Daley Era Ends - Massive Problems Remain
Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley's retirement announcement continues to reverberate. Surprise at the news, despite extensive speculation he might step down, reflects his considerable power.
Comparison with his powerful father Mayor Richard J. Daley is instructive. Both enjoyed lengthy tenure, with strong reputations for effective "clout." Both are associated with intense love for the city, but also high priority to family. Rich Daley's wife Maggie is challenged by cancer, though he characteristically refused to get specific about incentives for retiring.
Richard J. Daley presided over a much cruder political era, where financial payoffs and physical muscle were literally part of practicing politics. Yet any man in the organization who abused his wife and children risked extremely serious retribution from the boss.
Beyond commitment to family and power, there are striking contrasts between the two leaders. Richard J. Daley had much greater traditional leverage. Unlike his son, he was also chairman of the Cook County Democratic Party. The population was also relatively larger.
In the 1976 presidential election, Jimmy Carter took Cook County by a wider margin than John F. Kennedy in 1960. On the basis of this evidence, Daley called Carter to proudly announce the election was in the bag. In fact, Carter lost Illinois but won the election, the first time the state had gone against a presidential winner since 1916. Daley died soon thereafter. The pain of this memory is implied in his son's reiteration over the years that he does not want to die in office.
Migration to the suburbs over three decades decisively undercut the old machine. The relative decline of trade unions also weakened traditional Democratic leverage.
In July 1976, no doubt with the presidential election in mind, Secretary of State Henry Kissinger delivered a major address at the Chicago Council on Foreign Relations. The mayor was invited to join other local leaders on the dais. Council staffers were informed that people came to see Mayor Daley, not the reverse. Kissinger changed his schedule to do just that.
Daley the father rarely left the city, committed to being home in Bridgeport by evening whenever possible. By contrast, the current Mayor Daley has literally traveled the world to promote his city, including the unsuccessful bid for the Olympics, and has worked with local business interests on a much more equal, flexible basis. He has effectively compensated for the end of the old-fashioned machine by embracing a very comprehensive vision of Chicago's economic future. This has greatly enhanced the city's natural evolution as a global capital of financial and other services, as well as transportation.
While Richard M. Daley's unnecessary high-handed seizure of Chicago Meigs Field caused controversy, emphasis on modernization and expansion of O'Hare and Midway Airports has been vital to growth of the city and region. A special alliance with Gary Airport in Indiana has been beneficial, just as regional growth has been worthwhile for Mitchell Airport in Milwaukee. While his father could largely ignore the suburbs, he has emphasized regional cooperation and economic development.
Greatest contrast between father and son may lie beyond pure politics and metropolitan vision. The first Mayor Daley earlier was head of the Illinois Department of Finance and Cook County Clerk. In both jobs, he developed great skill in financial analysis, masked by his famouseccentric speaking style.
His annual city budget reviews became ordeals in discipline for department heads. Over the long term, Richard M. Daley has neglected this dimension, and enormous budget shortfalls confront whoever succeeds him.
Arthur I. Cyr is Director of the Clausen Center for World Business at Carthage College. Reach him at email@example.com