I Got Seven Million Dollars, Don't You Mess With Me

The late great Chicago blues singer Muddy Waters sang, "I got seven hundred dollars, don't you mess with me," in his immortal Chess Records hit "Hoochie Coochie Man," a song young white boys trying to get the girl still try to play sixty years on.

Muddy is a really, really important man in Chicago history, besides all this: According to an article in the September 2010 Chicago magazine, the most influential event in Chicago's "artistic breakthroughs" was the Bronzeville meeting of Muddy Waters and Leonard Chess.

More important than Steppenwolf, Frank Lloyd Wright and Mies Van Der Rohe, here's what Chicago magazine said about that fateful Bronzeville meeting:

April 1948 Leonard Chess, a white Polish immigrant who owns a Bronzeville nightclub, records a few songs by Muddy Waters, a black truck driver who migrated to the South Side from Mississippi and has been sitting in on "country blues" sessions that feature the piano and acoustic guitar. Waters begs to let his electric guitar rip on two originals, "I Feel Like Going Home" and "I Can't Be Satisfied," and when the effort lands on Billboard's "Most Played Jukebox Race Records" chart, Chess's company, then called Aristocrat (later Chess Records), claims its first national hit. The partnership boosts the careers of both men and changes the direction of the music business.

Well, listen-up, Rahm, you seven-million-dollar (the amount you said you'd raise for your mayoral campaign) man, you: I've got a proposal for a 2010 Bronzeville meeting, a meeting that could change the direction of the business of Chicago, boost your career in a way that actually matters, and that would be some kind of breakthrough, for sure.

Rahm: How about gathering together the best South Side minds in town and figuring out with them how to spend that seven million dollars you're about to deposit in your checkbook. How about figuring out how not to spend it on campaign consultants and ads and flyers and GOTV workers, but, instead, on changing Chicago's business as usual. For even Muddy would say that would be sweet right about now. Muddy liked prosperity.

Rahm: Fact is the media knows you already; the corporate execs know you already; the government workers know you already, too. Heck, I'm betting most voters know you already. In fact, I bet they know you well enough already to have a sense about whether they will vote for you.

Rahm: Listen up: You really don't need to spend that seven million dollars the way you think you do.

Rahm: There really is no need for those consultants and ads and palm cards and rallies and expensive star-studded fundraising events. Here is just one proof point: Sunday morning, I woke up a long ways away from Chicago to read the news of your mayoral campaign launch, reported on the second national news page of the local paper. Rahm: Voters everywhere already know who you are.

Rahm: Time to create a different shopping list.

So, Rahm; listen up: Instead of asking those rich celebrity donors of yours for campaign cash, ask them for change for Chicago we can believe in cash.

Rahm: Muddy had seven hundred dollars to spend on the woman he lusted after. You say you lust after a better Chicago (see last night's primetime TV ad). Well, here's a list of seven ways to spend your seven mil to create that better Chicago:

  1. Buy a laptop for every Chicago high school student who maintains a B average.
  2. Pay tuition for tens and tens of students who want to attend UIC-Chicago.
  3. Feed tens and tens of thousands of hungry Chicago families for a year.
  4. Fund technology improvements at every new library Mayor Daley built.
  5. Fix every pothole, and while you're at it, employ out-of-work veterans to do the work.
  6. Contribute the seven million to Mayor Daley's fund to subsidize affordable rents.
  7. Build a bunch of gyms and swimming pools and soccer fields and playgrounds and some affordable housing right near by.

Rahm: You get my point. I know you do. While some of these shopping list items might cost more than your seven mil (but I know you know where to find some more mils), most will cost less. Besides, these shopping list items are a whole lot more useful to the voters and families of Chicago than the items on your current shopping list.

And think about it, Rahm: If you tell your donors, this is how you're going to spend their money; maybe, just maybe, they'll kick-in some more.

And think about it, Rahm: Even if the donors don't, even if all you've got is that seven mil, you will still have spent your money in ways that best boost the rest of us. That seems to me the best way for you to make the case for being elected our Mayor.

Rahm: Muddy was right: Money talks. So why not let your money talk for you in the only way that really matters to Chicago right now.

Rahm: Muddy repeated important phrases. I do, too: Rahm: Boost the rest of us.