The Pritzker family has been the bedrock of Chicago philanthropy. To mention just two of their countless contributions, they established the Pritzker Prize, which has become architecture's Nobel, honoring one great artist each year. If if weren't for Cindy Pritzker, Millennium Park would be the amiable mediocrity Mayor Richard M. Daley was willing to settle for. Instead, by recruiting Frank Gehry to design the spectacular Pritzker Pavilion bandshell, Pritzker set the park on the path to becoming a world-class sensation.
The Pritzkers are used to being the good guys. They're also accustomed to getting whatever they want. We are now seeing what happens when they don't. Chicago Children's Museum Board President Gigi Pritzker has signed on to the ugly, race-baiting campaign, engineered by Mayor Daley (is that Frank Kruesi in the shadows?) to demonize opponents of the museum's move to Grant Park. The Sun-Times headline says it all: Board chief: Museum opposition is racial.
"The thing that's sad," she told the Sun-Times, "is the loudest voices - it doesn't mean the whole community - seem to have the component to them." The tears that Pritzker is shedding are, of course, crocodile tears. Race-baiting is what the museum, whose campaign was falling flat when confined to the actual merits of its proposal, now sees as its ticket to victory.
And the Sun-Times is only too happy to help. How ironic that it's the Chicago Tribune, the voice of reaction, that's fighting for Grant Park's survival, while the scrappier Sun-Times, which just recently declared independence from the dark legacy of Conrad Black and a return to its original progressive roots, has not only been completely silent on Mayor Richard M. Daley's gutter-politic rants, but has been channeling the most sensational charges, without question or analysis, straight to its front page as a ploy for goosing flagging circulation. (The Sun-Times' own readers, however, aren't buying it. A poll of over 3,000 of them had 74% taking the opinion that opposition to the museum was not a racial issue.)
[POSTSCRIPT: on Friday, September 21st, the Sun-Times finally came out swinging, first with a strongly reasoned editorial opposing the museum, and contributions from Mark Brown, Neil Steinberg, Delia O'Hara and Mark Konkol that pretty much demolish every vicious charge and and specious claim put forth by the mayor and the museum. More on this later]
On a Thursday appearance on WTTW's Chicago Tonight, host Phil Ponce pressed Gigi Pritzker to substantiate her claims of the museums opponents' racism.
What did she have? The same useful dolt that St. Sabina's Father Matthew Pfleger has been trotting out repeatedly to support his own claims of racism. Oh, and she pointed to the very vocal anger of museum opponents at a September 10th meeting at Daley Bicentennial Fieldhouse.
Remember? That's the one where the museum hijacked a community meeting called by 42nd ward Alderman Brendan Reilly, cutting in line to fill up the auditorium and forcing the invited neighborhood residents into side hallways where they couldn't see or or be seen in the proceedings. And yes, they allowed themselves to get a bit rowdy at first, before quieting down as they strained to hear the speakers, with periodic bursts of spirited, mostly good-natured heckling.
So, stack the hall, throw neighborhood residents out of their own meeting - Pritzker has no problem with that. But when they don't take it laying down, raise your nose high in the air, point your finger, and declaim, "Shame, shame." It's the classic gutter politics maneuver - you get to maul, but your opponents must react as pacifists.
Here's something that is sad, perhaps even tragic: a great Chicago family that has become so obsessed with winning that its willing to trash a deep reservoir of good will, earned over decades, for a specious campaign cynically conceived to inflame racial tensions as a tactic to divert attention from discussion of the real issue: a private institution seeking to replace open, free public space with 100,000 square feet of new construction with an $8.00 admission charge.
Memo to Gigi Pritzker: if you really, as you keep saying, want to refocus the debate over the museum to the real issues and not make it all about race, stop talking nonstop about race.