STUDY FINDS ONLY 30% OF KATRINA FUNDS SLATED FOR LONG TERM REBUILDING
Two years after the onslaught of hurricanes Katrina and Rita, much of the Gulf Coast is still in crisis -- and billions of federal recovery money remains bottled up or has been squandered due to red tape, failures of oversight and misguided priorities. That's the conclusion of a new report from the Institute for Southern Studies..
The study, published in collaboration with Oxfam America and the Jewish Funds for Justice, looks at 80 statistical indicators and draws on interviews with more than 40 Gulf Coast leaders to identify roadblocks to recovery, and ways federal leaders can tackle critical needs in the region like housing, jobs and coastal protection.
The Institute reveals that, out of the $116 billion in Katrina funds allocated, less than 30% has gone towards long-term rebuilding-and less than half of that 30% has been spent, much less reached those most in need.
"The President says he's written a 'big check' for the Gulf Coast, but the over 60,000 families still in FEMA trailers must be wondering if the check bounced," says Jeffrey Buchanan of the RFK Memorial Center for Human Rights and co-author of the report on Katrina spending.
Amount that Bush administration says has been spent on Gulf Coast recovery since 2005 hurricanes: $116 billion
Estimated percent of those funds that are for long-term recovery projects: 30
Percent of FEMA's 2005 disaster relief budget that was spent on administrative costs: 22
Of $16.7 billion in Community Development Block Grants earmarked for long-term Gulf Coast rebuilding, percent that had been spent as of August 2007: 30
Of $8.4 billion allocated to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for levee repair in Louisiana, percent that had been spent as of July 2007: 20
Percent of rebuilding costs that Gulf Coast local governments were required to pay up front to receive matching federal funds, due to a Stafford Act provision that Congress has since waived for the region: 25, later reduced by President Bush to 10
Percent that New York had to pay after 9/11 and Florida after Hurricane Andrew, because the federal government waived the Stafford Act's matching requirement: 0
As of June 2007, value of controversial "cost plus" Katrina contracts given out by three federal agencies, which allows companies to charge taxpayers for cost overruns and guaranteed profits: $2.4 billion
As of August 2006, value of Gulf Coast contracts that a Congressional study found were "plagued by waste, fraud, abuse or mismanagement": $8.75 billion
HOW TO DESTROY AN AFRICAN AMERICAN CITY IN 33 STEPS
BILL QUIGLEY, BLACK COMMENTATOR - Step One. Delay. If there is one word that sums up the way to destroy an African-American city after a disaster, that word is DELAY. If you are in doubt about any of the following steps - just remember to delay and you will probably be doing the right thing.
Step Two. When a disaster is coming, do not arrange a public evacuation. Rely only on individual resources. People with cars and money for hotels will leave. The elderly, the disabled and the poor will not be able to leave. Most of those without cars - 25% of households of New Orleans, overwhelmingly African-Americans - will not be able to leave. Most of the working poor, overwhelmingly African-American, will not be able to leave. Many will then permanently accuse the victims who were left behind of creating their own human disaster because of their own poor planning. It is critical to start by having people blame the victims for their own problems.
Step Three. When the disaster hits, make certain the national response is overseen by someone who has no experience at all handling anything on a large scale, particularly disasters. In fact, you can even inject some humor into the response - have the disaster coordinator be someone whose last job was the head of a dancing horse association.
Step Four. Make sure that the President and national leaders remain aloof and only slightly concerned. This sends an important message to the rest of the country.
Step Five. Make certain the local, state, and national governments do not respond in a coordinated, effective way. This will create more chaos on the ground.
Step Six. Do not bring in food or water or communications right away. This will make everyone left behind more frantic and create incredible scenes for the media.
KATRINA: A GRIM ONE YEAR FACT SHEET
PROGRESS REPORT - 1,833 lives lost. 270,000 homes destroyed. $55 billion in insured damage. Up to $1.4 billion in American tax dollars wasted by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. But even more staggering has been the slow pace of recovery on the Gulf Coast.
Yesterday, as part of the White House's "public relations blitz," Bush trumpeted in his weekly radio address that the federal government has "committed $110 billion to the recovery effort." But those billions of dollars have yet "to translate into billions in building."
In his Sept. 15 speech, Bush stated that his administration "will stay as long as it takes, to help citizens rebuild their communities and their lives" and promised to "get the work done quickly." But one year after the storm, repopulation in New Orleans "has slowed to a trickle, leaving the city with well under half its pre-storm population of 460,000." Lacking the resources to return to the city are many African-Americans who formed the working-class backbone of the city. The Houston Chronicle notes, "Vast sections of New Orleans are still devoid of life, populated by endless rows of broken, empty houses waving For Sale signs like flags of surrender." Many New Orleans property owners may lose their former homes. The one year anniversary of Katrina is the deadline when property owners "must have gutted the buildings or shown some signs they intend to rebuild when they can. If they don't, the city can take it as a given they do not intend to return."
The average selling price for homes in areas that weren't affected by flooding has risen 25 percent. Rental rates have risen 40 percent, disproportionately affecting black and low-income families. In Biloxi, MS, 70 percent of renters affected by the storm are black, according to an NAACP study, and another report by the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights noted that almost "100 percent of public housing families in New Orleans are African-American." Approximately 112,000 low-income homes were damaged, but only a fraction of federal housing assistance has been earmarked for rental units.
More than 81,000 regional businesses were affected by the storm, resulting in the loss of 450,000 jobs. . . Bush touted the government's $110 billion commitment to Katrina recovery, . . . but in reality, just $44 billion has been spent. Approximately 60 percent of the businesses in New Orleans have still not reopened. According to a report by the Democratic members of the House Small Business Committee, "80 percent of small businesses on the Gulf Coast have not yet received loans promised by the federal government."
A White House "Fact Sheet" released in advance of Katrina's one year anniversary notes that FEMA has provided $5.6 billion to repair and replace damaged public infrastructure. But Gulf Coast Recovery Coordinator Donald E. Powell has admitted that nearly a third of the trash in New Orleans has yet to be picked up. Sixty percent of New Orleans homes still lack electricity and just 66 percent of public schools have reopened. Only 17 percent of the city's buses are operational, causing severe problems for the many residents who don't own cars.
"Look at what we're getting in terms of services," said Janet Howard, of the Bureau of Governmental Research, a nonprofit group in New Orleans. "It's basically a nonfunctioning city." Crime has risen again in New Orleans -- the homicide rate is nearly 10 times the national average -- but only seven of 13 courtrooms have reopened and judges have a backlog of nearly 7,000 cases. A recent report by the Department of Justice found that in New Orleans, "justice is simply unavailable." But where the federal, state, and local governments have been absent, citizen activism has surged in the wake of the storm, "chipping away at some of this city's unhealthy institutions." Many schools -- formerly in "the control of a corrupt district office" -- are now being managed by parents and community activists as charter schools, and newcomers are pushing for reform and tighter ethics in the City Council.
Health care is an increasing problem in the post-Katrina Gulf Coast. The Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals estimated that "New Orleans has lost half of its physicians and suffers from a shortage of 1,000 nurses." Forty-four percent of adult caregivers now lack health coverage and "34 percent of children in FEMA-subsidized communities have at least one chronic health condition that requires treatment, but half of the affected children no longer have a medical provider." Even though the population of New Orleans is at less than half of its pre-storm population, the suicide rate has tripled and there is no capacity to deal with mental health and substance abuse problems. The people of New Orleans are also suffering from a lack of hospitals and the inability to receive immediate care from emergency rooms.
A June Government Accountability Office report found that between $600 million and $1.4 billion in taxpayer dollars has been wasted on "improper and potentially fraudulent individual assistance payments." Payments went to Katrina evacuees to pay for items such as Dom Perignon champagne, New Orleans Saints season tickets, and adult-oriented entertainment. A recent report by the House Committee on Government Reform found that 19 Katrina contracts -- worth $8.75 billion -- "experienced significant overcharges, wasteful spending, or mismanagement."
The head of the Army Corps of Engineers recently expressed skepticism that the New Orleans levees could withstand a hurricane with a heavy storm surge this year. In order for the levees to withstand a Category 5 hurricane and for residents of New Orleans to finally feel safe, another $30 billion will need to be spent. Unfortunately, as the New Orleans Times-Picayune notes, the federal government's "commitment to the long-term protection of South Louisiana is still uncomfortably murky."
Washington Post Nearly half of the Chinese residents in the Districts Chinatown area are fighting to stay in a neighborhood now known more for upscale restaurants, the Verizon Center and pricey condos than as a hub of Chinese culture.
The owners of the Museum Square apartments want to raze the subsidized-housing complex and replace it with a massive rental development.
More than 50 residents and activists rallied in front of the building in the 400 block of K Street NW, hoping to block the development project and preserve in-demand affordable housing in that part of the city.
The building has 302 units, with Chinese immigrant families making up about 60 percent of residents. If longtime occupants are forced out, one of the last vestiges of authentic Chinatown would leave with them.
The buildings Section 8 contract with the Department of Housing and Urban Development expires in October, but residents on Tuesday vowed to fight for their homes.
Vox - Brazil spent about $3 billion building 12 new or heavily refurbished stadiums for last year's World Cup. Officials promised these taxpayer-funded venues would continue to generate revenue for years, hosting concerts, pro soccer games, and other events.
But as Lourdes Garcia-Navarro at NPR reports, most stadiums are failing to generate much revenue at all. The most expensive one, in Brasilia, is most regularly used as a site for a municipal bus parking lot.
Vox - Steve Dombek is an activist with an unusual cause. He wants US cities in general and San Francisco in particular to adopt narrower streets, along the lines of what you'll often see in cities that were built before the 19th century.
His point is that doing so could open up lots of space for the creation of much-needed additional housing in places like San Francisco, where thriving local economies are being strangled by an inability for more people to be able to move to the city. Narrower streets could create tons of new housing
Right now, the public right of way on a typical San Francisco residential street like McAllister is 68 feet and 9 inches, enough room for 30 feet worth of pedestrian space and then almost 40 additional feet dedicated to automobiles.
.. In the revised version of the street, you can still drive a car, but you'll have to do it slowly in a space that's shared respectfully with pedestrians rather than optimized for high-speed cruising. And there's no space dedicated to parking. That's not to say that nobody can park a vehicle. But to do so you're going to have to pay for parking in the private market, the same as someone looking for a place to sleep is going to have to pay for space.
New Yorkers work the longest workweeks in comparison to 29 other major American cities when our commuting hours are taken into account. The average New Yorker spends over six hours a week commuting.
Anne Hidalgo, the mayor of Paris, has called for big changes to The City of Light that that would make it a healthier and more livable place. At the top of her wishlist are more pedestrianized areas in the city and a doubling of bike lanes, along with a goal that will certainly prove to be controversial: A total ban on diesel cars in Paris by 2020.
The City of Los Angeles spent at least $51 million more in Wall Street in fees than it allocates for its entire budget for the Bureau of Street Services.
Entropy update New Yorkers are using phony vests and ID tags to get fake service dogs into posh restaurants
In Los Angeles, L.A. Weekly has learned, 48 percent of auto crashes were hit-and-runs in 2009, the most recent year for which complete statistics are available.
SAM SMITH - One of the reasons liberals don't do better is because they use phrases like "urban sprawl" to describe the places where about half of America lives, most by some degree of choice. While there is nothing wrong with trying to encourage denser, less traffic dependent communities, it doesn't help to bad mouth all contrary communities while doing it. What is happening now is the suburban equivalent of the 1960s when liberals and urban planners disparaged inner city communities by calling them ghettos.
Like Toronto planner Terry Fowler, one can speak of the importance of replacing mobility with access or of the advantages, with high fuel costs, of having more of what we need closer to where we live. People will respond to practical solutions far better than to vague goals disrespectful of their communities.
The key point should not be to reach some abstract goal but to improve the life of communities affected by decades of poor urban planning. Many of these communities are already attractive places to live but suffer from transportation, shopping and energy inefficiencies.
The key is to plan for the people who live
there and not for the soulless desires of master plans. The next
time you're tempted to use the word, just remember: it ain't
sprawl, it's somebody's home.
THE URBAN MYTH OF URBAN REFORM
SAM SMITH - As lower income
ethnic residents are increasingly removed from America's major
cities we find this change cloaked in the language of reform.
The changes are described as "revitalization" or "economic
development" when, in fact, those being truly revitalized
or developed typically constitute a small percentage of the population.
In 1998, those earning over $200,000 and paying 50% of all US income taxes represented only 2.6% of DC's population. Those earning over $100,000 represented 8.1%.
How many people are we talking about? Less than 22,000 taxpayers, 7,000 of whom earned over $200,000.
At the other end are 209,000 taxpayers who earned less than $50,000. Together, they provided only 16% of the city's federal income tax.
One would assume that a city that is truly being revitalized would find more and better jobs for its residents. In fact, jobs for DC residents have declined fifteen percent over the past 20 years.
One would also assume that a city that is truly being revitalized would find its population growing. But this isn't the case for those urban areas that make the most noise about economic development.
A recent study reported in USA Today found that "more cities with 100,000-plus residents shrank from 2004 to 2005 than in the previous year: 97 vs. 82. Costly coastal cities are among the new losers: New York, San Diego and Long Beach" along with Washington which once was the tenth largest city in the country and may be soon smaller than Las Vegas. Only 20 cities went from loss to gain, including Indianapolis, Wichita, Jersey City and Fort Wayne - not ones that you generally associate with the much ballyhooed "creative class."
As happened in the previous century, urban elites are simply reclaiming cities from ethnic groups - while calling themselves reformers and revitalizers. In fact, they are just taking power. In Creating Portland, a book about Portland, Maine, Joseph Conforti describes how it happened there in the last century:
"Portland's increasing ethnic diversity played a role in the adoption of a city manager form of government in 1923, a Progressive-Era reform that altered politics in many American urban communities. As cities expanded social services and assumed more debt, city manager government offered the promise of greater efficiency and economy in the conduct of municipal affairs. Business principles would replace partisan politics as the mainspring of city government. Such a prospect appealed to many citizens in cities seemingly caught in a spoils system of partisan ward politics that divided a predominantly native-born Republican constituency from a rising Democratic Party increasingly ethnic and immigrant in its makeup. . .
"Republicans long dominated city government, but Democrats controlled ethnic wards on the peninsula. After voters narrowly rejected a new city manager charter in 1921, reformers mounted a second, acrimonious campaign two years later. . . Fissures emerged between the working-class wards of Munjoy Hill and the upper-middle-class neighborhoods of the West End; between the peninsula and Deering; and between Catholic-Jewish voters and native-born citizens. A prominent Jewish lawyer ridiculed city manager reform in 1923, claiming that 'If this plan goes through, every man of Irish descent may as well pack up his trunk and leave the city as far as representation on the city government is concerned.' A revitalized Ku Klux Klan organized rallies in support of the new charter and encouraged voters to purge municipal government of Catholics and Jews."
It is assumed by many - particularly in academia and the media - that we are well rid of old-style ethnic urban government and its corruption, replacing it with such modern tools as city managers and urban planning. The truth is that in the old days one could buy favors, but today you can buy the whole city for the benefit of a few developers and other big businesses. The truth is that many of these corrupt ethnic politicians did more to help the underclasses of their cities than the reformers who replaced them.
This is an issue I addressed some years back:
|||| In 1816, Columbus, Ohio, had one city councilmember for every hundred residents. By 1840 there was one for every thousand residents. By 1872 the figure had dwindled to one to every five thousand. By 1974, there was one councilmember for every 55,000 people.
The first US congressional districts contained less than 40,000 people; my current city councilmember represents about twice that many. Today the average US representative works for roughly 600,000 citizens. This is double the number for legislatures in Brazil and Japan, and more than five times as many as in Australia, Canada, France, Great Britain, Italy, and West Germany.
It isn't just a matter of numbers. Back in the early days of television and the late days of the Daley era in Chicago, Jake Arvey was an important man in national Democratic politics. At Democratic conventions, Walter Cronkite and David Brinkley would ponder what Arvey was going to do; presidential candidates would seek his blessing.
Yet Arvey's power base was not a national organization nor telegenic charisma, but rather the 24th Ward of Chicago, from which he helped to run the city's Democratic machine.
Another Chicago politician described it this way: "Not a sparrow falls inside the boundaries of the 24th Ward without Arvey knowing of it. And even before it hits the ground there's already a personal history at headquarters, complete to the moment of its tumble." There was plenty wrong with the Daley machine and others like it. One job seeker was asked at a ward headquarters who had sent him. "Nobody," he admitted. He was told, "We don't want nobody nobody sent."
Among those whom nobody sent were women and minorities. The old machines were prejudiced, feudal and corrupt.
And so we eventually did away with them.
But reform breeds its own hubris and so few noticed that as we destroyed the evils of machine politics we also were breaking the links between politics and the individual, politics and community, politics and social life. We were beginning to segregate politics from ourselves.
George Washington Plunkitt would not have been surprised. Plunkitt was a leader of Tammany Hall and was, by the standards of our times and his, undeniably corrupt. As his Boswell, newspaperman William Riordon, noted: "In 1870 through a strange combination of circumstances, he held the places of Assemblyman, Alderman, Police Magistrate and County Supervisor and drew three salaries at once -- a record unexampled in New York politics.". Facing three bidders at a city auction of 250,000 paving stones, he offered each 10,000 to 20,000 stones free and having thus dispensed with competition bought the whole lot for $2.50.
Tammany Hall was founded in 1854; its golden age lasted until the three-term LaGuardia administration began in 1934. For only ten intervening years was Tammany out of office. We got rid of people like Plunkitt and machines like Tammany because we came to believe in something called good government. But in throwing out the machines we also tossed out a philosophy and an art of politics. It is as though, in seeking to destroy the Mafia, we had determined that family values and personal loyalty were somehow by association criminal as well.
Plunkitt was not only corrupt but a hardworking, perceptive and appealing politician who took care of his constituents, qualities one rarely find in any plurality of combinations in politics these days. Even our corrupt politicians aren't what they used to be. Corruption once involved a complex, if feudal, set of quid pro quos; today our corrupt politicians rarely even tithe to the people. . .
Tammany Hall, at its height, had 32,000 committeemen and was forced to use Madison Square Garden for its meetings. In contrast, when the Democratic National Committee decided to send a mailing to all its workers a few years ago, it found that no one had kept a list. The party had come to care only about its donors. . .
Wrote a newspaperman of the time, William Riordon:
The Tammany district leader reaches out into the homes of his district, keeps watch not only on the men, but also on the women and children, knows their needs, their likes and dislikes, their troubles and their hopes, and places himself in a position to use his knowledge for the benefit of his organization and himself. Is it any wonder that scandals do not permanently disable Tammany and that it speedily recovers from what seems to be crushing defeat?
Such practices contrast markedly with the impersonal, abstract style of politics to which we have become accustomed. It was, to be sure, a mixture of the good and the bad, but you at least knew whom to thank and whom to blame. . . ||||
It has been a favorite myth of political scientists and historians is that corrupt ethnic machines of the Tweed or Curley variety were replaced by progress. A similar myth surrounds today's urban gentrification. In fact, much of the change merely transferred the power to corrupt from one ethnic group or economic class to another. The term corruption, of course, is no longer used, but rather revitalization. And it is happening all over urban America.
It has been a favorite
myth of political scientists and historians is that corrupt ethnic
machines of the Tweed or Curley variety were replaced by progress.
A similar myth surrounds today's urban gentrification. In fact,
much of the change merely transferred the power to corrupt from
one ethnic group or economic class to another. The term corruption,
of course, is no longer used, but rather revitalization. And
it is happening all over urban America.