Assessing the Daley Legacy From Chicago 1998 | Bleader

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Assessing the Daley Legacy From Chicago 1998

Posted By on 02.08.11 at 05:19 PM

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Harvard economist Edward L. Glaeser, who got his PhD from the U of C and is ostensibly very smart, nevertheless wrote a New York Times column about Mayor Daley's legacy that is super-dumb. Even the title is dumb: "Assessing the Daley Legacy in Chicago." Maybe he wrote it during some layover at O'Hare, en route back to Cambridge?

"The big question is how much credit [Daley] deserves for Chicago’s economic rebound," Glaeser writes. But he never provides a clear answer to his own question, unless you count statements like "Mayor Daley has done as much as any mayor to aid his city’s revival" or "the mayor has provided an important model of strong local leadership" as some sort of legacy-metric. While praising the "omnipresent cranes near Lake Michigan and the human energy of Michigan Avenue," and the value of Millennium Park (it is a nice park!), he says nothing about our record budget deficit, the controversial parking meter deal, the distribution of TIF funds to the wealthy at the expense of the poor, decreasing income levels among African-Americans, or any of the other problems and issues that affect, you know, actual Chicagoans. Also, Glaeser seems to be stuck in the 1990s—referencing a lot of things that happened during that decade and talking about the 11,700 police officers we apparently had during that Clinton-y decade. These days, we've got a police officer shortage.

Glaeser's column doesn't just fail in its time-warpy, superficial depiction of Chicago: it also fails by making all kinds of very broad, meaningless statements. It creates a cause-effect relationship between the number of college degree-having residents of a city and the growth of cities, without providing any stats or other evidence to prove it. Similarly, it suggests that Arne Duncan's "successes" in leading the Chicago Public School system led to his becoming secretary of the Department of Education without pointing to any specific successes; I guess we're supposed to just know these things. It credits Daley for reducing Chicago’s crime "by investing in the quantity and quality of policing" without mentioning that the whole country saw crime reductions during the 1990s (which was a long time ago already). And it includes statements such "Globalization and technological change have boosted the rewards for being smart, and people get smart by being around other smart people, often in cities," which don't seem to be related to the main subject in any direct way.

You could write an encyclopedia of the Daley administration and fail to tell the complete story. So setting out to assess anybody's legacy in just a few hundred words is kind of a ridiculous goal, even if you're a Harvard scholar. But some attempts succeed more than others: Ben Joravsky's story about his time with the mayor does a much better job of assessing Daley's strengths and weaknesses. (Ben happens to live here and everything.)

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