Changing the Daley Routine

By Moberg, David | In These Times, December 2010 | Go to article overview

Changing the Daley Routine


Moberg, David, In These Times


As a Chicago dynasty ends, progressives weigh their options

No political dynasty has ruled a major American city as long as the Daleys of Chicagomayors since 1955 with an interregnum of 12 years. In September, Richard M. Daley announced he would not seek re-election next spring, unleashing a frenzy of candidacies but little voter enthusiasm.

Initially, prospects seem remote for electing a progressive like Harold Washington, Chicago's first black mayor, in office from 1983 to 1987. There is no obvious candidate, and the Washington coalition of blacks, Latinos and liberal white reformers has withered.

With a nonpartisan primary in February and a likely run-off in April, reformers have little time to re-group. But even if a mayor in the Daley mold, like President Barack Obama's former White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, were to win, politics in Chicago could be more fluid and open to reform, despite Daleys legacy of grim budgetary obstacles.

Richard M. aggressively privatized both services and revenue-generating assets, like toll roads and the city's parking meters. He also created tax increment financing districts (TIFs) in commercial areas, which effectively deprive the city of desperately needed revenue for basic services.

While Both Daleys promoted central city real-estate development, Richard M. tried to make the city attractive, environmentally friendly and culturally lively to attract the middle-class professionals who filled the gaps that resulted from declining manufacturing employment.

With mixed success, the younger Daley sought to turn Chicago, the Midwest regional capital, into a global city of finance, business services and corporate headquarters. Its growing "post-industrial" workforce accelerated gen tri - fication of the lakefront and a swath of old working-class neighborhoods. Taking control of the educational system, he developed new schools that kept more upper-middle-income families in the city, but his business-mentality school reforms produced few benefits for most students.

Daley did little for the poor in the nations eighth most inequitable urban region. The nonprofit Developing Government Accountability to the People gave him a "D" overall on its 2010 report card (with a higher grade only on the environment). Daley's final $6.1 billion budget had a $655 million gap (over $1 billion counting pension obligations). Daley filled the hole mainly by using nearly all the remnants from the recent $1.15 billion long-term parking meter privatization contract.

The new mayor will inherit a city in better shape than most Rust Belt towns, but with typical big city economic and social problems complicated by its political history, especially sharp racial divisions intensified under Richard I. Daley.

After Richard J. died, black discontent increased, helping to elect insurgent Mayor Jane Byrne, then turning her out and electing Washington in 1983. Washington campaigned for both reform coalition goals and a bigger black political voice, then faced a hostile white majority in the city council.

Daley cleverly inverted Washington's coalition, uniting increasingly upper income lakefront whites, bungalow belt white working-class voters and Latinos. He largely isolated blacks, in part because many AfricanAmerican leaders ignored coalition building. Daley, who preserved many Washington-era policies, increasingly included, bought off or intimidated leaders from black and other communities, including LGBT leaders and the disabled. He crushed opponents in every election, partly relying on a few traditional ward machines. But as TV replaced the precinct committeeman, he depended on raising big money for conventional campaigns (for which Emanuel raised funds).

In the Daley years, community groups, unions, and single-issue organizations focused on issues like housing or the environment fought on, but the reform electoral movement bridging race, ethnicity and income, dwindled. …

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