Chicago’s regular Democrats are tough. They stop through life. They stomp through Mike Royko’s columns. They produce good, solid Democratic blue-collar, occasionally dead, voters, election after election. They call out the tow trucks, and they command the street sweepers; they have, after all, packed the at Streets and San with their nephews. They’re hearty, bulb-nosed, and shrewd. They swagger about in off-the-rack suits and pinkie rings, they mangle the English language, rather be shot than be called a Republican.
Mayor Richard M. Daley mangles language. So is Mayor Richard Daley a Regular Dem? “Well, I’ll tell you this: President Bush is fond of the Mayor,” says Debra Anderson, deputy assistant to the President. The Republican President and the nominally Democratic Mayor have, in fact, had family get-togethers in the Oval Office; the President has sent Daley friendly, personal (publicly released) letters of congratulation and advice. The two had photos taken, arms draped across each other’s shoulders, smiling. This is tantamount to Richard J. Daley’s publicly embracing Richard Milhous Nixon.
“I think a very good case can be made that [Daley] has a very Republican approach to government,” says Alderman Larry Bloom (Fifth Ward), the dean of the independent contingent in the City Council. “Just look at his policy record.”
The Mayor has come out in favor of education voucher programs, which would give money to parents who chose to send their children to private schools; he’s wholeheartedly in support of privatizing city services-including, at some point that pillar of Regular Democrats’ power, garbage collection; he’s criticized the welfare system, lambasted “special-interest” groups, called for smaller government and lower taxes, and suggested that retired General Norman Schwarzkopf be put in charge of a no-holds-barred war on drugs The Republican National Party endorses all of these policies, in one form or another.
“Daley’s inaugural speech was an eye opener for us in the White House,” says James P. Pinkerton, deputy assistant to the President for policy planning. I’d say we’re pretty darn pleased.”
Certainly it would be an auspicious time to be the city’s first Republican mayor—even a closet one—in 60 years: The state’s Republicans, having won control of the bloody, decennial district remapping, are in the process of ensuring they’ll finally have a state senate majority and an augmented presence in the state’s House. Governor Edgar is a Republican. Aldo Botti, the chairman of the Du Page County Board, is a Republican And the number of Republicans in the six-county Chicago area seems to be growing. Almost 83,000 more people voted in the 1988 Republican Presidential primary in Cook County than did four years before, while almost 55,000 fewer people voted in the 1988 Democratic primary than in 1984.
But Daley insiders insist none of this has had any bearing on the Mayor’s shift toward the right. “These are different times,” says political consultant David Axelrod. “He is trying to deal with contemporary urban problems with contemporary solutions. He’s not not straitjacketed by dogma.” He is, in other words, a pragmatist, not a Republican.
This, then, is pragmatism, Daley style: He is planning to lay off 1,000 city workers. He has actually dismantled the once-sacrosanct Department of Public Works. And he’s pushed legislation through the City Council that relaxes the city’s notoriously draconian building codes, allowing the use of plastic pipes, which don’t require a union plumber. “Many of the practices Mr. Daley is challenging were popularized when his late father served mayor,” an an approving, almost gushing recent editorial in The Wall Street Journal pointed out.
What must be most startling of all to old-style Dems is “that whole privatization thing,” as President Bush might say. In |New York, bring up privatizing, and City Council members holler “union busting.” ln Chicago, under Daley, privatization has become a daily event. Already, the Mayor has farmed out the city’s drug and alcohol rehabilitation programs, its parking-ticket collection, and its car-towing jobs; he’s talking about doing the same for engineering, housing loan programs, and, yes, even garbage collection; in addition, he’s asked private-enterprise star Leo Melamed, the recently-retired head of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, to chair a committee to figure out how to create a new, state-of-the-art (though city-run) 911 service.
Why this rush to privatize? “See, we should be in certain businesses,” the Mayor said in a recent interview. “[But] what bureaucracy wants is growth and they keep attaching on programs. Then all of a sudden you ask, What are we doing this for?” Or, as the Republican National Party’s official Republican Platform book says, “the American people solve problems better and faster than governments. [So] we advocate privatizing.”
So what do the state’s Republicans and conservatives make of all this? Have they gained a soul mate in Chicago? “Chicago and Du Page will always have their differences, says James “Pate” Phillip, minority leader of the state senate. “But I do enjoy working with Richie. He was a fiscal conservative when he was in Springfield [as a senator] and he’s a fiscal conservative now. I think he probably understands the suburbs better than some recent mayors.”
Samuel R. Mitchell, president of the Chicago Association of Commerce and Industry, is more effusive. “I am absolutely thrilled to have the current Mayor in he says. “He’s noticeably pro-business—unlike some of his predecessors,” he adds, steel in his voice. “And that’s what we like to see.”
Even the unabashedly conservative Heartland Institute chimes in with praise. “He’s going against the traditional support base of the Democratic Party,” says Alejandro Bertuol, a spokesman for the group “He’s undercutting the support base of his father. We’re in favor of it.”
But don’t get too gleeful, warns Axelrod. “Daley as a Republican—that’s sheer nonsense,” he says. “He isn’t a strict partisan Democrat, true, especially as people think of Chicago Democrats. But he’s still fundamentally a spokesman of middle-class and poor people, who I think we can all agree have not been well represented by the Republican Party at a national or a local level.
“I would agree that he’s a good spokesman for the middle class,” says Larry Bloom. “But most of them are in the suburbs now.” Bloom adds that while he was listening to Daley’s inaugural speech, “I had the feeling the whole time that it was aimed at someone in Northbrook, not at anyone in, say, Lawndale. That’s his natural constituency now: white, well-to-do North Siders and suburban Chicagoans"—a large number of whom voted Republican in the last three Presidential elections.
All of which has led some people to conclude that Daley has an agenda beyond the mayoralty. “Countywide office, statewide office—you need to appeal to the wealthy and Republicans to win those,” says Bloom. Of course, Daley has already held countywide office, as state’s attorney. In the process, he learned a thing or two about appealing to suburban voters. “I remember he campaigned in the suburbs a lot,” says pate Philip. “He did quite well there, too.”
“If I had to guess as to his longterm ambition,” says Bloom, ‘I’d say governor.”
A Springfield-based reporter agrees. “There’s already talk down here of him running next time,” he says. “Obviously [since Edgar and his predecessor are Republicans] it doesn’t hurt to sound like a Republican if you want to win the governorship.” He stops. “But Daley the Republican?” he says, letting the words roll around for a moment in his mouth. “It’s pretty hard to imagine. I mean, he is the mayor of Chicago.”
Some people do point out that the Republican-style policies Daley has adopted are similar to notes being sounded by such young, flashy Democratic Presidential candidates as Governor Bill Clinton of Arkansas. This suggests to these same people that Daley may be hoping to use his leadership to reshape and lead the Chicago Democratic Party into a new, stronger, pragmatic age. Except that Daley, unlike his father, has chosen not to be the head of the local Democratic Party. He didn’t even attend the Illinois party organization’s biggest party cum fund-raiser in October on Navy Pier, where the state’s most powerful Democrats were gathered to cheer each other on—Daley was giving a speech at Yale, alma mater of George Bush.
Still, the Mayor’s future plans-a gubernatorial campaign or whatever—are probably well down the road. Once known as the Teflon Mayor (in honor of yet another Republican star), he is now being assailed from all sides for promises unkept and problems unattended to: Critics accuse him of not paying enough attention to domestic, inner-city problems, of allowing the plague of drugs and crime to worsen on his watch, and, campaign promises notwithstanding, of calling for higher taxes in his most recent budget. Just like President Bush. The irony is, as Richard M. Daley’s politics seem to become more and more Republican, he’s moving closer and closer to his father’s own political roots. The elder Daley, that Regular Democratic stalwart, won the first election he stood for—statehouse representative from Bridgeport. There was just one problem: the only available slot at the time—when districts included party-designated seats—happened to be a Republican one. So, in 1936, Richard J. Daley began his long and illustrious political career with a victory—as a Republican.