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The Mechanics
« Daley Will Not Seek Re-Election How Mayor Daley and Senator Meeks May Kill Pat Quinn's Chances. »

Daley Tue Sep 07 2010

When Everything Is Up For Grabs

Mayor Daley announces his decision not to run for reelection, and scrambling begins in every quarter of the city. Alliances, agreements, long-dormant quarrels and beefs--everything is up for review. The old way of doings things can't be taken for granted any longer.

His Elective Majesty is abdicating, and there is no dauphin for easy succession. When Leviathan is gone, political life can become nasty, brutish and short.


Given the traditional power of the Fifth Floor, the Mayoralty of Chicago is one of a handful of executive offices in the country that immediately confer immense power to their occupants. It occupies a huge space in the national Democratic Party structure, concentrates enormous fundraising and organizational capacity in a single person or coterie of people, and bestows an immediate pipeline to an enormous pool of political and policy talent.

The competition for that office is not going to be left to minor players. Understand that the individuals who vie for that office will need to bind themselves to any number of institutional and organizational players with billions of dollars at stake. The bidding started at noon today.

There will be fakes and feints, dummy candidacies born out of vote calculation, or spite, or both. Prepare for phony outrage and newfound zeal for reform. The Mayor likely won't tap a successor outright, but if he has a favorite--such as current CPS CEO Ron Huberman--he'll put the word out through his own networks and Michael Sneed will magically have the scoop.

The Daley era created a political stratum that will begin jockeying in a vacuum: political knife sharpeners expert at bureaucratic maneuvering but unpracticed at street fights (the Hubermans and Healys and Rangels). They think of themselves as heavies for sure, but they've always operated with a hand at their backs.

Across the way, licking their chops, are the brawlers who Daley tapped for street fights. Like their counterparts in the bureaucracy, they've always had one heavy in their corner that tipped things in their direction.

The Mayor's real power didn't come just from his ability to raise money at a word or deploy campaign workers by proxy; it came from certainty. A certainty that no matter what, he'd be there, calling the shots, handing out the contracts, doling out services, setting the agenda. With uncertainty, threats are just bluster. With uncertainty, promises turn faint. The collapse of that certainty means the collapse of the political order.

There is a corollary to this: those institutions and organizations with all that money and power at stake will try to coalesce behind a safe bet to ward off the risk of an insurgent. Think Hubert Humphrey in 1968. And recall the chaos in the streets of Chicago that resulted.

 
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Jesse Greenberg / September 7, 2010 10:16 PM

You're right on Ramsin. The big question for any upstart or insurgent is if any populist internet or social campaign could coalesce around a candidate. In other words, will people who care about the city, but are not tied to the politics of party, draft their own candidate? It's unclear if any prospective candidate has that type of appeal right now.

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