Is Chicago his kind of town?

It may be Windy City vs. Charm City for schools chief Alonso

March 26, 2011|By Jean Marbella, The Baltimore Sun

They're the city with wind, we're the city with charm. They have Daleys, we have D'Alesandros. Their stories are told by David Mamet, ours by David Simon.

And now, Andrés Alonso may have to choose one over the other. The Baltimore schools chief is on a short list for the same post in Chicago, according to the Chicago Tribune, which is owned by the same company as The Baltimore Sun. And, adding to all this delightful inbreeding, I have something of a dual citizenship in both cities — born here, raised there, came back here almost 24 years ago to work at The Sun.

So allow me to offer some unsolicited advice to Dr. A, should he be weighing one city against the other. Unsolicited, and maybe premature or unnecessary as well since who knows if he's a) really under consideration, b) even interested in the job, or c) just enjoying the benefits of a well-timed rumor as he negotiates a renewal of his current contract with Baltimore.

In some ways, it wouldn't be much of a culture shock to go from one city to the other. Both have a similar neighborhood-level tribal culture, a you-are-where-you're-from sensibility. If you've endured the futility at Camden Yards all these years, you're prepared for how the Cubs inevitably will break your heart. And, as a fellow Chicagomorean (Baltigoan?) reminds me, there's that shared down-home way of pronouncing street names, nevermind their origins — no one will know what you're talking about if you direct them to "Gerta" (Goethe) Avenue in Chicago or "Temz" (Thames) Street in Baltimore.

But if they are both wonderful cities — I may be doubly biased, but they are — they are wonderful in their own ways. So to help our perhaps wavering schools CEO, I offer a spreadsheet smackdown, Baltimore vs. Chicago:

SRB vs. Rahmbo

Her nickname is as businesslike as an airport code; his refers to a knife-in-the-teeth warrior. Could there be two mayors more stylistically different than Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and Rahm Emanuel?

This is one of those questions that perhaps can be answered only with another question: You've done something to anger your mayor and get called to the City Hall woodshed; would you prefer punishment by cold stare or volcanic explosion?

But there's also a difference in substance: Baltimore's school board is appointed by both the mayor and the governor, while in Chicago, the mayor alone picks the members — quite a consolidation of power.

Advantage: For someone like Alonso who prefers to run his own show, Baltimore.

Esskay vs. Vienna

Sorry, Cal, but those Esskay dogs — pale, limp and too small for their buns — need some bark.

I can't say I've ever returned to Baltimore after a trip to Chicago with a craving for an Esskay dog. By contrast, I have to admit to making more than a few beelines to a Chicago dog, a snappy-skinned Vienna red hot topped by a veritable garden of toppings, after deplaning at O'Hare.

Advantage: Chicago.

Episodic vs. chronic snow

Winters are not pleasant in either city: Baltimore lately seems to get blasts of intense snowfall, while Chicago tends to have a more prolonged season. I can remember more than one Easter as a child insisting on wearing my new white shoes even though there was still snow on the ground. While Baltimoreans are famously winter-wimpy and Chicagoans take sleet, powder and blizzards more in stride — the concept of a "snow day" was new to me when I moved here — both similarly handle their street parking after digging out: They put out a lawn chair to save it.

Advantage: Baltimore.

Charm City Circulator vs. the 'L'

Not much of a contest here, and probably an unfair one at that. But even the many-tentacled "L" began with a single line, so I have high hopes that the Circ is the start of something big in a city that has pretty limited public transit. It might not come every 10 minutes as advertised — it's still best to check the "next bus" page on its website — but it's free, and increasingly you get a sense, as you do on the "L," of otherwise Balkanized parts of the city connected in at least one small way.

Advantage: Chicago.

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