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TODAY

Saturday, December 7

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Airbags

The life of a liar is one without respite, always exhausted in the whirl of remembering where he hid the truth.

For this reason, if no other, I have a sense that Mayor Daley is honest when he expresses surprise and exasperation at the goings-on in city administration's hiring practices. You see, I met Mayor Daley the other day. Well, I didn't really meet him. I ran into him at the big farmer's market in Daley Plaza. I said, "Good morning, Mr. Mayor!" He replied, "Hey! You should, uh, try some of this stuff!" But he was honest-to-God chipper. But don't trust my keen sense of the thing. I don't expect you to — the buzz is all over that Daley is crushed, that he's ready to be skewered. Community groups that for years have been laughed off the stage are regrouping and preparing for a final coup de grace, one Northwest Side activist telling me, "We're going to fight dirty and it's going to be fun."

To which I'm sure Mayor Daley would reply, "See you on the battlefield."

But this thing is going to get ugly, for sure, and I think we're going to start seeing some mind-blowing feats of politics. The rusted-out skills of some of Chicago's most talented pols and political professionals are going to grind into action, shedding that patina accumulated through disuse and shine bright and sterling for us again. From both sides — anti- as well as pro-Daley.

I don't know the Mayor personally, but I know his type, both from personal experience and through basic character study. He seems like the type who always thinks that perfection is right there, just so close. Just an inch more to the left — no to the right — back to the left again — just a bit of a nudge... I guess what I'm basically vaguely describing is Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. But it's tied to something else, to a stubborn will to do something, using brute, blunt (brunt?) force and hunkering down and weathering the storm, righteousness and fortitude your cover. Look at Meigs Field. Look at the CPS takeover, or the Plan for Transformation, or any number of initiatives. Surviving Silver Shovel, corrupt cops, even more corrupt cops, myriad scandals, and a general distaste for criticism takes a certain type of indomitable will that makes me confident that in any coming fight, Mayor Daley will be no pushover.

At least, that is before I consider Patrick Fitzgerald, the district attorney for Northern Illinois, not only coming hard after not only Mayor Daley, easily the most powerful municipal politician in the United States for the last decade, but simultaneously going after Karl Rove and the Bush White House for the felonious leak of confidential intelligence for political purposes. Fitzgerald seems like one of those pains in the ass who thinks the rules are of everybody, a clean face with a speckless record and the moral fortitude of a Franciscan — the guy could shame the College of Cardinals. One senses in him, in his tight-lipped disdain for the press and ramrod posture when deigning to answer their questions, a sort of soldier of morality, an Igantius Loyala figure for whom all people are just flesh, and sentimentality can have no place before the thunderous rule of law. I imagine any exhortations for Fitzgerald to temper his onslaught would be met with a shrug and, "Our belly cleaveth to the Earth."

Two Irishmen face to face. Will Mayor Daley and his political forces, his campaign war chest and his personal brilliance be enough to hold off what might end up being a years-long investigation essentially systematically destroying traditional Democratic institutional control of Chicago? Can Patrick Fitzgerald keep peeling back the layers, week after week, month after month, exposing scandal after scandal, resisting intense political pressure to lay off, resisting a public increasingly scandal-fatigued, and resisting the call of higher office?

But what is at stake is more than just Mayor Daley's political career. It is, to me, a fundamental understanding of what our government is supposed to do for us. It is a definition of what we want to see in our elected officials, the kind of elected officials we want. Do we want a PR dynamo who sweeps in and is loud, who spends a weekend in Cabrini Green, who makes rousing speeches at the Democratic National Convention, or do we want someone to do the work and shut up about it? Do we want someone who strives only for perfect appeasement of all parties and accomplishing nothing, or an able hand at the tiller of compromise, deftly moving between factions? Do we want a government that is personal, that is built up through our neighborhoods, or do we want Protestant efficiency, cold and distant, something we contact through icy phone calls and prim agents behind thick glass?

Although elements of his administration have acted reprehensibly and must be purged, Mayor Daley has been found guilty of absolutely no wrong-doing. I paraphrase one of his fellow Democrats, "There is nothing wrong with Mayor Daley that can't be fixed by what is right with Mayor Daley."

He seems not exhausted but energized by this new fight, having long ago taken on and defeated the bigger obstacles. Perhaps he and his allies have grown saggy in their comfort, maybe even bored. Hopefully this fight will excite them in the need to start daring and thinking big again. Looking at him, I'm reminded of Ulysses, the Tennyson poem. After the fighting comes the governing, which if done in too great comfort can make the ruler slouch towards his duties.

"It little profits that an idle king,
By this still hearth, among these barren crags,
Match'd with an aged wife, I mete and dole
Unequal laws unto a savage race,
That hoard, and sleep, and feed, and know not me.
I cannot rest from travel: I will drink
Life to the lees: All times I have enjoy'd
Greatly, have suffer'd greatly, both with those
That loved me, and alone, on shore, and when
Thro' scudding drifts the rainy Hyades
Vext the dim sea: I am become a name;
For always roaming with a hungry heart
Much have I seen and known; cities of men
And manners, climates, councils, governments,
Myself not least, but honour'd of them all;
And drunk delight of battle with my peers,
Far on the ringing plains of Windy Troy."

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About the Author(s)

Ramsin Canon covers and works in politics in Chicago. If you have a tip, a borderline illegal leak, or a story that needs to be told, contact him at .

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