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Gapers Block published from April 22, 2003 to Jan. 1, 2016. The site will remain up in archive form. Please visit Third Coast Review, a new site by several GB alumni.
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Saturday, July 20

Gapers Block

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When Mayor Daley chose state Senator Miguel del Valle as City Clerk to replace indicted former clerk Jim Laski, it confirmed some growing doubts about del Valle's "reformist" credentials among some in the anti-Daley coalition of community and labor organization. One such reformer, an old community activist and former member of a Northwest Side group, told me that del Valle had become "less and less inclined to oppose that status quo," as he had gotten more politically entrenched. Apparently completely unaware of the basic meaninglessness of that statement, I asked if it wasn't at least a positive sign that Daley was bringing a tame progressive with a sterling policy record into his administration — actually, as his running mate, since the City Clerk is traditionally looked at as the Mayor's campaign partner.

"Siding with Daley costs you your credibility, whatever your history," she said.

That presents a pretty lose-lose situation for the Mayor since, by definition, he is always siding with himself. Although the Mayor holding a press conference where he completely breaks with himself would be pretty hilarious.

But the onslaught — well deserved — on the Mayor has had the reverse effect; rather than weaken him, it has steeled his resolve. It has made a large bloc of aldermen from every part of the city rally around him in the face of a moderately-well funded (potential) slate of aldermanic candidates. And it has left him with a choice of pulling out all the stops to win one last term on his terms or choosing not to run out of fear or weakness.

The choice of del Valle as clerk is a sop to rational reformers as well as a pragmatic political calculation meant to lock up more Latino voters, a bloc that is already pretty loyal to the Fifth Floor, but which any potential mayoral challenger would need significant support from if they want to seriously compete with the incumbent. It shows that the Mayor, in the face of reports of his political demise (or irrelevancy), is more serious than ever about winning.

If the Mayor had ever considered forgoing a sixth term, he lost that option by this summer. The year started with saber rattling from organized labor, with political activist and former city worker Frank Coconate proclaiming his Opposition 2007 plan to run a slate of aldermanic opponents, headed by a challenge to Daley from Congressman Rev. Jesse Jackson Jr. Coconate and his then-allies at the service workers' union talked tough about going after any aldermen who scored poorly on their legislative scorecard, especially the litmus test of the Big Box Living Wage Ordinance. Community groups came on board and the Chicago Federation of Labor, traditionally a friend to the establishment as the political arm of the various trade and public sector unions, also threatened the Council with retaliation. The Mayor's various press critics — especially his most vocal foe, the perpetually insulted ultra-conservative John Kass — were gleefully writing political obits, pointing to the willingness of the Council to defy him.

There was simply no way the Mayor could go out on that note — to give up on his mayoral career when everybody was proclaiming his political irrelevancy would ultimately be to say his reign was a failure. He would become the "failed Daley."

So Daley, in more or less one fell swoop, painted his opponents as enemies of the common Chicagoan — because they opposed jobs going to the working class, minority neighborhoods — and on the heels of a poll that affirmed the Mayor's confounding popularity has appointed a smear-free progressive to an office that has the potential for a lot of graft and clout. Choosing a Latino also sent a message to the city's white ethnics, who were insisting the Clerk's office remain with them. That message: You're gonna vote for me anyway.

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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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