Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel's administration faces a monumental crisis.
His city is short on cash, and City Hall is short on love.
But there is a way for him to solve his problems — to fill the city's coffers and also bring him the hugs of adoration from young people from around the world:
"You see them on the bridge, but then the mayor has his guys cut them off," complained a young woman, Mariah, about City Hall's campaign against love locks.
For the past year, Mariah has been sitting on the bridge, passing out pamphlets for boat tours. She sees things.
"Love locks are nice," said Mariah. "But is the mayor being mean?"
Susanne Becker, a German tourist from outside Dusseldorf, has no opinion on whether the mayor is mean. She finds Chicago a beautiful city and was standing Thursday in the brilliant sunshine on the Michigan Avenue Bridge with her husband, Marco Suzzani.
"We see them in Cologne, and everywhere throughout Europe," Susanne told me. "It's so nice. The young people buy a lock. They lock it on the bridge. They throw the key into the water. Yes. You do not have this custom here?"
It's too bad Mayor Rahmfather wasn't standing with me to explain how city crews rush around hunting love locks down, then chopping them off. It felt cold there, even in the sun.
City Hall blames personal injury lawyers, arguing that some mythic boater might get beaned by a falling lock someday. Naturally, the city would get sued.
"Preposterous," said Susanne's husband, Marco. "I am an engineer. It would take 25 years for a lock to rust through. And stainless steel locks would last indefinitely."
"There is no issue," continued Suzzani, "unless it is political."
Political? But of course it is political. This is Chicago.
If only young couples could carve their names into a padlock, then lock it to the side of a city bridge and throw the key into the river, an amazing thing would happen.
They'd be love-locked to Chicago. This gorgeous city would always have a special place in their hearts. And they would return to vacation here, and spend money here, and bring their children, who would also spend money.
And all would praise the Rahmfather.
City Hall's heartless lack of romantic imagination certainly bothers some people, like loyal reader Frank Bemis.
"A more appropriate tradition would be to engrave names on a parking meter. The symbolism is matchless," wrote Bemis. "The meter stands tall and proud. It's permanent. And money is shoved into it daily, symbolizing endless prosperity and abundance. Should the marriage go bad, it also can serve as a symbol of anger and bitter regret. A two-for-one deal. Hard to beat."
Unfortunately for the sarcastic Mr. Bemis, the parking pay boxes are now leased by a private company. And the parking fees don't go to where they're needed in Chicago. The cash is shipped, reportedly, to oil-rich Abu Dhabi.
But thanks to love locks, Mayor Rahmfather now has the answer to all that lost revenue.
He's already trying to turn Chicago into Paris with that wacky bike-sharing plan of his. And Paris is the city of love. They have love locks festooning many of the Parisian bridges. All the Rahmfather needs to do is open his eyes and see.
He could lease space on Chicago's bridges to couples and charge a hefty fee so they could park and lock their love. And the in-laws of aldermen could be granted official love lock kiosks to sell official City Hall-approved love locks for exorbitant sums.
Under my plan, if you wished to remove the Rahmfather's smiling face from the back of your official love lock, it would cost you even more.
A new bureaucracy would be formed: The Department of Love (Locks), staffed with lawyers, accountants and inspectors, and the Love Lock Maids. Just imagine the uniforms!
Kanye West's "Love Lockdown" — the hit song he wrote long before he allegedly stepped out on the curvy Armenian woman bearing his child — would be the Department of Love's anthem.
"The mayor is correct!!" agreed reader Steven De Mar, who also wants the city to cash in. "Rogue (untaxed) locks must be eradicated. This is a whole new undiscovered source of revenue."
Dianne Kaiser can see the potential, even if the Rahmfather can't. Last year, she and her husband Tom celebrated their wedding anniversary in Paris and she wrote to tell me about it.
"A small souvenir shop across the street sold the locks, with free etching for a few euros," she wrote. "We decided on a spot, kissed the lock & each other, secured our testament to the bridge & tossed the tiny key into the Seine River. … It was a way to leave a part of us in one of our favorite cities.
"It is such a shame that Chicago is refusing to let our many residents and tourists from all over the world leave a bit of love in our city."
The good news is that the love lock I wrote about last week, the one Agne and Elikem Ansah locked to a downtown bridge on their wedding day two years ago, still survives.
The ruthless City Hall love lock haters haven't yet found it.
"Don't destroy our love," Agne pleaded to the Rahmfather when last we spoke.
Agne, it's still there. At least for now.
But it needs friends.