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Wednesday, June 19

Gapers Block

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There could have been no better result on for Mayor Richard M. Daley on February 27th as the one we witnessed. His Elective Majesty, Mayor Richard M. Daley.

The term coined by my predecessor for the Mayor was actually not really coined by him, but rather by James Madison, who in the early days of the American republic suggested that President George Washington have a proper title. Washington was the first elected head of state and government on Earth, so there were a lot of little things to work out. He suggested the President be referred to as "His Elective Majesty."

Certainly, after the dominating performance the Mayor put on on February 27th, he can introduce an ordinance demanding that honorific. I mean seriously, damn. With all the talk of his withering power and popularity, the Mayor still won a majority in 49 out of 50 wards and a plurality in every single ward. Which, given the extreme segregation in most of our city's wards, means the Mayor is preferred by every race and ethnic group, and socioeconomic group in Chicago. Low turnout and interest in municipal elections is no explanation: people vote in higher numbers when they are upset or unhappy. Lack of viable candidates also doesn't fly — the reason would-be viable candidates don't run is because they conduct intensive city-wide polls that show they'd have no chance against this Maestro of Incumbency.

A major reason for the so-called decline of the Chicago Democratic Party machine is that the Mayor himself more or less dismantled it by removing himself and the Mayor's Office from the official Democratic Party organization and centralizing power in his person. Fundraising especially centralized through his person. This, in turn, makes aldermanic candidates, who have would otherwise relied on a strong County Party organization, reliant on his fundraising and street operations.

In thinking about the Mayor's apparent high popularity among voters, the most sensible thing said during this election cycle was spoken by Sandi Jackson: "Where Mayor Daley is making sense, I see myself working hand in hand with him," Sandi Jackson said. "Where there are things that have clearly gone awry, I will work against him." (from a Chicago Tribune article by Dan Mihalopolous).

This really sums the Mayor, and his legacy, up. He has done so much good and should be recognized for it; he has also wrecked a lot of stuff (and pissed a lot of people off), and he should be opposed when he does that. The problem with the Mayor is that he has crafted a council that does none or very little of the latter, because aldermen have to be concerned with getting the resources to administer their wards. It is the system that makes each alderman more or less a bureaucrat in charge of a geographic area, rather than a legislator who represents it, that creates the culture of pliancy in the City Council. The utter mastery of their wards also doesn't help fight corruption, either.

Carrying at least a plurality in all 50 wards must have been the most rewarding part for the Mayor. After years of hearing about the possible combinations of Black, Latino and liberal white wards that an opposition candidate could muster to beat Mayor Daley, to definitively show that voters of all colors and incomes still support him is the perfect way to end his electoral career.

For the handful of so-called independent aldermen, that ending in 2011 is actually not so happy. Without the Mayor in there to justify their existence, they suddenly lose their raison d'etre. Challengers to independent incumbents — Helen Shiller sort of comes to mind — will have even better luck in 2011 than they did this year.

Something else to consider, too. By 2011, there will have been an entire generation of Chicagoans who have only lived under His Elective Majesty's reign. That's not insignificant — Chicagoans between the ages of 18 and 30 will have no other real experience of city government than the Daley style. This may make it more desirable to actually try to get take up the mantle as Daley's heir than to portray one's self as a long-time opponent or as running "against" the Mayor's legacy. That's the ultimate irony: after 22 years under one mayor, there is a strong possibility that "it's time for a change" will be the losing mantra in 2011. If I were Mayor Daley, my permanent grin would definitely be of the shit-eating variety.

The Mayor didn't really have to try, either. City-wide he had only one or two mailings, and though he had television commercials, I didn't see any. Such a wrist-flick of a domination can't be blamed on voter apathy or voter foolishness, even though many observers imply the latter with arguments about people not knowing their own self-interest.

As the city lures an Olympics and faces the challenges of a flagging property market and a possible recession, how will the different factions in the City Council behave as they jockey for the best possible position in 2011? Around whom will power coalesce? Will the Mayor's organizations crystallize into a proto-Machine ready to serve its next master, or will it simply dissolve Splenda-like into a mildly noticeable element of a larger whole? Somebody is going to try to stake ground as Chicago's big thinker and go-getter, in the Daley city manager fashion, and that could be a good thing for Chicago. Or, it could be chaos — it could be New York. Yik.

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Levois / March 21, 2007 11:27 AM

It does seem that way does it. That he can call himself the elective majesty. This last election would be a great way to go out. Your column doesn't indicate Daley fatigue coming out. Well maybe there won't be.

irishpirate / March 21, 2007 7:35 PM

Given my wonderously wrong predictions considering aldermanic races I am loath to make a prediction here, but I shall anyway.

Barring a federal indictment Daley has every intention of remaining in office until he dies. What is he going to do? Teach elocution at the University of Chicago?

The only politician I can see beating Daley is Barack Obama. He apparently has his eye on lower office.

Both Jesse Jackson Jr. and Luis "tiny fists of anger" Guitterez would get whooped by Daley in a one on one race and probably couldn't even force a runoff if they both ran.

The whole idea of a black/brown/lakefront coalition is a fantasy that Dick Simpson and Laura Washington like to write about. It ain't likely!

As for your comment regarding Alderman Shiller's "independence"...... she gave that up in 2003. She is now a reliable vote for "da mare". He put a little pressure on her regarding the big box vote and she voted the way he wanted.

Which from a political point of view probably was helpful to her reelection.

One thing I do agree with is the idea that incumbent alderman are going to be in trouble during the next "contested" Mayoral election.

Have a real race for mayor and throw in the subject of "race" or ethnicity and you will see some large voter turnouts. That is bad for incumbents.


me / March 22, 2007 6:21 PM

Yay Daley, yay Daley, yay Daley.

trey / March 24, 2007 11:43 PM



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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