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TODAY

Saturday, December 15

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Detour

The City of Chicago has become The Never Ending Re-Election Campaign. Renovated bridges and majestic industrial-corridor arches bear plaques commemorating their completion with a list of the principal movers of the project, always headed by a simple, "Richard M. Daley, Mayor."

Streets and Sanitation vehicles parked but running in alleyways as exhausted workers rotate their fiftieth manhole cover of the day boast the department's slogan above the omnipresent byline, "Richard M. Daley, Mayor."

Far be it from any Chicagoan to forget the bold move to bring Chicago Public Schools under the direct power of the Office of Mayor. Not that it would be easy to forget. Sky-blue trucks with the CPS logo in gray deliver text books and light-weight chair/desks and make it clear where such bounty comes from. "Richard M. Daley, Mayor."

These rolling billboards have real work to do. For example, the sleek personnel transport trucks delivering beneficiaries of The Mayor's Office of Work Force Development -- a division of the Mayor's Office of Special Events - Chicago. And who sits in that Mayor's Office each weekday? "Richard M. Daley, Mayor."

Half a city's block worth of sidewalk is being torn up, and a Maggio rent-a-fence keeps the citizenry from falling into the mess. A Streets and San's truck -- "Richard M. Daley, Mayor" -- putters away and the sign left behind on the rent-a-fence informs you of why the sidewalk is being torn up: in order to keep "Neighborhoods Alive! - Richard M. Daley, Mayor."

07232003_daley.jpg

Fig1. Richard M. Daley, Mayor describing just how big to put
"Richard M. Daley, Mayor" on the side of a municipal truck.

And anywhere the City of Chicago is mentioned -- just like that: "City of Chicago" -- there is that byline: "Richard M. Daley, Mayor." It's his, you see. His creation. Give the author his due.

But not his campaign posters for the 2003 elections. Nondescript blue posters read:

Working. Together.
MAYOR DALEY '03
Vote! February 25th

All of the words are in white but one: MAYOR. For one, it's a testament to his efficiency. Why say, "Richard M. Daley, Mayor FOR MAYOR," when you can just put mayor on there once? But it serves a second purpose. He's not just a candidate. He's not even just another incumbent mayor. He's Mayor Daley. That's his real name. On all the plaques, on all the trucks, the "Richard M." serves only to remind us he's not "Richard J." But when it comes time to cast your vote, he's Mayor Daley. The Mayor Daley, fungible with his father if need be, but regardless: he's Mayor. When you're voting for the Office of Mayor, how could you not vote for a guy named Mayor Daley?

But there's a little joke in that simple campaign poster. Notice it doesn't say just Working Together, but Working. Together. Sure it may have been done that way to stress both the "Working," and the "Together," separately, but a little part of his staff, and maybe even of the Mayor himself, thought of it like this:

Working. "Together".

With big, cartoony quotes around that second word. We all know Richard M. Daley, Mayor, works -- geez, just having to issue all those orders to paint, stencil, and engrave his name on all these things could keep anybody busy -- but Together? Together with whom? The aldermen who approve his budgets with margins that have passed fishy into outright embarrassing -- 49-0, 50-0, 48-1, and most recently 48-0? The community activists who petition City Hall in private and get called out in public by a laughing Richard M. Daley, Mayor?

People in other cities really do laugh at how we say Mayor. I met New Yorkers on a train to Boston who referred to "May, Or Bloomberg," and for a while I thought they were deliberating between two persons, one named May and the other Bloomberg. One of them asked me if it was true Daley was May, Or since the Sixties.

"Huh? Oh, Mare. No, that was his dad that was Mare in the Sixties. This one's been Mare since '89."
"So, do you guys call him Da Mare?"
"No. We call him Mare Daley. And he calls himself Richard M. Daley, Mare."

One of the men, a friendly Manhattanite sexagenarian carpenter who claimed he used to live on the same block as Gregory Peck, wondered aloud how we could not have term limits in the twenty-first century.

"We're scared."
"Scared?"
"Scared of what'll happen if Mare Daley ever...goes away." I recall I even whispered "goes away," as if saying it could make it happen, like little kids looking in the mirror and saying Candyman.

We are scared. Even those of who disdain his heavy-handed tactics.

Richard M. Daley, Fetus became Richard M. Daley, Newborn on April 24, 1942, a quiet Friday in the thick of the Second World War. His father was still more than a decade away from his Exalted Mayoralty. (Coincidentally, another staunch Democrat -- Barbara Streisand, Performer -- was born on the same day.)

He graduated from De LaSalle academy and attended DePaul University, like any good Catholic boy (and just like his daddy) should, for both his undergraduate and law degree. He was elected state's attorney of Cook County in 1980, then again in 1984 and 1988. He gave up that seat when he began his first term.

Chicago was on the brink during the mayoralty of Harold Washington. The city's racial politics had finally come to a fore, and it was this period that allowed street violence to hold the city captive and poured untold billions into the coffers of the city's four major gangs, the Gangster Disciples, the Vice Lords, the Latin Kings, and The Outfit. It wasn't Mayor Washington's fault. It was the fault of the bloc of legislators who refused to cooperate with a black mayor, fearing what it signaled for their own future if Chicago became a "black city." And Mayor Washington wasn't perfect, either. He kowtowed to some crooked folks and indulged in favoritism just like every Chicago mayor before him.

Since Mayor Washington's tragic death in office, this city has seen unprecedented and controlled growth. A complete renovation of image, the explosion of previously minuscule industries, and the rebirth of many previously dying neighborhoods. The city's parks department is the envy of the nation. The Chicago Public Schools are improving more rapidly than in almost any of the other major cities. Leave it up to the nave, like professional economists, to suggest this was due largely to the economic boom of the 1990s. As far as we're concerned, it was the work of that Coryphaeus Of The Municipality, His Elected Majesty, Mayor.

Because although Richard M. Daley, Mayor is all-powerful, he is not power-hungry. He honestly believes he has the right idea. He honestly wants to make Chicago self-reliant and recession proof, to make it the middle class city. All of it. He has a plan, but he's so far ahead of us it's difficult to see. He is the last enlightened despot, that short-lived coterie of European emperors and empresses of the seventeenth to nineteenth century that ruled with an iron fist but always on the side of good.

And what will we be left with when he's gone? Quibbling, corrupt aldermen, self-serving mice who will finally be able to play when the old cat goes away? A city divided racially and economically without a powerful leader to keep everyone in line, and you'll have the property tax wars of the Seventies and Eighties -- the wealthy North refusing to share with the faltering parts of the West and South. Newly freed hispanic and black community leaders rightfully trying to advance their own agenda will scare the ethnic-and-otherwise-whites and another nasty racial election and...

It's too frightening to imagine. We just need a few more years of Mayor Daley to balance things out, to make sure his plans begin to galvanize -- just a few more years, then we'll be ready for the free-for-all jungle of Chicago politics.

07232003_campaign.jpg

Fig2. Richard M. Daley, Mayor on the campaign trail in 2000.

That's all exaggerated, of course.Residual fears from a bygone epoch. But we do still need Daley; we need Daley because he always turns out right.Because he is an enlightened despot, and what if the next guy is Tsar Paul to Daley's Tsarina Catherine? May his reign be long!

And it will be.Barring some tragedy, Richard M. Daley, Mayor will have been Richard M. Daley, Mayor of Chicago for at least 18 years. The smart money is on him eking past his dad's record as longest-sitting Mayor of Chicago by a few months when he runs for the sixth time in 2007, completing that term and retiring after 22 years. Which means since 1955, there will have been a Daley in City Hall 77 percent of the time. Forty-three of 56 years.

But who knows? Maybe 2011 will warrant another term.

 

About the Author(s)

Ramsin Canon writes Chicago: Howtown on the Make.

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