No Recreational Marijuana, No Chicago Casino – By Rev. Gregory Livingston

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Our upcoming Chicago mayoral election is about the tale of two cities – the difference between whether our government gives its helping hand to the neediest or gives handouts to the wealthiest among us.

Whatever your neighborhood, you know someone who is hurting from the repeated failure of City Hall to actually solve problems. The pains of unsafe streets, jobless neighborhoods, substandard housing, and under-funded schools are too real for far too many in a city as wealthy as Chicago.

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NoA tale of two cities: Chicago Gold Coast housing and business strip above, and West Side housing and business strip below.

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Outgoing Mayor Rahm Emanuel and his entrenched business allies have repeatedly given handouts to corporations, insiders and campaign contributors; it’s money they didn’t need to prosper in a world-class city like Chicago. They claimed these subsidies would trickle down to solve the city’s economic injustices and fiscal imbalances.

That economic policy has more in line with Republican orthodoxy from the 1980s than the values of the progressive neighborhoods in the city.

After two terms of Mayor One-Percent, the rich got richer in Chicago, the poor got left behind, and the city’s finances are still a mess. In short, those controlling the mayor got accomplished what they wanted accomplished.

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Outgoing Mayor One-Percent

The crisis remains, and City Hall can continue its campaign to strip retirees of their pensions, close down public health clinics, and replace public schools with corporate-run charter schools.

While we have successfully run off Rahm from seeking a third term, his allies and polices remain in place. On his way out the door, Rahm, who couldn’t find money to keep schools serving minority populations open, has advocated for Chicago selling high-potency recreational marijuana and borrowing a billion dollars to build a mega-casino.

Now a number of the candidates running to replace Rahm want to keep these bad ideas of Big Marijuana and a Chicago owned, operated, and regulated mega-casino.

To propose legalizing marijuana AND a government-owned casino in the name of economic justice demonstrates just how far the two cities of Chicago have drifted apart.

Government sanctioned super-weed, coupled with a government-owned casino, are policies that prey upon and prod citizens to get high and lose their paychecks, so that the city can make a few percent off the top.

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Chicago’s City Hall taking over lucrative vices is a gangsta move worthy of Al Capone.

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Rather than come up with new progressive plans that support the neediest among us, our current outgoing mayor and the candidates to be mayor who follow his thinking want to not only double-down on the failed policies of the past, but raise the pot.

Will the casino be in Lakeview or the Gold Coast, or will it be it be set up to prey upon the communities that can least afford the vice? Does anyone think that the schools and health clinics will re-open once there are twin vices – 10,000 slot machines in a gambling palace on Lake Shore Drive?

Chicago’s City Hall taking over lucrative vices is a gangsta move worthy of Al Capone. If this weren’t Chicago, this harebrained idea would be immediately disregarded.

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The twin vices of legalized recreational marijuana and a mega-casino are nothing more than political sleight of hand, intended to hide the fact that City Hall intends to force the lower and middle class to continue to bear the burden of financial pain in the years ahead.

You can certainly bet that cronies, the connected, and the clout-based corporations that rule this city will benefit handily from this boondoggle. Chicago can’t even run a parking lot without scandal and graft, but we expect a recreational marijuana program and a taxpayer funded casino to be run on the up-and-up?

City Hall has switched from doing the bidding of Wall Street bankers who crippled our schools with rate swaps to doing the bidding of the oligarchs and gambling interests this election cycle.

Lost in all of this all is what is best for the people and the neediest of Chicago. The fight for true economic and social justice in Chicago’s policies will continue long after Rahm is gone and the new mayor is in place.

The sooner the members of the City Council realize they work for the people of Chicago, and not the Mayor of Chicago and special interests, the sooner their wards will heal and their citizens will prosper.

As Election Day draws near on February 26, it is not the end of this movement, but merely the end of the beginning of this renewed fight for Chicago’s soul.

Voters need to reclaim Chicago’s government so that it acts in the public interest, and does not work for the special interests.

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Rev. Gregory Livingston, who authored this op-ed, is pastor of New Hope Baptist Church.

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