Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Goodbye Mr. Daley. America Will Miss You.

Richard M. Daley announced that he will not run for re-election yesterday. Babs and I moved to Chicago 25 years ago and Daley has been Mayor of this fine city for 21 of those 25 years. His stewardship has pretty much shaped my Chicago experience these many years. I have to admit that I'll really miss him. I worry about what will come of our city now. It's big. It's unwieldy. The racial politics are alarming. Rich Daley's shoes are some big mothers to fill. Let's hope someone worthy steps up to the plate.

I saw some Chicago Sun-Times interviews with local citizenry on what they thought about Daley's 21 years as Mayor and there was a lot of negativity. People have very short memories. People often have skewed views of reality. Recently, to meet a budget shortfall, the Mayor pressed the City Council to sell the parking meter franchise to a private corporation for a substantial sum of money. Now parking rates have gone up. Now places that never used to charge for parking are suddenly charging. People are pissed. This is the one big thing that a great many people remember when they badmouth the Mayor. Truthfully, it may not have been his most far-sighted decision, but there are a lot of other events in Chicago in the last 21 years that far outweigh that one questionable decision.

Oh and there was that one time that the Mayor wanted to get rid of Meigs Field and turn it into a public park. For those of you who do not know, Meigs Field was a small air strip located right on the lake front in downtown Chicago. The only people who used it were corporations with their jets and super wealthy individuals who didn't want to land at Midway or O'Hare and have to taxi into the center of the city. It was a perk for the bigwigs. Rich Daley remembered the promise from a hundred years earlier that the entire lake front would be public space for the use of all Chicagoans. Resistance to getting rid of Meigs? Tough! He had it bulldozed in the middle of the night so the next morning the runway was useless. Now there are outdoor concerts held there. I have to admit that, as an ordinary citizen, I am a great deal more likely to get use of the arena at Northerly Island than the air strip at Meigs Field. Some think this was an arrogant power play on the Mayor's part. Most of them are Republicans. This was a victory for the little guy. Thank you Rich Daley.

There are people who like to grumble about Daley engaging in union busting and various and sundry crimes against the Working Joe, but honestly life is better here in Chicago for the Working Joe than it was in 1985 when I arrived. The unions have always supported him in elections while sometimes bad-mouthing him in the interim. Complex situation that. There is less crime now than there was when he became Mayor. The city looks a lot better now than it did when he became Mayor. The city has become a serious international destination since he became Mayor.

What, specifically, has come to pass in Mayor Daley's tenure? Navy Pier went from wasted space and eyesore to the number 1 tourist destination in Chicago. The "Bean" became the crowning glory of Millennium Park. Oh, and Millennium Park became a reality. Flowers and trees went into the medians of Lake Shore Drive and beautification projects all over the city turned the entire city into a much nicer place to live and look at. And the guy likes to ride bikes and has made a city of 3 million people pretty much bike friendly. I could go on.

Before Rich Daley, there was Harold Washington, and Harold Washington was a great man, make no mistake about that. He led this city, united it, and healed old racial wounds like no one before him was able to do. Tragically, he died far too soon and the dog fight to fill his position became a circus. The yoke fell upon Alderman Eugene Sawyer, a nice man, but not the man to fill Harold Washington's shoes. In retrospect, Eugene became Mayor pretty much because a black man had been Mayor and a lot of people thought the person to fill out the rest of his term should also be a black man. Not particularly sound logic, but it carried the day. Eugene was so lackluster that he didn't get re-elected. Rich Daley took over.

Before Washington, there was Jane Byrne, who got elected because Michael Bilandic's administration did a positively crappy job of removing snow from the streets after the snow storm of the century. Bilandic got the job because Richard J. Daley died and he was Daley Sr's chosen one. Too bad. He was really a crappy Mayor. The city suffered in those Bilandic and Byrne years. The City Council was seriously divided along racial lines. Jane Byrne tried to prove that she was a Mayor of the people and that the "projects" were safe and moved into Cabrini Green. Jesus Jane! What are you, goofy? A great many people came to call downtown politics "Silly Hall."

Say what you will. Life these last 21 years has been pretty darned good. Now there is a plethora of noise in the press from those who want to be Mayor and those who somebody wishes would be Mayor and those who have a pipe dream of being Mayor. It remains to be seen who will step up. Whoever it is, really should be a serious player. The job of Mayor of Chicago is a powerful position. People give up jobs in the United States Congress to step up to the job of Mayor. The Mayor of Chicago has historically been a person who can deliver the State of Illinois in Presidential elections. The Mayor of Chicago is a person who can satisfy a lot of different racial and ethnic constituencies. The Mayor of Chicago is a job that calls for someone who is bigger than life. This is a nuts and bolts city and the Mayor don't have to talk pretty. He just needs to know how to get shit done. This is "The City That Works," "The City of Big Shoulders." This is the city that produced the first black President of the United States of America, and the Mayor has to have his finger in every little pie seeing that all of that keeps on plugging along. Okay, we didn't get the 2016 Olympics. Get over it. And go out and find somebody really good to fill those big-ass shoes that Rich Daley has been wearing for 21 years.

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