Tuesday, September 7, 2010



Wow! The Mayor is going to retire! The announcement only came a short time ago, and I am sure I will have more thoughts down the line. But since I have an opinion on just about everything, and especially on all things surrounding the politics of my beloved home town, I have to share a few thoughts:

--Why did Mayor Daley retire? We’ll never really know because the Mayor is a private man. But we can always speculate.

A lot of the talk has swirled around “it not being fun any more,” as someone on the radio said today. This is a simple argument to make because it’s true; it indeed isn’t fun any more to be mayor of Chicago. The city is broke. The recession may be with us for awhile, so there seems to be little hope of a sudden surge of revenue. After twenty years of expanding the budget, effectively playing Santa Claus with the taxpayers’ money, Daley was facing years of reducing the budget, effectively playing Scrooge. This is not a position in which any pol wants to find himself, especially a politician who can go out on something of a good note, like Richard M. Daley.

There is also talk of Daley’s facing the facts; i.e., that he was going to lose his bid for reelection. Baloney. If Daley were to have run, he would have won. Yes, his approval ratings are down, way down. But you can’t beat somebody with nobody and the list of people who were willing to face him is just that—a list of nobodies, at least at the stage that existed up until last night. Further, money wins elections and, while the city is starved for money, Daley’s potential reelection fund would be swimming in the spondulicks. And after looking around the city and looking at the situation objectively, can one honestly say that Daley is doing a poor job or has done a poor job? Yes, we have plenty of problems and the city is run at full retail, to say the least, but Chicago, unlike many of its counterparts both in the Midwest and in the nation as a whole, is viable and remains a great place to live and work. Rightly or wrongly, people attribute our city’s more attractive qualities to its political leadership. And even if one is not prepared to concede that Daley is doing at least a decent job, is one prepared to argue that there is somebody out there who could do better?

On the fringes of this discussion are those who say that Daley quit to ward off potential problems with federal law enforcement. This makes almost no sense. First, there is no indication that the Mayor is in any legal trouble and I, for one, don’t think Daley will ever find himself in legal trouble for a number of reasons. Second, if Daley were having, or about to have, problems with the feds, it would be easier to ward off any trouble from the mayor’s office than as a private citizen. First, a sitting mayor can raise plenty of money quite easily; a private citizen cannot. Defending one’s self in federal court is expensive. Ask either of the Blagojevich brothers. Second, holding the office of mayor provides a bargaining chip for the feds; e.g., “I’ll resign in exchange for a light, or suspended, sentence.”

The most likely reason that the Mayor is quitting is the health of his beloved wife, Maggie. She has been battling cancer for years now and has not been looking very good of late. Say what you will about Mayor Daley, but no one can say he is not a man who loves and cherishes his wife and family. Maggie needs her husband now more than ever, and he knows that.

--So who will replace the Mayor? God only knows, and He’s not talking. This speculation, though, is especially fun because Richard II is the first strong mayor of Chicago to leave office voluntarily in as long as I, or anyone else, can remember. In fact, he is the first strong mayor to leave office without the assistance of the Almighty in as long as anyone can remember, with the possible exception of Ed Kelly in 1947. For those who might argue, Jane Byrne, Mike Bilandic, and Martin Kennelly (the last two, like the Mayor and Kelly, sons of Bridgeport, by the way), despite their good qualities and/or entertainment value, were not strong mayors. And, though few would argue to the contrary, neither was Gene Sawyer, though he was a particular favorite of yours truly.

Alderman Bob Fioretti (2nd) and Scott Wauguespack (32nd) have all but declared, and both were willing to run against Daley. The big talk is about Rahm Emanuel. While I don’t like to make predictions, this is one I will make: Forget Rahm Emanuel for mayor of Chicago. He’s been away a long time and never was much of a power in this town. I say this even after saying that money wins elections.

Here is a partial list of names that have been bandied about:

Alderman Sandi Jackson, 7th
Alderman Ed Burke, 14th
Alderman Tom Allen, 38th
Alderman Brendan Reilly, 42nd
Alderman Tom Tunney, 44th

I discount all six of the aforementioned aldermen. I can’t think of an alderman who became mayor by an election of the people (as opposed to an election of the City Council: Gene Sawyer, 1988 and Mike Bilandic, 1976), at least not in this century. Mayors don’t come from aldermanic ranks. And of the aforementioned six, only Tom Allen, Tom Tunney, and Ed Burke are not newbies. Having said that, a run by Eddie Burke, the dean of the City Council, would be a great way for him to cap off an extraordinary career and finally get a job he has wanted at least since 1983. He would make a campaign, and the politics of this city, so interesting that even more people would buy my books.

More names that have been mentioned by people other than yours truly:

Sheriff Tom Dart
Assessor Jim Houlihan
Former Inspector General David Hoffman
Jesse Jackson, Jr.
Attorney General Lisa Madigan
Congressman Danny Davis
Congressman Luis Gutierrez
Former School Superintendent Paul Vallas

While I am speculating on who I THINK might be the next mayor, not on whom I would LIKE to be the next mayor, of the above, I LIKE Bob Fioretti, Tom Dart, Lisa Madigan, David Hoffman, and Paul Vallas. Any of those five have the potential to be great mayors. Further, Dart and Vallas have some connection to the 19th Ward, which could be a blessing and a curse for the election but (See below.), since all politics in this town is personal, is a big plus in yours truly’s book.

Vallas doesn’t live in Chicago, but that problem could be solved quickly. I’m sure my old neighborhood would love to welcome Paul and his family back with open arms. Lisa Madigan? John Kass gave Chicago the very entertaining and apt moniker “Madiganistan” about a week ago. If Lisa were ever to become mayor, how much more apt would that name be? Therein lies the real problem for a Madigan candidacy. Further, she has young children and this is no job for some who, like Lisa (if what I’m told is true), especially values her role as a mother.

--So who do I think will be the next Mayor? Just as God is not talking, He especially is not talking to me on this matter. But let me throw out three names, one a popular guess, one a stretch, and one completely out of left field:

• Sheriff Tom Dart would be a very safe bet and a very good mayor. He is an effective sheriff with a knack for making headlines. Suburbanites and independents like the guy. Though, from what I hear (and I don’t hear all that much), he is not, despite his 19th ward roots and his family’s history in the 19th, sufficiently cozy with the powers that be in my old ward to make outsiders nervous. But Dart is still from the 19th and his father was something of a power broker in the ward before him, and people are more comfortable with easy labels than subtle nuances. So his being a 19th warder will help, given the ward’s political muscle, but could still hurt with independents and from regulars outside the 19th ward. The 11th (John Daley), the 13th (Mike Madigan), and the 19th (Matt O’Shea, but, really, the Sheehans and Jerry Joyce) may have been allied for many years, but even Messrs. Madigan and Daley can’t be pleased at the 19th accumulating as much power as it would if Dart were to become mayor. And the northwest side? “Another southwest side guy? Another 19th warder? To hell you say!” Dart won’t play well up there. Still, to the extent that “Daley’s guys,” whoever they are, have something to say in the next election (and, believe me, they will), Dart is an obvious choice. And Chicago police officers and fire fighters, a major source of Daley opposition, might be comfortable with a sitting sheriff, unless he is seen to Daley’s guy.

• A stretch is Illinois Senator James Meeks. He is a powerhouse in the black community with a knack for publicity, and good press, similar to that of Tom Dart. He’s a great speaker who knows how to make coalitions, as in his alliance with Republicans and ethnic Democrats in the voucher fight in Springfield. Therein lies his big negative: the teachers’ unions, and perhaps the unions in general, are going to fight this guy tooth and nail.

• Way out of left field comes Alderman George Cardenas, 12th, a hard worker and a very sharp guy who is closely allied with the Mayor. Note that Alderman Cardenas was elected in 2003 with the support of the Hispanic Democratic Organization, then Daley’s primary political arm. Note also that the incumbent in that election, Ray Frias, suddenly withdrew from the runoff Cardenas had forced. Hmm….Wonder what happened there? Further, Cardenas sits on the Finance, Budget, Aviation, and Education Committees, among others. These are not the kind of assignments that go to people whom the Mayor doesn’t like. If “Daley’s guys,” whomever they are, have something to say in the next election AND they are mindful of the ethnic demographics of Chicago and interested in having a guy in office whose ear they will have for years to come, Alderman Cardenas is a far more obvious choice than anyone (but yours truly) currently thinks.

--Let me throw out one more name, which may require more than even my usual degree of cynicism: Richard M. Daley after an effective draft initiated by the business leaders of this city. Just a thought.

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