How's He Doing? | Feature | Chicago Reader

How's He Doing? 

A Daley Report Card

Sign up for our newsletters Subscribe

It's tempting to regard Richard M. Daley's two years as mayor as a well crafted but very long reelection campaign. He has tended his political bases with care, adroitly deflected assaults, studiously controlled public images and information, and deferred some touchy major issues until after the election. Even critics often acknowledge that he has been very skillful. They even say he may have been a better mayor than they expected, though they hasten to add that their expectations were always low. Then they warn: Wait until he's reelected. Then we'll see the real Rich Daley.

But maybe what we've already seen is what we'll get if Daley wins next Tuesday's primary and the April general election. In any event, he would hardly be the first politician whose actions in office were carefully tailored to win reelection. One of Daley senior's favorite if somewhat inscrutable mantras was "good government is good politics." So has Richie been delivering good government? And has it been good politics?

Daley easily provokes suspicions about what he is really up to. Perhaps it has something to do with style. For a man who has spent most of his life in public office, he frequently seems extraordinarily ill at ease, shy and edgy in public. And his discomfort is conveyed--or magnified--by his faltering command of impromptu speech. Often he answers questions with repetitious bits of awkward boilerplate. This can give the impression that he's not telling the whole story (unlike Reagan, who could fib with such grace and ease that he often couldn't tell what the truth was), or that he's struggling to control his infamous temper (which manages to flare occasionally nonetheless), or that he's preventing bloopers (such as his odd pronouncement "I'm prodeath").

His career itself also spurs some distrust. The son of the Boss, he was a machine politician of the classic type who gradually adopted some of the positions of his opponents. As mayor he has pushed through City Council several items left over from the Harold Washington reform agenda, though most of his close supporters and longtime allies on the council had earlier fought those same reforms. He takes no note of the contradiction and gives no credit to the source of the ideas. So even when he embraces some reformist idea, there's always the lingering question: Who is the real Rich Daley? Is he a consistent, predictable leader?

It's possible that Daley's views have changed over the years, even if he doesn't explain the transformation well, even if he never clearly broke with old machine ways as Harold Washington did. But whether or not the man has changed, the times clearly have. Washington's victory made it impossible to backpedal very far, even if Daley wanted to. Besides, Daley can appropriate some of the post-Washington reform approach, mix it with political remnants of his father's era, add a few dashes of his own politics, and come up with a new model for Chicago politics and government.

To oversimplify, the classic machine offered patronage of various types for votes (and bribes). The machine mobilized people to participate in politics but with top-down control. With the New Deal, the Democratic machine could use federal dollars to expand its political largess. Richard J. Daley further refined the model by wedding it to the urban-growth coalition of developers, bankers, builders, realtors, lawyers, and construction trade unions. Arrayed against him toward the end of his reign were traditional good-government reformers and restive blacks tired of a tiny, stale piece of the pie.

Jane Byrne represented a transitional model: elected by dissident votes, she attempted to ally with a declining but still powerful machine. Her personal volatility matched the unstable foundations of her power. Her wild mismanagement of city finances reflected an attempt to buy support the old way--with some dramatic circuses added to the bread--in a city that no longer could afford that. But she also introduced "money-media politics," raising unprecedented campaign funds and relying heavily on television and image making.

Under Washington the model of government shifted away from personalized patronage to generalized policy, though clearly his emphasis on fairness in city services, job creation, affirmative action, affordable housing, and similar policies benefited his supporters. He also broke in part with the urban-growth-coalition tradition and gave new emphasis to investing in neighborhoods and supporting manufacturing, not just Loop real estate. Although classic ethnic politics remained crucial as he unleashed blacks' long-repressed yearnings for political power, he advocated a coalition based on shared political goals, not just dividing the spoils. That philosophy went well beyond traditional good-government reform and more efficient administration. Washington espoused an urban populism, participatory democracy from the grass roots. Government would be better because citizens could shape it and because government would work with and through community organizations.

Daley offers yet a different model. He retains his base in what remains of the old machine, but for power he relies more on his personal popularity (and, some would argue, his whiteness). Media-money politics now dominates: creating an image and controlling information are essential. In addition, Daley practices an inverted version of the coalition politics that Washington employed, detaching some Hispanics and middle-class, good-government whites from their tenuous coalition with blacks. With less patronage to dole out, he cements the coalition with a variety of policy handouts to important constituencies--such as reforming City Council procedures to win support on the lakefront. With less money from city taxes or the federal government, he is forced to seek new efficiencies.

But Daley also hopes to incorporate a revived urban-growth coalition aimed at megaprojects and expanding the Loop and lakefront real estate market. Unlike the Washington model of participatory democracy, however, the new Daley model of government calls for increasing centralization of power, less open government, less democratic participation, and a more tightly managed style of government. This new managerialism fits neatly with the demands of media-money politics and the growth coalition, which is tired of pesky grass-roots questioning about where public and private investment should go.

So far the results of this new model are as mixed as its components and history, and sometimes as inscrutable as the mayor himself. But with this model in mind, consider four Daleys and how they've performed--Daley the manager, the bankroller, the politician, and the visionary.

The Manager

Daley has clearly staked a claim as an efficient manager of a historically inefficient city government. Beyond the intrinsic good this may bring, there are important political benefits: He wins the hearts of both the tax-sensitive bungalow base and the business elite. Most important, this managerial style elevates Daley above the fray.

IIT political scientist William Grimshaw once analyzed news coverage of Harold Washington and found that the mayor was portrayed critically as a political figure but treated respectfully as mayor. Daley--who dismisses any criticism with the disdainful but unrevealing remark "That's just politics"--tries to appear to be just an apolitical chief executive minding the public store. His refusal to debate his opponents and his penchant for announcing major decisions without broad public participation represent attempts to remove his operation of government from the give and take of democratic processes.

All of which has set the stage for Daley's main claim to reelection: peace and quiet. Every campaign issue paper starts by saying that a few years ago Chicago "was a city at war with itself. Voices were loud. The city was struggling." Now, as Daley ally Alderman Richard Mell says, "The thing I find most striking is how the strident rhetoric almost came to a complete halt. A lot of animosities built up seem to have mellowed out."

Of course the most strident voices a few years ago were those of Daley's council allies. Remember Alderman Mell standing on his desk during the council battle over the successor to Washington? Of course Washington and friends gave as well as they got in the turmoil. But the current quiet reflects more a consolidation of power by Daley from the beginning than any newfound harmony. By accommodating some reformer and neighborhood demands, Daley has also muted conflicts. Still, the city is at least as much endangered by a failure to have a full and vigorous debate as it is by loud voices.

On some counts Daley has been a good manager; on others he has made serious errors. "Daley's record as an administrator has been extremely strong," says Toni Hartrich, research director for the Civic Federation. "In many ways he picked up where Washington left off." Revenue collection--on things such as parking tickets and water bills--has improved, and standard city services have often been delivered more efficiently and have apparently been distributed more fairly across the city.

While holding the line on property taxes, Daley has increased other fees and taxes (though he rejected an effort to force Commonwealth Edison to pay on a monthly instead of a yearly basis the utility taxes it collects from us, which would have saved the city $4 million a year). Using his old-boy ties with the regular Democratic leaders in the state legislature and Congress, he has brought in desperately needed money, including federal transportation dollars and $94 million a year from two years of the state income-tax surcharge. He also got the right to tax airline passengers to build his proposed third airport.

But the tight Daley managerial style creates contradictions. Because of the law department's tight controls the housing department last year approved roughly one-tenth the number of affordable-housing-project units typical under Washington. Nonprofit community-development groups also chafe at the delays in approving their projects. Partly because of the more cumbersome management, the housing department also failed to secure millions of dollars in federal low-income-housing funds it could have gotten.

Daley focuses on immediate savings--a "cost avoiding" kind of efficiency, says Hartrich. As we shall see in considering Daley the bankroller, that greatly limits what the city will do now to increase revenues or save money in the future. For example, the city could save many millions each year by using energy more efficiently, but the Daley administration has not made even the modest investments in efficiency that would pay for themselves in a few years.

Despite Daley's success in balancing the budget and establishing strong fiscal controls, this year's budget depends on the state legislature continuing its aid to the city. Daley will need state money, but it isn't clear the Democrat-controlled legislature will oblige.

Along with the tight control of finances has come a tight control of information: reporters and community organizations find it harder to know what is happening in city government, and the public is less involved in decisions. "I miss the openness in the budget process to the larger community under Washington," Hartrich says. "I felt that under that structure our citizenry was more educated in a short time in dealing with finances and budgetry. It was the little old lady who ran the block club who became sophisticated. That's not Daley's style, but I miss that."

There are two major examples that show why this kind of management does not serve the city well: the moves toward privatization and the proposed "blue bag" recycling program.

It can make sense for cities to subcontract some work, but studies also show that privatization often raises costs and reduces quality. Moreover, the savings from privatization frequently come at the expense of workers' pay and benefits.

The city claims it saves money by employing private companies to tow abandoned cars and by using private janitor services at several buildings. But the janitors' union managed to get comparable wages and benefits under the new private contractor. So if the private contractor is doing the work more efficiently, why couldn't the city managers have gotten the same performance out of their employees? "If somebody tells me city employees don't work hard, I'll say they got it from the top," says the custodians' union local president, Jarvis Williams. "They don't ask them to work hard." Williams said he was willing to join management in asking employees to change their ways, but the city wasn't interested. In this case privatization was not an example of good city management but an abdication of the responsibility to manage well.

In another case, the Daley administration closed the city's well-regarded Chicago Addictions Treatment Center (CATC) and subcontracted the work to two private drug- and alcohol-abuse agencies. The decision was announced abruptly and with little opportunity for public discussion. But the rationales offered were faulty: the city's calculations of costs and services were grossly inaccurate, and it seems quite likely that CATC was competitive with the private suppliers. Given that it had a better-paid, more stable work force, CATC probably offered treatment that was at least as good, if not better. Since there was usually a waiting list of more than 100 people for the 70 beds at CATC, argues John Donahue, executive director of the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, "it doesn't make sense for that program to be closed and privatized. What we needed were more beds." If Daley wanted to fight crime, he should have kept CATC open and contracted additional beds, since addiction treatment--whatever its limits--clearly reduces crime rates.

"Privatization is about the very worst thing you could do with public health services at this time in the nation's health history," argues Dr. Quentin Young, president of the Health and Medicine Policy Research Group. "[Daley has] transferred one of the better services, Chicago Addictions Treatment Center--the only place to send a person without means for immediate detoxification--on the grounds it would be more effective and efficient. There is no evidence that is the case."

Now the Board of Education seems to be backing off its plan to privatize Head Start, acknowledging that it wouldn't save money. But other privatization is expected. Politically, privatization sends two quite different signals: business executives see it as an unalloyed good, but blacks often see it as an assault on jobs held by blacks and on services most needed by blacks.

Many of the problems of the new Daley-style managerialism show up in the Department of Streets and Sanitation's proposal to collect recyclable materials--all mingled together in a blue plastic bag that would be thrown in with the rest of the trash in the city's compactor garbage trucks. After conducting a deeply flawed pilot project that purported to show impossibly high costs for standard curbside collection of separated bottles, cans, newspaper, and other recyclables, the city conducted another flawed pilot project on collecting with the blue bags. Then--without consulting the general public or the not-for-profit and private businesses with the greatest experience in recycling--the city announced citywide plans for its new scheme, even though similar plans have been found seriously wanting in limited tests elsewhere.

Using figures that distort and understate the anticipated costs and benefits of alternative approaches, the city has plunged ahead with its proposal, which will involve major capital outlays and lock the city into this approach for years to come. Most seriously, however, the program will fail to maximize the potential for recycling. If collection keeps recycled materials in good condition, they have a higher market value. Then recycling could not only save landfill costs but spur development of new manufacturing jobs. But there is a very strong chance that the current Streets and Sanitation plan will not maximize recycling if it only produces a low-grade material that ends up dumped in landfills or incinerated. In a misleading quest for a cheap way out, the city will have missed a crucial opportunity to save both jobs and the environment and saddled itself with hidden financial burdens that will be apparent later.

Daley's approach to this problem reveals serious flaws in his style of government. If the city had involved community representatives, environmentalists, and recyclers--including the not-for-profit organizations--it might have been able to develop a sound plan. The "blue bag" proposal assumes that people cannot be educated and mobilized to do something the public widely supports: recycling. It also assumes that a program must be uniformly imposed on the city rather than adapted to different neighborhoods, letting local communities help shape policies to suit their needs. It also looks to the capital-intensive megaproject solution--which in this case will benefit mainly big businesses such as Waste Management--rather than a solution that attempts to develop communities and their economies.

So as a manager, Daley has taken some reasonable steps to make government efficient, effective, and fiscally sound. But his narrow, cramped, and undemocratic style of management threatens to cause as many problems as it solves.

The Bankroller

The test of mettle in government is whether you put your money where your mouth is. Increasingly constrained by limits to its tax base and by devastating cutbacks of federal funds, the city has had to turn increasingly to innovative financing and deals that lure private capital into public-spirited projects, which "leverage" public money. The Daley administration has added some innovations (such as using state motor-fuel-tax proceeds to underwrite a bond for street repairs) and stretched to make its money work harder.

Under Washington's balanced-growth policies, more financial innovation and traditional funding was steered into the neighborhood infrastructure and into retaining manufacturing, both long neglected by city governments. Campaigning for mayor two years ago, Daley sounded disdainful of manufacturing and ready to return to his father's emphasis on the expanding Loop and lakefront, hoping that benefits from that growth might trickle down through increased property taxes and service jobs. Downtown real estate developers poured huge sums into his campaign.

But Daley surprised both friends and critics by reversing himself in office and embracing some of the balanced-growth proposals he had earlier rejected. Yet he has largely balked at making investments of city money (or borrowing to invest) in the neighborhoods and manufacturing sector. At the same time, he has emphasized public megaprojects that benefit the traditional central business district--though so far he has kept an eye on the cost to the city treasury.

The city has also been quick to offer lucrative deals to big businesses (like United Airlines) and to give developers the green light (such as approving the plan for the world's tallest building by big Daley contributor J. Paul Beitler) to induce them to build in the city. Nobody can fault aggressive efforts to spur development, but there are always costs--indirect as well as direct--for subsidies in these deals, and they deserve close scrutiny. So far the city has made few demands on these firms, such as requiring them to seriously consider hiring graduates of city job-training programs.

But with the real estate market depressed, few developers are rushing forward with their projects. When the private market picks up again, the extent to which Daley is willing to give developers free rein and financial breaks will be much clearer. The Central Station development of the South Loop will be an especially costly but tempting test of how much Daley is willing to underwrite private developers. All signs suggest the city's developers will see a handsome return on their investment in him.

City infrastructure spending--whether on raising viaducts in manufacturing districts or improving the lakefront--can increase the financial returns for nearby businesses. For example, the restoration of Navy Pier benefits the city as a whole, but near north lakefront real estate also becomes more valuable. Blocked by Daley's council allies under Washington, the pier reconstruction finally is under way--although the design is controversial. Likewise, the planned light-trolley system will enrich downtown business and property owners, while generally improving the area's livability and economic viability. With much of the money coming from a new service-area tax and from the state and federal governments, financing the project seems to make sense--except that the cost may be much higher than planned. Who will pick up the tab then? Building the trolley may also mean that needed improvements of the CTA downtown will be neglected.

Daley's precise position on the McCormick Place expansion and a domed stadium for the Bears remains unclear--one of many big decisions deferred until after the election. He is considered supportive of the expansion, less committed to the stadium, and hopeful that he can minimize the city's obligations. But the domed stadium is a disastrous idea that deserves to fail unless it can be totally privately financed--which is exceedingly unlikely. The McCormick Place expansion could make sense, depending on the financing.

The key question is always money--not just where it comes from, but also where it might otherwise go. For example, a coalition of neighborhood development groups calculated the return on $1 billion invested in McDome compared with $1 billion invested in neighborhoods--streets, viaducts, sewers, affordable housing, industrial districts, and preparation of abandoned sites for new manufacturers. Invested in McDome, the money would return 14,000 jobs, $2 billion in local economic activity, and $20 million per year in taxes; invested in neighborhood development, it would yield 40,000 jobs, $4 billion in economic activity, and $160 million a year in taxes. "There needs to be an understanding that [putting money into the neighborhoods] isn't a giveaway," argues Ted Wysocki, executive director of the Chicago Association of Neighborhood Development Organizations (CANDO). "It's an investment that pays off in jobs and taxes." If the city could do everything, great. But since it can't, some of the megaprojects must be shelved to give the neighborhood investment a chance.

In a dramatic turnaround, under the influence of planning director David Mosena as well as neighborhood economic-development groups, Daley embraced the Washington administration's concept of planned manufacturing districts. Three such districts, which are designed to protect traditional manufacturing areas from commercial and residential encroachment, have been designated--one by former mayor Eugene Sawyer and two by Daley. There has already been a payoff: Federal Express and the River North Distributing Company have both decided to build new facilities employing 425 people on Goose Island, site of one of the planned districts.

Daley also agreed to make vacant land available to community housing and development groups, and he approved using federal money awaiting distribution under the Community Development Block Grant program for short-term development loans. These gestures are valuable and cost the city nothing.

But the city is not willing to lay out--or more precisely, borrow--the money that CANDO and other neighborhood groups say is needed for investing in neighborhood infrastructure and preparing sites--including clearing decaying industrial areas and putting in new streets and other amenities that allow industrial expansion. CANDO wants a $64 million economic-development bond, and the Neighborhood Capital Budget Group (NCBG) proposes a $120 million capital-development bond. Over the long run such investments would pay off handsomely; in the short run the debt service might cost around $18 million a year, requiring a small property-tax increase. But when the city recently refinanced its 1987 general obligation bonds and saved some money, the Daley administration chose to put the savings in a politically flashy but ultimately unwise program of offering tuition bonds for college. "They made a press-release kind of decision," says Wysocki, "rather than looking at where that money could have been better invested in jobs."

There have been some signs of administration interest in neighborhood investment, such as establishing a community advisory body on future capital spending. But, says Jackie Leavy, coordinator of the NCBG, "we haven't gotten a dramatic signal that this administration is going to make a serious, serious commitment to rebuild the neighborhoods." Luther Snow, director of the Community Workshop on Economic Development, concludes that overall Daley's "gut seems to be to go for the megaproject, without looking at reinvestment and the priority it should have for the long-term tax situation."

The biggest of the megaprojects is the Lake Calumet airport, now the centerpiece of Daley's economic-development strategy. Having opposed a third airport two years ago when he ran, Daley flipped to wholehearted endorsement of a specific site--with virtually no public discussion and limited research of the alternatives. To his credit, Daley recognizes the importance of the transportation infrastructure to the future of the city's economy. Also, the new air-passenger tax, pushed through Congress by Representative Dan Rostenkowski, gives the city $90 million a year toward a new airport.

Chicago now is an important player in the decision about a third airport. And if Daley is using the Lake Calumet site as a bargaining chip, that's great. But if he really intends to go ahead with it, there are serious unanswered questions about the Calumet site, as Harold Henderson pointed out in these pages on January 4. Would it be better to have a cheaper and less socially, economically, and environmentally disruptive site linked to Chicago by high-speed rail? Would it be better to have a smaller south-side cargo airport and an expanded O'Hare dedicated to passengers only? Would it make sense, given the long-term needs for energy efficiency, to bet a smaller portion of Chicago's future on air travel and work with other cities and states in the region to develop a modern high-speed rail network? The stakes are far too high for the alternatives not to be more thoroughly aired. The city would gain from such a debate, but Daley is unwilling to engage in it.

As bankroller, the mayor must decide not only between competing economic-development investment strategies but also between investment in people's direct needs and businesses' needs. Again, the mayor's record is mixed, but his priorities have clearly been with business and big building, not human services such as affordable housing and public health.

Take the homeless--please, says Mayor Daley, echoing Henny Youngman's line. But for people on the streets it's not so funny. Daley's decision to clear the homeless out of O'Hare and to increase vagrancy arrests is part of a national backlash against the homeless, according to John Donahue of the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless. Yet the mayor did support the coalition's proposal for a one-cent cigarette tax to finance more shelter space. Many new spaces are mats on the floor of warming spaces, but there has also been an increase in longer-term transitional shelters.

There are also less visible victims of the affordable-housing shortage, people paying more than they can afford for less than they need. Of 26 major cities, Chicago ranks 26th in spending from its corporate budget on housing. Chicago spends $2 per capita on low-income housing; New York spends $102. Only three-tenths of a percent of the city's corporate budget goes to low-income housing; Daley rejected housing groups' request to devote 3 percent. He also set an upper limit of $2 million to be spent on housing from the proceeds of scavenger sales, though housing advocates claim $10 to $15 million will be available.

To its credit, the city has a new program--Accelerated Real Estate Sales (ACRES)--to make vacant land available for community-developed affordable housing. A new public-private project--New Homes in Chicago--is building single-family homes on some of those lots. But most of those houses have been priced above the intended level; this is a worthy effort, but it's not really low-income housing. Daley also picked up several of Larry Bloom and David Orr's housing-related reform ideas long buried in Fred Roti's committee: allowing plastic pipe to be used in smaller buildings, transferring building-code enforcement from housing court to administrative hearings to ensure faster action, making it easier for citizens to reject liquor licenses, and disclosing aldermanic interests in zoning proposals.

Daley appointed a well-regarded commissioner of housing and convened an affordable-housing task force, but he has stalled on affordable housing. If it doesn't commit more of its own money and involve community groups more in planning, the city stands to miss out on new federal housing money authorized last year by Congress.

The city's public health department, for decades weak and poorly run, has declined even further under Daley. He appointed a knowledgeable president to the Board of Health, but he only recently appointed a full-time commissioner of health. As a result, the department was rudderless for much of the last two years, and the new commissioner is not likely to have the clout to reverse its continuing decline. To repair the flawed system, the department first tried to privatize some clinics (but met fierce protest), then to consolidate maternal- and child-care clinics into more comprehensive clinics (such as the reopened Mile Square Clinic on the near west side).

Although Daley called a city, state, and county health-care summit as he pledged, he never moved to implement its results. The summit concluded that there was an urgent need to combine city, state, county, and federal funds and to emphasize intergovernmental cooperation with an emphasis on clinics. But Daley has done none of these things, according to Dr. Quentin Young. "His boldness in moving in the opposite direction guarantees further deterioration of health activity."

The city may talk health care and affordable housing, but its money is still somewhere else.

The Politician

The triumph of Daley the manager is to depoliticize politics. Increasingly, reformers and neighborhood groups as well as old regulars quietly try to strike their deals privately rather than debate openly. Partly that is because of a widespread fear of retaliation for criticism, which, suggests Luther Snow of the Community Workshop on Economic Development, stems from the city government's new "corporate culture," which does not encourage grass-roots participation. Although the news will hardly lead to protest marches on City Hall, there has also been a dramatic decline in the frequency of City Council meetings. And, according to Alderman Larry Bloom, one of the few Washington-era executive orders that Daley did not renew was the requirement that all contracts over $75,000 and all noncompetitive bid contracts were to be reviewed by the council's finance committee--which leaves the council no systematic means of monitoring contracts.

This shift toward more private dealing, less open discussion and oversight, and diminished public involvement in government does not mean that politics has vanished from city decisions, but rather that it has become less transparent. The manipulation and withholding of information contributes to this new style, a refinement of traditional machine governance but without the old ward-level involvement of citizens.

The negotiation of a new franchise with Commonwealth Edison shows the new managerialism at work as a political tool. There are few decisions the city will make this year--or any other--with such potential to influence the economy of the city. While Daley has formally preserved the city's option to buy out part of Com Ed at bargain rates (and transfer the utility to an independent authority), he has done very little to prepare to act on that option. And without a real threat, Chicago has little bargaining power. There has also been virtually no effort to inform or mobilize citizens about the issue, which loses the city another potential source of bargaining power. Using the rationale of examining Com Ed's facilities after the blackouts last year, Daley did what many thought he had wanted to do all along--he postponed a decision on the franchise until after the election. Although the city has resisted rate hikes and pressed for more energy efficiency before the Interstate Commerce Commission, we may not know where it's headed on the franchise until Daley and his small inner circle spring their final decision. "The only way to go toe-to-toe with Edison and get something to benefit the average ratepayer is to really fight them and build a constituency," argues County Clerk David Orr. "But there's no public input. The bottom line is that we're dependent on the king. I'm always nervous, even if a good person is in office, in depending on that person. Now [Daley] can decide it on his own. If someone wanted the best deal, I'm not sure why anyone wouldn't want public education and mobilization." But if someone wanted unfettered control, he wouldn't want to risk accountability to an informed public.

Mindful of the political risks of being seen as a Boss and not needing to risk his reputation to back other candidates, Daley has been "stingy with his political capital," as one political analyst puts it. Alderman Mell thinks that may be changing. But though Daley and his close allies make their influence felt behind the scenes, to a large extent Daley has not openly used his popularity to strengthen the Democratic Party or to help many friends.

Media- and money-oriented politics is quintessentially egocentric, an aggrandizement of the individual's chances with little regard to party, principle, or peers. Daley is "sensitive to what 1950s bossism was," says consultant Don Rose, a veteran Daley opponent. "He's of this era of cash-intensive rather than labor-intensive politics. He doesn't have to get into the kind of manipulation used when survival and power depended on controlling people. His greatest success is manipulation of his political image. He's had the most amazing romance with the press--far more than the old man."

Preserving Daley's managerial aura requires holding back from open politics. But critics think that if he wins this election he will feel confident enough to let down his guard and throw around his weight. "I think he will let his mask slip," William Grimshaw says. "He can't take criticism. He has a short fuse and a small mind. I think he will feel more confident about being dictatorial." And Rose warns, "My sense is that the real plunder will begin in the full term. I think Daley has done exceptionally well in looking reformish."

Dick Simpson, a former alderman and now a political-science professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago, credits Daley with passage of three City Council reforms. But many more remain to be passed: setting regular council meetings, developing a tracking system for legislation, publicizing aldermanic voting records, providing impartial committee staffs, reducing the number and budgets of committees, full disclosure of zoning interests. Daley supported campaign-finance reform, aldermanic financial disclosure, and the appointment of an inspector general to oversee city employees (which he now says he wants to extend to the City Council). "We've made progress in the Sawyer and Daley years," Simpson says, "but not nearly as much as we should have. There isn't a lot of inherent enthusiasm in the Daley administration for reforming the City Council." But there has been enough to give Daley the luster of reform, and its value can be counted in votes.

The Visionary?

Even many Daley critics, such as David Orr, credit Daley with a sincere interest in the well-being of the city and in making city government more efficient. But what is the vision of that better city?

"None of us really knows what Daley wants," Orr says. "Even the things we suspect might be positive, we're not sure about the motives. He's a puzzle, an anomaly. He has supported some reforms, but he's no reformer. If he were a reformer, he'd understand empowerment and process are important. It is such a public relations controlled administration. The biggest fear of reformers is that if there isn't a real commitment [to reform], what's to stop a different direction come April 1991?"

Even when Daley has clearly stated his vision, his actions sometimes betray him. His support and initial appointments helped school reform get off to a strong start, says Fred Hess, director of the Chicago Panel on Public School Finances. But then problems began to emerge. The Board of Education, knowing Daley wanted labor peace, signed a three-year contract with teachers that had deficits in the second two years. It was vintage machine politics: Daley senior got the schools in deep financial trouble by making settlements without enough money to pay for them.

Daley also promised that his new deputy mayor for education, Lourdes Monteagudo, would coordinate city health, welfare, job-training, and other human services with the schools. "That simply hasn't happened," Hess says, "and the only item that has happened was a negative--the decision to hire police officers to provide security and to fire locally hired people who had been providing security." Although this served political needs to appear tough on crime, he says, "it was a return to the old ways of thinking about the school system, where you blanket the system with the same solution where schools are different. Harper may need six guards and Mather none, but now they all get two across the board."

The decentralized decision making of school reform can clash with the centralized managerial politics Daley practices. He is unlikely to embrace greater neighborhood government that some reformers, like Simpson, advocate. That would not only complicate mayoral decisions and create new power centers, it would also introduce a politically tricky diversity. Ironically, Daley appears to have learned the political costs of the old machine's discrimination and preference among wards, and so he tries to provide services uniformly across the city. Yet he is trying to transcend the differences in the city by ignoring them.

The history of racial differences in the city cannot be so easily ignored. Even as his own commission on human relations reports rising hate crimes, Daley insists that such problems only reflect a few bad apples. But even bad apples come from trees with roots. Daley could convey an important message to those roots if he were more willing to use his position forthrightly to condemn racism. It would mean a lot--to blacks and whites--coming from someone with his history. But even when faced with the extraordinary and embarrassing situation of the respected international human-rights group Amnesty International calling for an investigation of torture under police commander Jon Burge, Daley refuses to act.

It is hard for a white Irish politician to become a champion of black interests, although Mayor Ray Flynn of Boston makes a far greater effort than Daley does. Also, both Larry Bloom and David Orr have done reasonably well winning black support. Yet Daley needs to recognize the importance of black demands for power in the city if he is ever going to achieve his goal of the city working together in harmony. His administration laid the legal groundwork for an affirmative-action ordinance establishing set-asides for minority and female contracts. Coming to terms more generally with that history of discrimination requires that the city take affirmative action to help rebuild minority neighborhoods and to treat blacks as full partners in power.

Daley is likely to succeed in raising his percentage of black votes this time, and he has won over some black businessmen and ministers. Compared to previous white mayors, he has raised the level of minority participation in government. But in top policy positions especially, blacks have lost ground and Hispanics have gained compared to recent administrations. That may be a wise formula for Daley's new coalition but not for long-term stability. Daley's strategy of cultivating a few black leaders--which Don Rose describes as a refined revival of the old machine plantation system--does not come to grips with the black community's needs. Daley will have to try harder if he wants real peace. For half of Chicago, the current relative quiet may be more properly described as sullen disillusionment and despair.

Daley appears to have a vision of a neat and clean city, one that is attractive for businessmen to visit for conventions at McCormick Place, a city with streets lined with trees but free of gritty newsstands (who needs newspapers and magazines anyway?) and depressing homeless people. It is a city of big new buildings, with lots of construction going on. It is a city of peace and quiet, where deals are made by the inner circle, then announced with appropriate fanfare to the deferential masses who will suffer quietly in the neighborhoods and not stridently question governmental priorities. It is an efficient, businesslike city, especially friendly to big business (if also friendly to the handicapped). Undoubtedly Daley would like everyone working together in harmony, just as long as they're in harmony with him. If money were available from the state or federal government, he would be happy to do more to help the poor. But his dreams more often take the shape of monuments in brick and mortar.

Daley's overall vision for the city often seems lifeless, lacking the vibrancy and chaos of people participating in democracy and making government their own, lacking a faith in the ability of even the poor and disadvantaged to make something better of themselves and their communities. There isn't much of a place in this vision for many of those poor people. It is a vision of perfectly managed imagery, in which leaders never have to debate or defend themselves. Yet fleeing from the turmoil of democracy is ultimately bad politics, and bad politics makes bad government, even if it is well managed.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photos/Bill Stamets.

Comments

Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

More by David Moberg

  • Elections/ Don't Fear the Spoiler

    Why it's (probably) safe to vote Green for governor
    • Oct 26, 2006
  • Alinsky for the Ages

    The Filmmakers, Two Viewpoints, One Powerful Documentary
    • Sep 2, 1999
  • Local Opposition

    Teamsters Gerald Zero and John McCormick greeted Ron Carey's election as the beginning of reform in Chicago. They're still waiting.
    • Jun 3, 1999
  • More »

Agenda Teaser

Performing Arts
Bus Stop Athenaeum Theatre
July 19
Music
Drake, Migos United Center
August 17

Tabbed Event Search

Popular Stories