The Daley Legacy, Inescapable
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Trying to sum up the legacy of Mayor Richard M. Daley's more than two decades in office in one neat snapshot is impossible. Mr. Daley is as complicated as the city he oversees. He is quick to anger, surprising, emotional; exceedingly loyal to some and ruthlessly business-like to others; parochial, yet overly sensitive when criticized for it. While he was in office, great strides were made. Mr. Daley oversaw a city that transformed its economy, making Chicago the vibrant hub of the Midwest. He remade the city's front yard with Millennium Park, and showcased the city with a victory celebration after helping a Chicagoan win the highest office in the land. And he was ready to show it off on a global stage with an ambitious bid for the 2016 Summer Olympics. But there were also stunning setbacks. Moves like the middle-of-the-night takeover of Meigs Field solidified a reputation as a bully and autocrat. There was the humiliating Olympics loss -- elimination in the first round of the International Olympic Committee's voting process -- and the privatization missteps. Recent high-profile crime in otherwise-stable neighborhoods undermined the good news of relatively lower crime rates. And now he leaves a financial mess for his successor. Most assuredly, Mr. Daley's success as mayor will be debated for years. What follows is a look at his legacy in five areas -- politics, education, crime, race and business -- that will most likely frame Chicagoans' discussions about the eventful mayoralty of Richard M. Daley. JIM KIRK
As much as Mr. Daley blanched at being seen as a big-city boss, for more than two decades he was the only political game in town.
A week ago, the most influential figures in almost every community were those who had cozied up to the mayor. Crossing Mr. Daley, or even questioning him, was a certain path to the political fringe.
After Mr. Daley announced on Tuesday that he would step down next year, a city accustomed to the undisputed, paternalistic leader wondered where power would find its new center.
"There is not a structure of groups or individual players who are going to carry the day," said Greg Goldner, the mayor's 2003 campaign manager. "There are so many different interests, whether personal or community, that I think things will remain very, very fractured for a little bit."
Mr. Goldner and other political observers said the successful candidate must be a unifier like Mr. Daley, who enjoyed strong backing across a city where no racial group represents a majority.
The mayor showered grants on social programs run by religious leaders with large black congregations. Young professionals and empty nesters who moved back to Chicago appreciated the blossoming of newly trendy areas.
The Hispanic Democratic Organization, the largest cog in the rebuilt Chicago machine, funneled city jobs to a community that has grown to dominate vast swaths of the bungalow belt.
Business leaders cherished the stability of Mr. Daley's strongman rule so much that the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce once described City Hall as "one-stop shopping" for corporate Chicago.
Economic boom years also allowed the mayor to pay high wages to unionized city workers, many of whom owed their jobs to helping the mayor and his allies at election time.
The groups who are unlikely to be major players in the new order are almost all of the traditional Democratic ward organizations, which withered in the last 20 years as patronage jobs went mostly to members of pro-Daley campaign groups organized along racial lines.
"Whoever runs will have to figure out how to listen to and connect with small groups and small communities, piece by piece," Mr. Goldner said. "The ward bosses, the unions, the business community, they can provide resources and add some credibility, but they won't be able to dictate the outcome."
If the city's political course over the last 50 years -- besides the turbulent and more democratic 1980s -- is any guide, whoever wins the trust of voters could ultimately attract a huge coterie of yes-men from across the political spectrum and establish a new throne.
Given the city's dark financial outlook, though, it could be difficult for the next mayor to find the resources that Mr. Daley was able to use to keep everybody happy and unified. DAN MIHALOPOULOS
Mr. Daley can leave office pointing to crime rates far lower than when he was first elected. But Chicago remains a national leader in deadly violence, and some residents and officials are calling for revamping the police department.
In 1990, Mr. Daley's first full year in office, there were 854 murders in Chicago. On the West Side, where much of the violence was occurring, Alderman Ed Smith (28th Ward) said his constituents supported calling in the military to help restore peace.
The mayor rejected the idea and went on to advance his own anticrime agenda, based largely on gun control.
Chicago had banned handguns in 1982, but the mayor frequently called on state legislators and Congress to pass more antigun laws. When advocates of gun rights filed suit to challenge the city's handgun ordinance, Mr. Daley fought them all the way to the Supreme Court, which ruled in favor of the plaintiffs in June.
Despite the ban, the flow of weapons into the city never stopped. From January through mid-August of this year, the police seized 5,195 illegal guns.
Crime peaked nationally in the early 1990s, then began to drop, and Chicago was part of the trend. By 2009 there were 460 murders.
Even so, Chicago vies with New York and Los Angeles as the national homicide leader. And the intensity of Chicago's violence -- including the killings of three police officers this summer -- made headlines across the country.
Recent budget problems have brought about a thinning of police ranks. And some residents and aldermen say more officers should be assigned to high-crime neighborhoods, an idea that has long been a political nonstarter because it could mean pulling officers from middle-class areas.
Still, Alderman Smith said the streets were much safer than before Mr. Daley took office. "The police department now is much more active," he said.
But the Rev. Marshall Hatch, a longtime activist on police issues, was less positive. "I think the mayor has had some successes, even some great successes," he said, "but certainly not when it comes to community-police relations."
Earlier this year, two state legislators called on Mr. Daley to consider asking the National Guard to help the police in high-crime neighborhoods. He rejected the suggestion, as he had 20 years earlier. MICK DUMKE
As a young man, Mr. Daley was a privileged prince of Bridgeport, the tough, white-ethnic South Side neighborhood that for decades produced Chicago's political power brokers. Until recently, few blacks dared venture there.
In the 1960s, a white mob rioted there when two black college students tried to move into an apartment down the street from the Bridgeport bungalow where Mr. Daley's father, Mayor Richard J. Daley, lived. Much of the rest of Chicago was also rigidly segregated, and Mr. Daley's father had few black or brown faces anywhere near his inner circle.
But since becoming mayor in 1989 and with scant initial black support, Mr. Daley has worked hard to honor his father's legacy yet be more racially enlightened. He has sprinkled his administration with loyalists who more closely reflect the city's population. "Fast forward to the last election in 2007," said Andy Shaw, executive director of the Better Government Association. "He got 70 percent of the black vote," despite low turnout.
"He cared. He tried," Mr. Shaw continued. "His inner circle was and still is predominately old-guard Bridgeport, but there's been room to add people of color."
In some ways, Mr. Daley had no choice. Harold Washington had led an unprecedented coalition of blacks, Hispanics and white liberals to become the city's first black mayor in 1983, defeating Mr. Daley.
"A diverse cabinet, more fairness in city contracts, this is a legacy Daley inherited from Harold Washington," said Maria de los Angeles Torres, director of the department of Latin American and Latino studies at the University of Illinois at Chicago. "He could not go back on that."
Mr. Daley continued the legacy of Mr. Washington in other areas as well, said Ms. Torres, who worked in the Washington administration. "Mayor Daley created a city that is open to immigrants," she said. "On that issue, I think Mayor Daley passes with flying colors."
But Robert T. Starks, an associate professor of political science at Northeastern Illinois University, said Mr. Daley should get a failing grade in race relations. Mr. Daley has used Hispanics and immigrants to undermine black political aspirations, Mr. Starks said.
"What he did for his own political advancement was divide and conquer," Mr. Starks said. "He embraced the Hispanic community as a buffer against African-Americans."
Mr. Starks said Mr. Daley's campaign to tear down the public-housing towers that his father built "has been a consistent project to run as many African-Americans out of the city as possible to maintain a white regime."
Santita Jackson, a host on WVON, a radio station with a predominately black audience, said the overwhelming number of her callers believed that Mr. Daley had ignored the largely black South and West Sides.
"A lot of the black middle and upper class made peace with the mayor a long time ago," Ms. Jackson said. "But for the masses of black people, his legacy is troubling. There's a disconnect between the haves and the have-nots." DON TERRY
Mr. Daley has always had a you-push-me, I'll-pull-you relationship with Chicago's corporate community.
Civic leaders pushed an initially reluctant mayor into what became some of his boldest initiatives: The $15 billion expansion of O'Hare Airport and the bid for the 2016 Summer Olympic Games.
The mayor took his turn, too. He cajoled corporate leaders and other wealthy individuals into spending $475 million to turn a scar of unsightly railroad tracks into the downtown's dazzling front yard, Millennium Park.
The corporate chieftains lined up behind Mr. Daley in part because he had something they admired and even coveted: virtually unchallenged power and an ability to deliver on any handshake deal.
Chief executives can be overruled by corporate boards or held accountable to the stock market. But this particular mayor has lived for much of his 21-year tenure almost without check.
The voters? They returned him to office with up to 70 percent of the total ballots, a fact not lost on the corporate chieftains. The news media? In recent years, Mr. Daley chuckled as economic pressures thinned the ranks of City Hall reporters and weakened their oversight.
Ultimately, Mr. Daley's legacy will be decided not just by what he accomplished with all that power, but also by what troubles he left behind.
Civic boosters see an urban core that somehow continues to thrive during the recession. They admired the energy of the Olympics bid. They expect the O'Hare expansion to pay off. And they believe their companies and employees benefit from a public school system that has made measurable improvement.
Yet even Mr. Daley's biggest boosters cannot overlook fiscal issues that, to them, reflect on his shortcomings as a manager. As the bills come due, the red ink sloshing through city finances will wash away much of what was positive during the mayor's tenure.
Civic leaders know they will bear some of the costs from a pending $650 million budget shortfall. They know Mr. Daley has spent far too much of the proceeds from $3 billion worth of leases on the city's parking meters and the Skyway toll road. They see underfunding of worker pensions and a surge in gang violence that corrodes civic life.
Even as they hold Mr. Daley accountable, civic leaders also note that he has done better as mayor than most anyone else could have. R. Eden Martin, president of the Civic Committee of the Commercial Club of Chicago, said he wished Mr. Daley could have done more to solve the chronic underfunding of public pensions.
"He didn't fix the problem," Mr. Martin said. "But then, I don't think anyone could have fixed it. I don't think Superman could have fixed it."
They rue, too, the notion that Mr. Daley's successor, no matter how capable, will most likely never amass the power he wielded.
"That was built up over a long period of time and over a few tough fights," said Lester Crown, a businessman who led the effort to persuade Mr. Daley to expand O'Hare.
Does that matter? Mr. Crown thinks so. On the O'Hare project, after resisting at first, Mr. Daley ultimately pushed a far more ambitious plan than Mr. Crown and others had proposed.
"The things he went after, he went after full tilt," Mr. Crown said.
And Mr. Daley had the ability to tilt most of Chicago in the direction he was pushing. DAVID GREISING
Mr. Daley took control of the city's 600 public schools in 1995, after they had been labeled "worst in the nation" in the late 1980s by a former United States secretary of education. Most parents who could do so got their child out of the system.
Over the next 15 years, the mayor invested his emotional and political capital in improving the schools. At news conferences heralding educational accomplishments, he often became red-faced when challenged, passionately defending his programs.
"It has been my first priority," Mr. Daley said Thursday at a ribbon-cutting ceremony at Calmeca Academy of Fine Arts & Dual Language on the Southwest Side.
Calmeca Academy is one of 24 schools built under the $1 billion Modern Schools program, one of the mayor's two signature education initiatives.
The other is Renaissance 2010, under which he closed failing schools and opened new ones. Most of the Renaissance schools are charters, public schools run by private organizations. He encouraged the city's business elite to donate to and become involved in individual schools, raising millions of dollars.
Yet Mr. Daley will leave much to be done. Test scores and other measures of academic progress have improved but remain below state and national averages. Critics point to research showing that students at many of the Renaissance schools do not perform significantly better than similar students at traditional schools, and students displaced by school closings often land at low-performing schools.
Advocates of reform say Mr. Daley has been too quick to embrace flashy programs and unwilling to put time and effort into forging community support for schools.
An important feature of school-reform legislation was the creation of local school councils -- boards of parents, teachers and community members -- which were intended to shift some major decisions about educational policy from central administrators to each school's key constituents. But Mr. Daley has diminished the councils' role, saying their most important decisions -- hiring and firing principals -- should be taken away. SARAH KARP
Sarah Karp is deputy editor of Catalyst Chicago, an independent publication on urban education.
First Published September 12, 2010 2:00 am