January 9, 2013
A sad comment on the cynicism around us is that some are scoffing at a beautiful idea:
A giant Chicago City Hall-run casino at the James R. Thompson Center, the heart of state government, run by our political class.
"We just want to build the thing," an official at the Chicago Federation of Labor told me Wednesday. "The Thompson Center. Or Navy Pier. It could create thousands of jobs, and millions in revenue. We can't afford to lose out on the revenue and the jobs it would create."
A day earlier, CFL President Jorge Ramirez said a casino in the basement and first floor of the Thompson Center was a great idea. "It allows us to quickly get the casino up and running. … We've heard concerns that it's too close to City Hall," Ramirez told the Sun-Times. "We get that."
We get it, too. Unfortunately, political experts say the idea of a Chicago Way Casino owned by City Hall doesn't have the required support. But this is Illinois, where legislative miracles happen every day.
Our ravenous governments are quickly running out of ways to squeeze blood from us taxpaying chumbolones. And they always need more, especially now, with Illinois in a fiscal crisis. For the past several decades, Illinois and Chicago governments have spent themselves into ruin, while many of the politicians who've run things into the ground have become personally quite wealthy.
Now, with our state and Chicago in trouble, are we taxpayers so selfish that we'd refuse to gamble ourselves into the poorhouse at a City Hall-run casino?
It would need a grand theme, perhaps something from ancient gladiatorial Roman days, cupids and fountains and strutting peacocks, with a great golden statue of a gladiator erected in the likeness of former Gov. James R. Thompson.
Thompson got the building named after himself while he was alive. And he's still alive. He'd would look great dressed in gladiator garb, as a casino greeter, offering firm political handshakes as taxpayers pass between the feet of the Colossus of Big Jim. Another giant statue would depict House Speaker Michael Madigan in a toga, with a laurel wreath on his head. And politicians in need of a job could become blackjack dealers, coat checkers, beverage managers or official Big Jim or Little Mike statue polishers.
We could expand the casino by putting a thick red carpet on the underground pedway leading from the Thompson Center to City Hall. Mayor Rahm Emanuel, a proponent of the City Hall casino, might dazzle gamblers in the City Hall lobby with exotic entertainments:
Like trained pole-dancing aldermen and state legislators.
Taxpayers would thrill to see politicians on the pole. And lobbyists would fight to get next to them and slip folded $20 bills into the vest pockets of their suits as the dancers showed off their sublime, limber moves.
"I think it's a dumb idea," said Jake Hartford on our mid-morning WLS-AM 890 radio show Tuesday.
I'm not talking about naked aldermen. That's disrespectful. Chicago aldermen should always be clothed. The alternative is too gruesome for words.
(I should have told him the legend of the naked alderman who was caught rubbing oodles of bribe cash on her body in an FBI corruption sting years ago. But I didn't remember it just then.)
"You're not taking this seriously," he insisted.
Oh, yes, I am.
What could be finer than watching, say, Ald. Ed Burke and casino backer state Rep. Lou Lang doing a pole dance, as Madigan and Thompson, in their Roman adornments, clap and whistle like frat boys at a bachelor party?
"Ed Burke on a pole isn't going to do it," Jake said.
They're not strippers, Jake, they're elected officials. And in the taxpayer-owned Chicago Way Casino, they'll dance fully clothed, with loafers or wingtips on their feet, or there won't be any dancing at all.
To see if this idea had legs, I walked over to the Thompson Center and asked around. The first two guys I ran into were lawyers. They didn't want their last names used.
"A casino here? It's an excellent use of resources, and it would lower the cost of construction," said a lawyer named James. "But how do you keep the casino dollars out of Madigan's hands?"
You don't. He's the boss. And in his benevolent wisdom, he'll decide what's best for taxpayers.
"I could go for the Thompson casino," said the other lawyer, a Polish guy named Mike. "But I won't pay to see aldermen dancing. And besides, I don't like it when aldermen pick on the Poles."
Downstairs in the food court, Raymond, a maintenance worker, was helping another employee clear out some garbage cans and stack plastic food trays.
"We could put a sports bar right there next to the falafel place," he said. "Could we bet on games?"
Not everyone in the food court was thrilled. Thomas Lapham, who works for a geothermal energy company, said the idea of pole-dancing aldermen and state legislators was unappetizing.
"A casino wouldn't be a good use of the space," Lapham said. "This is where I come for a gyros sandwich or that spicy chicken across the way."
He hated my idea.
"I don't want pole-dancing politicians," he said, staring at the remnants of his gyros. "I want a food court."
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