Barack Obama, when building his stimulus plan, asked governors and mayors around the country to supply his administration with a list of “shovel-ready” projects that could create jobs quickly. While most cities and states have publicly disclosed their wish lists, Chicago and Mayor Richard Daley remain defiantly silent. When asked why Daley doesn’t get into the swing of the New Transparency, he gave a rather honest answer:
Unlike hundreds of other cities, however, Daley said Chicago won’t make its list public.
“Yes, we do, we have our list, we’ve been talking to people. We did not put that out publicly because once you start putting it out publicly, you know, the newspapers, the media is going to be ripping it apart,” Daley said.
After Duluth’s request for a snow-making system, one can understand Daley’s point. His reticence suggests that Chicago’s list is filled with snow-making machines or their pork equivalents. Maybe Chicago needs wind machines, or winter icemakers for Lake Michigan. Perhaps they need another sports franchise that won’t win a championship in 100 years, or maybe they want to buy the one that the Chicago Tribune has tried to sell for the last several years.
We’ll never know, though, thanks to Daley, who seems afraid to have anyone take a look at the list. If a public figure starts hiding information from the media and his constituents,it’s a sure sign that something bad or embarrassing can be found in it. With Daley and his machine, though, that’s practically a given. In a democracy, of course, the media should hold government accountable for its excesses, corruption, and abuses. That’s the point of the First Amendment protection of free speech against government censorship, and the point of transparency initiatives like the Freedom of Information Act. Daley’s fear of this speaks volumes.
Will the Obama administration release the information themselves? After all, Obama talked endlessly about making government more transparent during the campaign, and this list will be used by the federal government for allocation of federal resources. If Obama is serious about transparency, then he needs to release this list even if it embarrasses his old Machine boss. If Obama doesn’t, then we will once again see the very narrow limits of Hopeandchange.