OPINION: The Windy City out-blowhards Atlanta

When Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker wanted to crow about wresting the 2024 Democratic National Convention away from Atlanta, he picked a dazzling spot: The Shedd Aquarium, which affords a brilliant view of Chicago’s lakefront skyline.

I nodded in appreciation. The pier where it sits was the perfect nighttime place to impress dates back in high school. It made it almost seem like 17-year-old me was suave and debonair for knowing about it.

The setting still works for the billionaire pol who locked down the 2024 shindig. Google Maps agrees, calling it the “best view in the city.”

Atlanta, sorry to say, has no match for the bustling downtown with a world-class horizon of skyscrapers as the sun shimmers off the lake’s waves.

Sure, Atlanta has its charms, enough to convince us to move here from Chicago long ago and not return. Atlanta is a less stressful place to live. And has wimpy winters.

But when it comes to a side-by-side beauty contest of where to go to experience a city for an extended weekend in the summer or fall, it isn’t much of a discussion.

It’s a blood sport for cities when competing to draw in businesses, tourists and conventioneers and both towns are comparable in that.

After moving here in 1990, I noticed similarities between my adopted and native cities, both of which had grown to prominence as railroad towns. Atlanta had just stolen away the 1996 Olympics from Athens, Greece, through a full-court press of civic braggadocio and bluster. If you call yourself “World Class!” enough, you start believing it. And others might, too.

Both Chicago and Atlanta have collective chips on their shoulders in wanting to prove themselves to the world. Chicago has long been called the Second City, being the Jan Brady to New York’s Marcia.

Along that vein, Chicago is also called the Windy City, but not because of lake breezes. It earned the name in the 1800s when other growing cities competing for status grew weary of Chicago’s boisterous bluster.

Credit: Special

Credit: Special

The prevailing tale is that “Windy City” caught on with New York newspapers when Chicago out-finagled The Big Apple to host the 1893 World’s Fair, known as the Columbian Exposition. The event brought about the original Ferris Wheel and the disposable classical “White City.” It was planned by Daniel Burnham, the architect known as the father of the skyscraper whose motto was, “Dream no small dreams.”

Fittingly, Chicago nailed down the fair after its money guys raised more cash more quickly than New York’s — ala Pritzker this time around. The 1893 Fair is immortalized as one of the four stars on Chicago’s flag.

But it’s not just lakeside amenities, guaranteed money and civic hucksterism that won the day.

Crafting a political narrative going into the 2024 election is a huge consideration. And that’s why Dems gave Chicago the nod.

Common wisdom has it that Georgia is a battleground state because Donald Trump was beaten here in 2020 and two Democrats won their way to the U.S. Senate. I’ve argued with my esteemed colleague Greg Bluestein that 2020 was a mulligan, that enough Georgia voters, even many Republicans, decided Trump was a bum.

But the results of last year’s Democratic shellacking in Georgia up and down the ticket indicates Georgia is still reliably red.

So, let me bring you Chicago’s hidden weapon: Scabby the Rat.

Scabby is a 12-foot inflatable rodent brought by unions in Chicago to non-union (aka “scab”) job sites as a protest prop. Not long ago, Scabby won a legal battle on his First Amendment bonafides as a symbol of union protest. He’s also become sort of a cult hero. People like to shoot selfies with him and when he rolled down Western Avenue in my old neighborhood for the South Side Irish St. Patrick’s Day parade, he was a crowd favorite.

Credit: Sarah Paprocki

Credit: Sarah Paprocki

Again, Chicago is a Union Town.

And that’s a big part of the narrative going forward. Sure, the Democrats want to keep Georgia flipped blue. But they want to maintain the Blue Wall of the Midwest — the Great Lake swing states like Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania. Appealing to unions and working-class Americans will be a big part of the package.

There is no town with as much of a union heritage as Chicago. The term “May Day,” which is May 1 and was later adopted by the former Soviet Union, came about in the 1800s to commemorate Chicago’s bloody Haymarket Riot of 1886. No town has done as much to create the eight-hour workday as the Windy City.

Finally, I believe Democratic higher-ups worried that a convention in Atlanta might have shades of Chicago’s 1968 Democratic Convention. That was when thousands of anti-Vietnam war protestors clashed in the streets with Chicago cops as the crowds chanted, “The whole world is watching.”

The protests displayed a chasm in the Democratic party and helped provide a lane to victory for Richard Nixon that November.

This time, the proposed Atlanta Police Training Center has become a lightning rod for protests and there had been plenty of talk about flooding Atlanta’s streets with noisy turmoil. Those placard-waving crowds would ordinarily be in the Democratic camp.

It would have been a turd in Joe Biden’s punchbowl. Shots of the lakefront would be preferable.