Most Chicagoans remember April 13, 1992, as the day the Loop flooded from the bottom up. For Mayor Richard Daley, it was merely a bad start to a year that only got worse. A record murder rate threatened, the governor sank Daley’s plans for floating casinos, and the Michigan Avenue Bridge suddenly got stuck in the upright position. mayor’s brother was bypassed for a promised Clinton Cabinet job, and the mayor’s son was busted in a racially tinged brawl. Even the normally compliant City Council gleefully ripped apart Daley’s proposed 1993 city budget.
What a difference a year makes. As the second anniversary of the great flood rolls by, bad news largely has been replaced by good. Daley apparently has survived the sophomore jinx that hits many pols in their second terms-and he seems to be in solid shape for an expected renomination bid next February.
The turnaround has drawn notice on both sides of the political spectrum. “I don’t know what came first, a change of attitude or all these good things. But things are very different,” says independent alderman Larry Bloom (5th), who ran against Daley in 1989. “I see it personally. Maybe because things are going well, he’s less snide and snippy, and more relaxed, more willing to get along.” Regular Democratic alderman Bill Banks (36th) says Daley has gotten back in that Daley adopted his suggestion to repave five miles of side streets in each ward, Banks says, “The man listened. He’s doing things in which the average guy can see his tax money put to work.”
Both men particularly laud the work of new Daley budget chief Paul Vallas, who cleared the way for unanimous City Council approval of the 1994 city budget. Among Daley’s other successes: The public schools avoided a damaging teachers’ strike last fall; community-based policing started and the major-crime rate dropped; and now, signs indicate that a lucrative casino package will soon sail out of the state legislature. Two major bluecollar employers, Nabisco Biscuit Company and Tootsie Roll Industries, recently chose to stay and expand in Chicago. And Daley was confident enough to roll the dice on a couple of high-risk development projects: the shutdown of the CTA’s Green Line for reconstruction, and a partial demolition of the CabriniGreen housing complex.
Some of this may be pure luck, but Daley insiders report that there’s been a deliberate effort to get the mayor outside of City Hall more and to expand his circle of advisers. Others say the mayor, a former state’s attorney, naturally feels more comfortable dealing with crime, his recent area | of emphasis, than with the earlier lated issues. Bob Davis, the Chicago Tribune’s veteran City Hall reporter, says Daley has learned to cope with disappointment and “go the doable,” and he may have profited indirectly from the departure of long-time issues man Frank Kruesi ” (who moved to Washington) and chief financial adviser Ed Bedore (who has cut back his city work). “Maybe by getting rid of two guys who kind of intimidated him, he now is the boss,” Davis says.
Daley still has his critics. Joe Gardner, the Water Reclamation District Commissioner and a possible candidate against Daley next winter, says issues like crime will hurt the incumbent, whatever his political talents. “’Ninety-three was better than ’92, but he still has to get through Gardner says. Another potential mayoral contender, county clerk David Orr, wouldn’t comment. But sources in his camp note that it took Daley years to shake up the park district and nearly as long to OK community-based policing. They also charge that schools were kept open only through use of financial trickery.
Daley faces other political ‘ dangers, particularly race, which recently resurfaced in the which recently resurfaced in the fight over expansion of the Chicago High School for Agricultural Sciences. But insiders see no sign Daley will face a challenger from the political right.
Daley himself, in an interview in his office, parcels out bits of credit here and there for his recent successes, but says he’s the same guy as ever. Can I tell you the truth? Every year has to be a good year,” Daley says with a smile. “If you say you had a bad year, boy, will you get it!”
All of which raises the question of what Daley will do next year, election year. So far, he hasn’t said whether he will run for a third term. “You never know what’s going to happen,” he replies, reaching for a big, fat cigar. “That’s a hard question.”