Mayor Tom Kane (Kelsey Grammer) sits like a spider at the center of Chicago's web of power; a web built on a covenant with the people. They want to be led, they want disputes settled, jobs dispensed, and loyalties rewarded. If he achieves through deception and troubling morality, so be it. As long as he gets the job done, they look the other way.
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Yet despite being the most effective mayor in recent history, a degenerative brain disorder is ripping everything away from him. He can't trust his memory, his closest allies, or even himself.
Kane's wife Meredith (Connie Nielsen) knows nothing. Theirs is a marriage of convenience. Kitty O'Neil (Kathleen Robertson), Kane's advisor, has her suspicions but stays silent. And Kane's political advisor Ezra Stone (Martin Donovan), a Yale graduate with a rough edge, remains questionless.
Only Emma (Hannah Ware), Kane's estranged daughter, has a chance of learning his secret. This is going to be the toughest term yet for the Boss.
Season 1 Storyline Extensions
EPISODE ONE - Chicago Scandals Take Flight
Chicago's O'Hare International Airport has long served as one of the country's most visited travel hubs. With destinations all over the globe, O'Hare boasts moving nearly 70 million travelers each year. A multi-billion dollar expansion plan has been in the works for decades and includes new runways that will allow for a higher volume of more efficient air traffic. Such an expansion has been deemed necessary by local and state officials in order to keep Chicago an important base for the major airlines.
Though a substantial distance from the city, O'Hare is technically in Chicago, the largest municipality of Cook County, connected to the city by a thin line of creative redistricting. One of the many hurdles the O'Hare project faces is that the location of two of it's proposed runways crosses not only city limits, but county lines as well. Saint Johannes Cemetery at St. John's United Church of Christ has taken legal action against the City of Chicago in hopes of stopping plans to relocate the graves to make room for the runways. The church and cemetery, which hosts the remains of those dating back before the Civil War, reside in the Village of Bensenville in neighboring DuPage County. Chicago and St. John's continue to wage war in court for control over the cemetery while the expansion effort slowly progresses.
In Boss, Mayor Tom Kane has made it his mission to finally make progress on the O'Hare expansion plan. Contracts, zoning issues, grave disturbances, and miles of red tape have all slowed the effort, and though he's conquered all of that, there are still a few obstacles he'll have to overcome before seeing his vision come to fruition.
EPISODE TWO - A House For All Peoples
Despite its predilection for controversy and renowned corruption in government, Chicago is home to one of the strongest and most unique political landscapes. A city that saw a transition from Native American tribes to disconnected European settlers, Chicago now employs a system unlike any other. Known as the "Second City," Chicago actually ranks as the third most populous city in the U.S. with 2.7 million people. Such a large city built upon immigrant communities needed a strong organizational system to gather everyone into one municipality.
Chicago is split into 50 different sections, called "wards," each with their own small hierarchy of officials. Every ward is run by an "alderman," an elected position with responsibilities in their community as well as in City Hall. Chicago's City Council is comprised of all 50 aldermen and is presided over by the City Council's president: the mayor. As is the case with most governmental bodies, a majority vote is necessary to pass legislation. The mayor, acting as president, can cast a vote in instances where a tie must be broken.
Mayor Kane obviously has his allies in the City Council, but he definitely has his enemies too. After Kane had Alderman Mata attach the St. Johannes Native American artifacts amendment to the city's trash ordinance, Alderman Ross led the charge against Kane and the legislation. Kane just barely accumulates the votes needed for a victory, and his opponents take note at how close Kane came to losing.
EPISODE THREE - Privatizing Public Schools
Privatizing public schools is a topic plagued by controversy and differing opinions. Both sides agree how we educate our children is important and crucial to their future and the future of this country. Mayor Richard M. Daley pushed to privatize Chicago public schools, and now Mayor Rahm Emanuel is continuing that push. The city of Chicago has hired private companies to manage public schools, contractors do much of the janitorial and trade work, and many public schools have been replaced by charter schools – schools funded by public money but run by a group of private citizens. Chicago contends privatization will help chip away at the city debt and also turn around schools' lacking academic performance.
On one side of the controversy, as riled up parent expresses in Boss, American citizens elect local, state, and federal government officials, their salaries paid for by taxes. Education is a societal issue, not a consumer product. Additionally, privatization undermines teachers' rights and the Chicago Teachers Union – Local 1 because it was the first teachers' union in the U.S. – loses much of its power. Citizens vote for their school board and their other government officials so they can decide how children learn.
On the other side, as Meredith Kane articulates, with privatization, low-performing schools are shuttered and reopened with new staff. Private companies are not bound by the Chicago Teachers' Union so they can fire teachers who are not educating properly. Also by outsourcing school services like lunches, janitorial work, and transportation, the city can use the money saved where needed most.
Boss takes a unique look at both sides of the school privatization debate in a special scene where Meredith Kane attends a school panel for parents who disagree with the path that Chicago public schools are taking.
EPISODE FOUR - Corporate Seeds Sprout Frustrated Farmers
A topic of much discussion lately, farmers and food groups have come together to voice their concerns about the changing face of agriculture. In the 1980s, genetically modified seeds were introduced to the agribusiness market; seeds that had been bioengineered to resist specific chemicals in the pesticides that were then sprayed over the crops. In many instances, the engineering continued to include the modification of the plants' natural reproductive abilities, requiring the farmers to purchase new seeds each season. Over time, these seeds became patented and corporate control over the seeds and the farmers who planted them grew.
Though modern agriculture has been hit with numerous problems over the years, one of the more controversial issues is that of corporate involvement in agribusiness. A concern that spans the country, the plight of the farmers in Illinois is a mere echo of a larger sentiment. Agribusiness corporations have created a system in which farms are dependent upon the patented seed and its branded pesticide and fertilizer counterparts. Farmers that have remained resilient are consistently bullied and even bankrupted by the actions of these large companies.
As State Treasurer Ben Zajac hits the road on his campaign trail, his tour takes him through Danville, a small farming community about 140 miles outside of Chicago. Rural areas such as Danville often prove to be hostile territory for "big city" politicians, and some unwelcoming constituents corner Zajac at a press stop. Seeking the opportunity to be the better candidate, Zajac goes off script while sympathizing with the troubles of the angry farmer at a time when most politicians would dance around the issues and smile for the cameras.
EPISODE FIVE - Digging Up A Toxic Past
Chicago has had industries throughout its time; from shipping to steel, telecom to candy, Chicago has always been a city that makes things. Manufacturing plants provide jobs and income and in turn provide products and goods for sale or use in other industries. Many industries, such as metal manufacturing, utilize chemicals that have been deemed toxic as a part of their process. One such chemical is Trichloroethylene (TCE), a component that is generally used as a cleaning agent and metal degreaser. When companies do not follow safety standards and proper disposal, these chemicals often end up in the ground, polluting the soil and underground water table. Beyond the detrimental effects that chemicals such as TCE can have on the environment, they can cause severe illnesses such as renal cell carcinoma and liver cancer to the people exposed to them.
In 2000, residents living near a metal manufacturing plant just outside of Chicago began to worry about chemical contamination of their water supply. After calling upon the Environment Protection Agency (EPA) to investigate, residents learned that dangerously high levels of TCE were found in wells south of the factory. Several civil suits were filed against The Lockformer Company, which owns and operates the manufacturing plant, and the company in turn agreed to begin the process of TCE extraction from the contaminated soil and water, while also arranging for those affected to have access to a nearby untainted water supply.
After an unknown source leaks a classified government document bearing the signature of then head of the Sanitation Department Tom Kane, all hell breaks loose in City Hall. The document ties Kane to the dumping of toxic waste, including Trichloroethylene, near Bensenville, an area in which Kane is already in hot water. Though Kane and his team employ creative strategies with media manipulation, some evidence just can't be ignored.
EPISODE SIX - Why Suits Fear Class Action Suits
A class action lawsuit is a civil suit that allows a large number of plaintiffs with a common interest to sue as a group, often suing a company or corporation. In most cases there are a handful of named plaintiffs who represent the larger group. Individuals who sign onto a class action suit typically relinquish their rights to independently sue the same entity.
A prime example of an environmental and toxic exposures class action lawsuit: about a decade ago, 186 homeowners in the Lisle, DuPage County filed a class action suit against a metal-fabricating company, Lockformer. The residents tested their well water and discovered the toxic chemical trichloroethylene. Lockformer eventually paid the homeowners $10 million to be split between them. Additionally, in a separate suit, the Illinois Attorney General sued Lockformer for infractions of environmental law and Lockformer paid to connect the residents with contaminated wells to the Lisle public water supply.
In Boss, Elliot McGantry, son of power mogul Babe McGantry, builds a class action suit against Mayor Kane for the negligence of dumping toxic waste in Bensenville, DuPage County, and the cover-up that followed. The Bensenville citizens McGantry represents have allegedly suffered illness due to the toxic chemicals. With Mayor Kane in such a vulnerable political situation, the Bensenville suit could significantly damage him… and Kane knows it.
EPISODE SEVEN - A True Chicagoan & Newspaperman
Historically, Chicago has been a city that thrives on a powerful yet corrupt political machine. Chicago's most influential journalist, Mike Royko, covered that political machine in a newspaper career spanning over three decades and included the Chicago Daily News, the Chicago Sun Times, and the Chicago Tribune. Throughout his career he wrote over 7,500 daily columns that shaped many Chicagoans' opinions, beliefs, and political leanings.
A true newspaperman, Royko's work provided an objective perspective even when it came to the most powerful man in Chicago, Mayor Richard J. Daley. Royko upheld Daley's accomplishments but pummeled him for his failures and denounced the corruption that plagued Daley's administration. Royko is famously quoted as saying of Daley: "In some ways, he was this town at its best — strong, hard-driving, working feverishly, pushing, building, driven by ambitions . . . In other ways, he was this city at its worst — arrogant, crude, conniving, ruthless, suspicious, intolerant. He wasn't graceful, suave, witty or smooth. But, then, this is not Paris or San Francisco. He was raucous, sentimental, hot-tempered, practical, simple, devious, big, and powerful. This is, after all, Chicago." A balanced yet harsh critique – very Royko .
In Boss, Chicago Sentinel reporter Sam Miller targets Mayor Kane's corruption and misdeeds but his editor blocks the stories before they break into scandal. Ironically, through a twist of the very political machine Miller is targeting, he is promoted to editor of the Sentinel, a position from which he can take Kane down once and for all.
EPISODE EIGHT - The Gears Of The Political Machine
A political machine is essentially a model in which a top government official distributes contracts, jobs, and social services in exchange for political support. Chicago's first political machine formed under the leadership of Mayor Anton Cermak in the early 1930s. Before Cermak, neither the Democrats nor the Republicans had succeeded in consolidating power citywide. Cermak forced the Democratic party's dominant Irish contingent to accept other ethnic groups including German, Polish, Czech, and Jewish. He called it his "house for all peoples". In 1933, Cermak was killed during an assassination attempt on Franklin D. Roosevelt. However, Cermak's political machine lived on, growing its strongest under Mayor Richard J. Daley's leadership.
Chicago's political machine has famously been plagued by corruption. In 2006 the Chicago Sun Times reported that in a 35 year span, at least 79 Illinois elected officials had been found guilty of a crime including: three governors, two other state officials, 15 state legislators, two congressmen, one mayor, three other Chicago officials, 27 aldermen, 19 Cook County judges and seven other Cook County officials. Some view Chicago's political machine as a corrupt regime ruled by one boss and his cronies. Others value Chicago's political machine, claiming the machine steps in where city government is failing to provide essential services to its constituents.
In Boss, Mayor Kane's political machine drives Chicago – the contracts, the legislative power, all of Chicago. Kane says it best when he describes the people of Chicago in episode 101: "…they want to be led. They want their disputes settled, their emergencies decided, their treaties negotiated, their jobs dispensed, their mutinies punished, their loyalties rewarded. And in return, to those who lead them to all that they want, they give power. It's a covenant. Unspoken and elemental. And if a part of it fails, it needs to be fixed."