- - Wednesday, March 11, 2015


Rahm Emanuel is in big trouble in Chicago, having abused the residents in ways that should be a warning to politicians everywhere. The mayor, a former adviser to both Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, is not everyone’s cup of breakfast tea. Everyone agrees that he’s arrogant, high-handed and quick to scorn anyone with whom he disagrees. He couldn’t get the 50 percent of the vote in the first primary and now the mayor is in a death struggle with a man who was written off early as a candidate with no chance. The machine, built by Richard Daley and nurtured by his son, was once invincible, and Mr. Emanuel has continued to wring money from those doing business with the city.

Incumbents in Chicago can be a formidable force and this year’s incumbent has several problems. The most important one at the moment hit the front pages and could cost him his political future on April 7. Chicago, like many other cities, notoriously including Washington, is addicted to the cash wrung from the citizens by “red-light cameras,” installed and maintained in the name of traffic safety. Chicago has more cameras than any other city and last year caught enough miscreants at a hundred dollars each to collect $70 million.

It wasn’t easy. The mayor and his friends, experts in terrorism by technology to increase revenue, cut the duration of the yellow light between red and green to a mere three seconds. This hardly gives anyone time to make it across the intersection before “running” a red light. That’s the shortest warning in any city, and far shorter than traffic supervisors recommend, but the short light brought in an additional $7 million last year.

Mayor Emanuel, like officials in other cities, insists that the revenue cameras were installed not to raise money, but to reduce the number of accidents at dangerous intersections. However, a study conducted by the Texas A&M Transportation Institute for the Chicago Tribune found that many of the cameras were installed at intersections with no history of danger or peril, and the cameras may have actually made the intersections more, not less, dangerous. The mayor’s claim that the cameras reduce accidents was found to be based on “faulty statistics and dubious science.” The study showed a 15 percent decrease in “T-bone accidents,” cars slamming into the midsection of other cars, but this reduction was more than offset by a 22 percent increase in rear-end collisions, with injuries to drivers and passengers braking suddenly to avoid a ticket.

The cameras have outraged many Chicago motorists who knew without a study that the city, like cities elsewhere, is more interested in revenue, not safety. The mayor’s run-off opponent, Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, has promised that he will turn off the cameras on “Day One.” He calls the cameras the “red-light rip-off” and points out that black motorists get a disproportionate share of the tickets.

The mayor says he’ll shut down 50 cameras, but that leaves 300 still abusing motorists. In addition, he’s willing to give motorists a “mulligan” for their first ticket while they are getting used to “the way the system works.”

Too bad for Hizzoner, but the irreverent Chicago voter thinks he already knows “how the system works.” City officials have been credibly accused of taking $1 million in bribe from companies that installed the cameras. Mayor Emanuel, it should be noted, inherited the system, but he has embraced it, extended it and seems incurably addicted to the money extracted from 700,000 motorists annually. That’s a lot of tickets, and a lot of votes. It might be enough to put the mayor on the street.

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