By Amanda Paulson writer of The Christian Science Monitor
The Christian Science Monitor
The Economist recently dubbed his rule a "benign dictatorship," and he's been nicknamed Richard II. And if Richard M. Daley is reelected for a sixth term as Chicago's mayor in February - highly probable, with his top two potential opponents officially dropping out of the race recently - he'll be on track to beat his father's mayoral record of 21 years.
It's a dynasty matched nowhere else, and despite enduring his most turbulent term yet, Mayor Daley is still the most powerful person in America's second city.
"Since [Richard J.] Daley was elected in 1955, something like 75 percent of the time, the mayor of Chicago has been a Daley," says Paul Green, a political scientist at Chicago's Roosevelt University. If you add them together, "only Queen Elizabeth has had a longer reign," he laughs.
Daley has yet to officially announce his candidacy for the Feb. 27, 2007, election. And the ongoing investigation into corruption in his administration - conducted by powerful US Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald - has had many wondering if he could finally be vulnerable.
But after rumblings of challenges and a tough race, his most formidable opponents - US Congressmen Jesse Jackson Jr. and Luis Gutierrez - both recently announced they wouldn't run. Just over three months before the election, that leaves Dorothy Brown, the Cook County Circuit Court Clerk, and Bill "Dock" Walls, once an aide to former Mayor Harold Washington, who most Chicagoans would be hard- pressed to identify.
"Dorothy Brown will be a better candidate than any of the ones who have run in recent years," says Dick Simpson, a former alderman and political science professor at the University of Illinois in Chicago. "But without a strong Latino [candidate] and white candidate [to split the vote], Daley will probably win."
This despite an investigation that has brought down, among others, Robert Sorich, the No. 2 person in the Office of Intergovernmental Affairs. Mr. Sorich was convicted this summer of mail fraud in a city hiring scandal. He was the most prominent in a series of city hall officials forced to resign.
But most Chicagoans seem willing to overlook the scandals - which have not implicated Daley directly - as long as the city looks good, the garbage is collected on time, and snow doesn't stay on the streets. His approval ratings, while lower than the sky-high numbers he once enjoyed, still hover around 65 percent. And many residents simply view something like rigged hiring as politics as usual.
"There's low expectations - Chicago voters, by and large, don't expect some idealized version of politics," says Jay Stewart, executive director of the Better Government Association, a nonpartisan watchdog group that began in the 1920s to counter mobster Al Capone's influence. …