He takes over a city that will test his legendary toughness and
may become a laboratory for addressing the problems that plague
urban areas in hard times.
It is hard to follow a Daley into the mayor's office here. There
is no instruction book. Richard M. has been sitting there for 22
years, a little longer than his father, Richard J., sat in the
mayor's office when he was creating "the city that works."
Rahm Emanuel, scheduled to take office May 16, knows that well,
and with the blush fading from a first-round victory in the mayor's
race on Feb. 22, he is moving with characteristic aggressiveness to
put his stamp on the office.
That is prudent, because the nation will be watching. With its
pension deficits, its billion-dollar budget shortfall, its troubled
public schools, and its bubbling array of social challenges, Chicago
may well become the laboratory for addressing the problems that
plague big cities in hard times.
But if anyplace in America has a good track record for attacking
problems, it sits here in its sparkling architectural glory, flat in
the center of the nation's heartland. Chicago may be the most
American place in America, forged by an array of brutally efficient
moguls and an army of immigrants who built the railroads, chopped up
and shipped pigs and beef to feed the nation, tapped mayors who
built enduring political traditions that ran from vile to visionary
and left a legacy of prosperity across generations.
RELATED OPINION: Chicago Mayor Daley's greatest legacy - and gift
to Rahm Emanuel
Now comes Mr. Emanuel and his "moving forward" mantra -
"Together, as one city with one future" - which he first tossed out
on election night. It echoes on all the news shows, the theme he
probably hits most often when he is asked about his plans.
He is, perhaps even more so than any other Chicago mayor, a
pragmatist with a question at the center of the administration he is
about to lead: "What do we need and where can I get it?"
Despite the city's reputation as a solid blue Democratic
political playground (there have been no Republican mayors since Big
Bill Thompson, the most corrupt in the city's history, was dumped
during the Great Depression), Chicago seems to work best when
political labels are ignored and real dealing steps in. That
pragmatic philosophy fits the city like a good winter boot.
Chicago remains a segregated city by race (not as segregated as
that description would suggest), but it was segregated by
nationality long before African-Americans began arriving in vast
numbers in the early 20th century. Emanuel and every successful
politician before him reaching back into the 19th century recognized
No one wins in Chicago without building coalitions that stretch
across every description imaginable, the very process Emanuel used
in structuring his February victory. He captured 3 of every 4 wards.
Keeping that connection with all the slices in this most ethnic
American city will help determine whether Emanuel succeeds, or
succumbs to dreaded one-termer's syndrome.
This is not yet Emanuel's city. No one erases the legacy of a
Daley very quickly or very easily in a Chicago that is wedded to
both their names and their styles.
Even the younger Daley, the outgoing Richard M., was just
marginally regal enough, without the polish, to make it seem that he
was at the top of a machine, although that was not actually the
case. Where his father, Richard J., "the Boss," was as much of a
brute as he needed to be and had lots of levers to pull to prove it,
Richard M. was almost wonky, more a technician of city government
than commander of it.
Still, Emanuel is no neophyte to Chicago's ways. In Congress, he
represented the Fifth District, which includes Old Town, Lincoln
Park, Lakeview, and Uptown, where the city stores much of its most
delicious real estate and influence. …