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Friday, September 24

Gapers Block

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What seemed like bad news... actually looks, from what I can tell, like great news. If you're Mayor Daley. Which, let's face, you're probably not.

An article in the Sun-Times, based on a Sun-Times/NBC5 Poll, indicated that Mayor Daley would probably be forced into a run-off election in April.

But if you were Mayor Daley, you'd have to secretly be surprised at the poll this week indicating that a majority of Chicagoans think you're doing a good job. Sure, you'd pretend you knew it all along, but with scandal after scandal, a high-profile legislative "revolt" and a controversial veto of a popular measure, you were sure you'd slipped. You were sure you'd have to pull every string left to you if you wanted to get elected again (which you do).

According to the Sun-Times, the poll showed that if Mayor Daley faced Representative Jesse Jackson, Jr., state Senator Rev. James Meeks, Circuit Court Clerk Dorothy Brown, Rep. Luis Gutierrez, and former Harold Washington aide Bill "Dock" Walls, the Mayor would still get 48 percent of the vote.

Take a moment to reflect on that. Over the last two years, the hiring truck scandal has ended with the indictment of the Chicago City Clerk, the near-destruction of what was the most vaunted campaign apparatus in any American city — the Hispanic Democratic Organization — and the conviction of who every media outlet in the city called "Daley's patronage chief," the Mayor would still get 48 percent of Chicagoans' votes.

You can't blame it on low name recognition — most Chicagoans have voted for Dorothy Brown, and the names Jesse Jackson Jr. and Luis Gutierrez, though certainly not ubiquitous, are hardly foreign to the types of Chicagoans who bother to vote in municipal elections.

The way Chicago's municipal election system works is a "non-partisan primary" — candidates do not campaign on party tickets (Mayor Daley's campaign signs, you'll note, never say "Democrat"), and there's no party ID on the ballots. If none of the candidates get over 50 percent of the vote, there is a run-off in April.

The non-partisan primary was the Mayor's idea, to keep the Democratic Party of Cook County more or less out of the Mayor's race (which became moot when John Daley and Daley ally John Stroger completed their clique's takeover of the County party). The Mayor has never had to bother with the April run-off.

Try this on for size: for all the bluster from Lakefront Liberals, community groups, and the press, Mayor Daley's favorability rating is approaching 70 percent. This goes beyond the usual "he's had no real opposition" excuse one hears from those groups who have made careers of vilifying the Mayor for last 17 years as everything that's wrong with America's cities. This is his own personal favorability rating. Why do Chicagoans persist in liking the Mayor?

Here's something else: even against those candidates, he wins 29 percent of the black vote and 53 percent of the Latino vote. If between them, Jesse Jackson, Jr., Doc Walls, Rev. Meeks and Dorothy Brown, all of them African-American and most of them with at least moderate name recognition, can only get 71 percent of the black vote, that tells us something: that when it comes to the run-off, many of those votes will go to the Mayor, or nowhere at all.

The Mayor's popularity is highest among young Chicagoans (18 to 34) and older Chicagoans (64 and older). This makes sense — people in that first group likely hardly remember any other Mayor. Really nobody under the age of 25 will remember anybody else even being the Mayor, and nobody under the age of 29 will really remember much about those other Mayors. Given that, you'd naturally think Daley is the gold standard for Chicago Mayor-ing. And people over 64 have seen Chicago change dramatically over the last decade, but then again they've seen lots of change — including the devastation that was the de-industrialization of the late Seventies and all of the Eighties.

There are only two explanations for the Mayor's persistent popularity. One: Chicagoans of all races and classes are too stupid to know what's good for them, or Two: Mayor Daley has done a pretty good job running the city for 17 years.

I publicly broke up with Mayor Daley after his veto of the Big Box Living Wage Ordinance. It was a hard and heartbreaking thing to do, because I believe in the Mayor. I believed those ads that ran in 1999. I believe that despite his many failings, and many of the things he has done to stamp out some of the great things about Chicago, he has also saved the city. It's my nature; I don't see things in black and white. You take the good with the bad.

It's true that Mayor Daley's policies have pushed a lot of the poor out of the city; that he has encouraged yuppification. But even in neighborhoods that have hardly yuppified — Grand Crossing, for example, or Englewood, or Rogers Park — crime has dropped precipitously. Chicago went from nearly a thousand homicides a year to fewer than five hundred last year.

"But what about democracy?" many say. "Sure he has done some good things, but it was at the expense of a true democracy." That's absolutely true. But if the people of Chicago — who pay the taxes that fund the city, in a sense the dues that prop the city up and make it run — aren't as interested in democracy as they are in progress, in seeing their values expressed in government policy, then what can you say to them? It doesn't seem like one could say much. Because if it wasn't Daley, it'd just be somebody else.

A perfect example is the space-saving controversy. When Streets and San was warning people that items left in the street to save a shoveled-out parking spot would be removed, the Mayor basically ruled by decree the other way. At a press conference, he said it was a Chicago tradition and that if you dig out a spot, it's yours. He ruled by decree. By force of that statement, a whole government agency had to stop enforcing the law. And we Chicagoans loved him for it.

Mayor Daley lacks the type of personal skills that make a great politician. He can't give a good speech. He isn't good off the cuff. He gets sweaty and defensive; his attempts at levity usually fail because he's not very articulate or witty. But maybe that's why people love him.

That's so Chicago. With the recent exception of Barack Obama, slickness has never been a quality we really sought in our politicians. We liked the wise, friendly shopkeep type (Paul Simon, Dick Durbin, Carol Mosley-Braun, Jesse White kinda) or the blue-collar brawler (Harold Washington, Dick Mell, a zillion others). People love hearing him say Chicago in the way only Bridgeport — real Bridgeport — can. Shi-quaaa-go (go ahead — listen to him). He still calls Soldier Field "Soldier's Field," like a little kid. No matter how much we know rationally it isn't true, there is a sense about him that he's just a neighborhood guy made good.

There is another explanation for his lasting popularity, of course. All the Chicagoans that would vote against him — they were forced out years ago.

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amy / September 20, 2006 9:17 AM

you may have broken up with the mayor, but i think you're still in love with him.

Richard F Carnahan / September 20, 2006 11:20 AM

I need a rebound Mayor to pass some budgets so I can get over Daley. Maybe I should give John Street a call...

printdude / September 20, 2006 10:56 PM

Vote against the mayor who is Chicago in favor of a mayor who will battle the aldermen for compromises? Are you willing to sell out an improving city so quickly? I vote Chicago. I vote Daley.

woodlawnchuck / September 20, 2006 11:03 PM

I don't know what you can't love about him? He has done more for this city than anyone else ever could have. He undid his father's doings, as a matter of fact. Not everything's rosey, but he's kept a lot of people of all races happy, whether they like it or not. If Jesse Jackson Jr. or Luis Guiterrez were to become Mayor, I would move to... ... Annaheim.

Daley Sucks Nuts / September 21, 2006 5:27 PM

Good article, but let’s get to the point. It is called being a hypocrite…and that is the word to describe Chicago politics.

Mr. Carnahan has even said before in one of his articles about Blago being investigated, “The one silver lining is that Blagojevich almost certainly will not be indicted before November.”

In this article, he points out what has happened to Daley over the last two years, and still Daley gets 48% of the vote????


The point is this: Lib’s like to use the word “sheep” when referring to repub’s. This article alone shows the Chicago lib’s are not only “sheep” themselves…but hypocrites as well.

Like I said, good article. But you could have saved yourself a lot of time just by typing the phrase “Chicago politics = hypocrisy”.

Printdude and woodlawnchuck only prove that the hypocrisy lives and breathes here in Chicago.


Didn’t the liberals kind of wear out the statement, “I’m gonna move if he gets elected” a couple years ago?

em / September 26, 2006 9:23 AM

The Daley phenomenon isn't about liberals and conservatives DSN. Save the partisanship for national debates. Anyone who pays attention to politics in Illinois knows there's a bipartisan combine of corruption.


About the Author(s)

Richard F. Carnahan is a true South Side Sox fan who's played a bit part in Chicago politics more than once over the years. Contact him at

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