The Case Against Daley

Yes, he is popular and has done lots of good for the city. But Mayor Daley has plenty of shortcomings, too. If we were running for mayor, here is how we would challenge him.

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First, let’s get the caveats out of the way. Yes, Richard M. Daley has had a tremendous run as mayor of Chicago. He’s polished an international, tourist-friendly city that looks sharp and stays culturally vital. He’s energized city departments and stressed the effective delivery of city services.

He’s taken responsibility for the schools and public housing. He’s presided over a city on the move, with improvement projects and beautification programs touching every neighborhood. Construction cranes dot the skyline. And even in the current economic downturn, the city is largely holding its own.

For the most part, Daley deserves the accolades that have piled up over the years, and it is hardly surprising that in 1999, in his last re-election campaign, he clobbered South Side U.S. congressman Bobby Rush (1st), winning 72 percent of the vote.

Now it’s re-election time again. As this magazine went to press, Daley had not announced himself as a candidate in the February contest, but barring a serious illness or the discovery of millions of Millennium Park dollars in his personal account, Daley will run. Not only that, he’ll win. There are no serious challengers in sight.

Too bad for Chicago.

For the past decade, Daley has refused to debate his opponents. Now it looks as if he won’t even have anyone to refuse (the only announced candidate so far is a computer consultant named Pat McAllister, who has quickly faded into oblivion).

No debates, no real campaign, no airing of the issues, no holding the mayor to account, no competing visions.

“Opposition tends to dwindle after a couple of re-election wins,” says Dick Simpson, the former alderman who teaches political science at the University of Illinois at Chicago. “With more and more power, the mayor becomes like a czar.”

This isn’t right. No matter how good Daley looks from a distance, he has plenty of warts up close-and they should be examined. His record should be evaluated. What’s more, Chicagoans deserve to know how he plans to face the bushel of serious problems confronting the city.

If nobody else is going to step up and challenge the mayor, we will. After all, if a Martian (or a Minnesotan) landed in the Loop tomorrow and listened carefully as you ticked off the downside of Daley’s ledger, the Martian (presuming it’s a good-government Martian) could reasonably ask: How does this guy keep his job?

So, while there are compelling reasons why Daley should be returned to power, we present ten compelling reasons why he should not.

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1. He’s an arrogant, antidemocratic autocrat.

You know that arrogance has kicked in when a mayor says he would accept a pay raise (from $192,000) even as he’s laying off 625 city workers and eliminating 1,000 vacant jobs to help cover a $116-million budget deficit. That’s not the kind of thing a politician says and does with an election a few months away. Unless he doesn’t have an opponent.

And this mayor knows how to eliminate opponents. When former Chicago Bull Bob Love announced in the fall that he was challenging Alderman Theodore “Ted” Thomas, of the Southwest Side’s 15th Ward, one of the first things out of Love’s mouth was, “I can’t speak for Mayor Daley, but I love Mayor Daley.” Sounds like an alderman already. And surely Love knows that, if he is elected, the mayor will speak for him.

What’s interesting is that Love has been registered in the ward only since January, but has known Daley for years. Thomas, a retired electrician for the postal service, is a longtime community activist and one of the few aldermen to challenge the mayor on issues-such things as the mayor’s choice for fire commissioner and the mayor’s cherished special taxing districts. Get the message, Ted?

To say this mayor brooks no dissent is an understatement. Daley’s chief asset may be a keen ability to control the levers of power. For example, Daley has appointed more than a third of the City Council. Daley’s power to fill aldermanic vacancies-some occurring when Daley promotes council members into his administration-comes from a 1978 state law designed by the Democratic Machine to fend off then-ascendant independents. So he’s not the first mayor to have had this weapon; he’s just the only mayor who has been in office long enough to wield it so effectively.

Under the headline “Daley Has Too Much Authority,” Chicago Sun-Times political columnist Steve Neal recently wrote, “There isn’t another major political executive in the country with comparable power. This dubious law [having the mayor fill council vacancies] has produced a concentration of power in the mayor’s office that may be unconstitutional.”

Here’s an opposition campaign plank: special elections, not mayoral fiat, to fill aldermanic vacancies.

Of course, Daley’s dominion extends well beyond the City Council and its sister agencies, such as the school board, the park district, the Chicago Transit Authority, and the Chicago Housing Authority. He also controls the Cook County Board, ostensibly run by his pal John Stroger and the mayor’s brother John Daley. This was best demonstrated last summer when the mayor politely asked the County Board to overturn its 17-0 decision to relocate the Domestic Violence Court to the Helene Curtis building in River North. The mayor got his way-the county chose an alternative site that would cost taxpayers an additional $22 million and take eight months longer to retrofit. A unanimous, bipartisan County Board vote was overturned just like that.

Now, Daley might say that if people don’t like it, they can vote him out of office. But even that is a rigged game. When Daley was first elected mayor, it took about 4,400 petition signatures to get on the ballot. Now it takes 25,000. By contrast, it takes 1,000 signatures to get on the ballot for mayor in Los Angeles and 7,500 in New York City. Neal called the signature requirement “a lifetime lease on the mayor’s office.”

How did this come to be? When the General Assembly passed legislation in 1995 making the mayoral race nonpartisan, the law didn’t include a signature requirement. So lawyers for the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners set the level at an absurdly high number for new party candidates and independents. It’s hard to find anybody who likes the onerous requirement. The Chicago Tribune editorial page says, “The rules of the game are stacked to deny Chicagoans a choice on Election Day.” Even the Daley-friendly Sun-Times editorial page says: “We do not believe the democratic process should be skewed to serve him.”

A community activist group that would like to run an African American candidate against Daley has filed a lawsuit to change the signature requirement. Daley’s response? “I don’t know where I am [on the issue],” he told the press. “It doesn’t matter to me. Whatever the petitions are, they are. I fill them out, and that’s it.”

How inspiring.

 

“Ballot access is a big issue. You’re talking Democracy 101,” says Jay Stewart, staff attorney for the Better Government Association. “Does he not care at all? The easiest way to get rid of opponents is to make it difficult and complex for them to get on the ballot in the first place. That type of system always benefits those who have an immense amount of resources, are incumbents, or both.”

Opposition premise: Daley has been there too long. He has too much control, and the reason he gets into so much trouble, as we will outline below, is because he wields power arrogantly and has no real opposition to keep him in check.

2. Contract cronyism.

The most consistently troubling aspect of the Daley administration is the way the mayor’s friends have loaded up on city business. It’s disgusting, unseemly, and, at its worst, illegal. Contract cronyism has formed the core of the Daley scandals.

The list of embarrassments is familiar. If your favorite isn’t listed here, it’s because we don’t have room to run them all. But do you remember these whoppers? Daley’s friend Michael Marchese gets a cut-rate deal on a parcel of CTA land in Lincoln Park and a property on the West Side for a buck. Richard Crandall’s G. F. Structures makes a bundle erecting wrought-iron fences throughout the city-and substituting more expensive materials without rebidding. Daley confidant Jeremiah Joyce reportedly earns $1.8 million in one year alone brokering concession contracts at O’Hare Airport for McDonald’s. Patrick Huels, Daley’s floor leader in the City Council, resigns after revelations surface that he has accepted a $1.25-million business loan from city contractor Michael Tadin, a friend of the mayor’s who once had $100 million in city paving contracts. The mayor’s pal Oscar D’Angelo, the disbarred Taylor Street businessman, helped W. H. Smith land newsstand contracts at O’Hare by cutting in Grace Barry and Barbara Burrell, friends of the mayor’s wife. D’Angelo also gave an interest free loan to a top mayoral aide, Terry Teele, who was forced to resign. Had enough?

But the biggest scandal of all may prove to be the Duff affair. For two years, federal investigators have been examining the Mob-connected Duff family, led by a generous Daley campaign supporter, John Duff Jr., the patriarch. The Duffs came to public attention most recently in 1999, when the Tribune revealed that the family’s Windy City Maintenance had won $100 million in city-related contracts to provide janitorial services for Taste of Chicago, O’Hare Airport, McCormick Place, the city’s 911 center, police headquarters, and several police district stations. The contracts were awarded on the premise that the company was run by a woman. It wasn’t.

A federal grand jury has subpoenaed city records relating to the Duffs and their companies. This one could get hot for Daley: The Duffs, whose connections to organized crime go back four decades, have held fundraisers for the mayor and supplied campaign workers for some of his favorite candidates. The broadcaster and political specialist Bruce DuMont says that his late wife, Kathy Osterman, who was the city’s special events director, once confided that Daley had told her to make sure the Duffs got the contracts to clean up after summer festivals. Daley has denied the charge.

Even if Daley is clean of cronyism-if these deals for friends are made without his knowledge-why isn’t he incensed that his good name is being tarnished? We’re outraged by his lack of outrage. Every so often, following a scandal, he pushes a new ethics ordinance through the City Council. But the scandals keep coming.

The quaint notion that Chicago isn’t ready for reform is ridiculous. The truth is, it seems the only people not ready are the mayor and his pals.

 

3. He bungles big projects.

Early in his reign, Daley fumbled big-ticket proposals to build a Lake Calumet airport, a downtown theme park anchored by four casinos, and the downtown trolley known as the circulator. Once he turned his attention to alleys, streets, sewers, and flowers, his mayoralty flourished. Beautification will be Daley’s legacy. But the so-called Mistakes by the Lake-Soldier Field and Millennium Park-will be with us for a long time.

It’s not really the case that the new Soldier Field will be ugly. Its futuristic, state-of-the-art design is quite stunning. It just doesn’t belong inside the shell of the old Soldier Field. As has been pointed out innumerable times, the design makes a joke of the stadium’s signature colonnades.

What’s really ugly, though, is the way Daley abused the democratic process in pushing through the $632-million deal-complete with its risky financing scheme. The mayor speeded the project past the multiple layers of government responsible for guarding the public purse (which will contribute two-thirds of the project’s cost), protecting the lakefront, honoring the promise made to World War I veterans that the stadium would be a suitable war memorial, and making sure the stadium isn’t an architectural disaster.

Daley’s deal sailed through the state legislature in just two weeks. The city Plan Commission gave its approval at the end of an eight-hour meeting, winning a war of attrition against protesters waiting for the vote. The City Council, in approving a requisite zoning change, granted the mayor his wishes on bended knee, as usual. A park district committee met next in what the Tribune called a “kangaroo-court” hearing. Not a single commissioner asked a single question of Bears officials or city staff before passing the mayor’s plan. Later, the full park board joined the festivities and voted to fast-track the project.

The result? The new Soldier Field is already almost universally hated. Paul Green, director of Roosevelt University’s School of Policy Studies, says, “My greatest complaint is that given all the heat they have taken on this controversy-with all of the machinations between the park district, the Bears, the General Assembly, the mayor, the governor, and the facilities board-to end up with the monstrosity that’s going to be built just befuddles me.”

As far as Millennium Park goes, it may be wonderful when it’s finally done, but will it have been worth it? The facility in Grant Park was supposed to open in the summer of 2000 at a cost of $150 million. Now it is expected to open next summer at a cost of $370 million. What in the world happened?

The answer to that is long-frequent design changes, contract disputes, poor management-but the bottom line is this: The project was rushed because Daley wanted the undoable done quickly. For a plan whose shape was murky, Daley’s timetable was wildly optimistic and his budget a sham. Jacqueline Leavy, executive director of the Neighborhood Capital Budget Group, which monitors city budget issues, says, “When you sit in a chair and say, ‘Make it so,’ and magically, time after time, you see things happen, like the wrought-iron fences, and the landscaped medians around United Center just in time for the Democratic National Convention, you begin to believe you can say, ‘Make it so,’ and it’ll happen.”

That’s what makes Daley’s new big project agenda so worrisome. Is this the man you want to trust with a downtown casino (it’s back) and a billion-dollar outer Loop el line? And hey, what ever happened to Block 37?

 

4. The O’Hare mess.

The biggest project of all is O’Hare, and while Daley looks like the champion of airport expansion, having finally hammered out a deal with Governor George Ryan that includes a (weak) provision for building a third airport in south suburban Peotone, the truth is that Daley denied for years that we needed more runways and flight capacity. If Daley were less concerned with hoarding political power and more concerned about the broader needs of the region, the airport mess would have been solved already.

In 1986, a state study determined that Chicago would need a third airport by 2000. How right that study turned out to be. To his credit, Daley proposed a third airport in 1990 (his second year in office), on the city’s Southeast Side at Lake Calumet. When that proposal failed and Peotone emerged as the best location, Daley suddenly changed his mind about the need for airport expansion. Peotone is in Republican-dominated Will County, out of Daley’s control. In 1995, Daley was so eager to block Peotone and stave off Republican intervention in the city’s airports that he began shipping millions of dollars in O’Hare and Midway airport passenger fees across the border to build up the Gary, Indiana, airport as an alternative and create a new foolproof alliance protected from state legislators.

It was one of the cleverest political moves of his administration. Too bad it did next to nothing to aid the region’s overcrowded skies. When Daley was still backing the Lake Calumet plan, he said he believed the time frame of 10 to 15 years for building a new airport could be cut to seven. Even at the longer estimate, O’Hare expansion and Peotone would both have been done by now if the mayor had started on it when he first came into office.

As with Soldier Field, O’Hare seems as if it has been debated for decades, but the plan now in play hasn’t had real public input. Instead, Daley and Ryan are trying to maneuver the deal through the United States Congress via parliamentary gamesmanship to prevent a future governor from tampering with it. (There is no similar provision that would prevent a future mayor from backing out of the deal. As Daley explained to reporters: “I’m going to be mayor for a long time.")

Today, with the economy in the tank and the airlines struggling, the whole thing looks shaky; construction of the World Gateway project, the mayor’s vaunted $3.2-billion plan to add two terminals, was halted in October, though the city had already spent nearly $30 million.

O’Hare is starting to look like another big project grounded by arrogance, a thirst for power, and a lack of vision.

5. The middle-class squeeze.

The mayor has said that Chicago’s public schools are the key to keeping middle-class families in the city. Perhaps. But if the middle class can’t afford to live in the city, it doesn’t matter how much schools improve.

In his State of the City address last February, Daley said, “A flagging national economy and the attacks of September 11th have caused us, along with other cities and states, to further tighten our belts, and explore once again how we can do more with less. Now more than ever, we must spend every dollar wisely and well, understanding that government can’t ease its burden simply by placing a much greater one on already hard-pressed taxpayers.”

Daley has worked hard to limit property tax increases. More important, he has called on the state to bear a larger cost of school funding through higher income taxes instead of property taxes, though he and many others have failed to achieve this goal. (By one measure, only ten states collect a larger share of revenue from property taxes; 36 states collect a larger share of revenue from income taxes.) But city homeowners are still getting squeezed: Many residents are seeing double-digit percentage increases in their property tax bills because of rising property values. Gentrification has taken its toll.

The city and county both have initiatives offering some relief to longtime homeowners caught in the bind, but it’s too little too late. With an inevitable decrease in city services due to budget cuts, the middle class, the backbone of the city, is starting to feel unwelcome.

 

6. The have-nots.

Bobby Rush ran a terrible campaign against Daley in 1999, but when he said there were two Chicagos, he was right. A campaign in a compassionate society ought to put the have-nots front and center. Here are some facts we won’t be hearing about in the months to come: In Chicago, one of every five people lives below the poverty line. A third more families were without shelter in 2001 than in the previous year. Two-thirds of inner-city children don’t receive the necessary immunizations by age two. More than 30,000 children in Chicago public schools receive free or reduced-price lunch. And the city’s hunger problem is dramatically worsening; the Greater Chicago Food Depository recently announced plans to build a new facility and double capacity. “Given the fact that this is a crisis, this is an opportune time for the city to step in and say, ‘We can help,’” says Diane Doherty, executive director of the Illinois Hunger Coalition. “We have one of the most beautiful cities in the world. But where is our commitment to those among us who are not able to afford housing or to go out and purchase what the rest of us take for granted?”

7. Murder capital, U.S.A.

We’re number one. Again. No other American city has more murders than Chicago. In 2001, with a population of 2.9 million, Chicago recorded 666 murders. New York City, with a population of eight million, recorded 643 murders. Los Angeles, with a population of 3.7 million, recorded 550 murders. Chicago has topped the nation in homicides twice in the past four years. (Chicago’s murder rate-murders per capita-is lower than in some smaller U.S. cities, if that’s any consolation.)

Policing experts point out that Chicago has far fewer murders than it did ten years ago, when it recorded 943. According to the Chicago Crime Commission, the number of murders in the city is 22 percent lower than in 1991. But New York City has 73 percent fewer murders, and several large cities, including Los Angeles and Houston, have seen the number of murders decline by more than 50 percent.

Why can’t Chicago do that well?

It’s fair to say the mayor isn’t sitting on his hands. At his direction, police superintendent Terry Hillard has set up a dedicated homicide unit to replace the broader violent crimes division in Area Five on the West Side. A year ago, the department set up an “accountability office” making commanders answerable to crime increases on their shifts. Hillard says officers will work harder to remove guns from homes while on domestic violence calls.

But Chicago has resisted New York City’s two-pronged approach: first, application of the so-called “broken windows” theory of cracking down on small crimes in order to prevent large ones; second, the use of CompStat, a sophisticated software system that tracks where crimes occur, resulting in a smarter deployment of forces and accountability for commanders and officers. Chicago doesn’t have CompStat.

“We’ve been slow to adopt new technology that other places are adopting quickly,” says Richard Block, a sociology and criminal justice professor at Loyola University.

More glaring is the department’s failure to redraw its beats. Ten years ago, the consulting firm of Booz Allen Hamilton recommended the city redraw police beats to reflect changing crime patterns and populations. It still hasn’t happened-the public relations involved in moving cops from safer areas to dangerous neighborhoods is tricky. But the consequences of not doing so are great: About ten years ago, a federal panel found that white Chicagoans received more police protection from violent crimes than blacks. West Side alderman Isaac Carothers (29th), the chairman of the City Council’s police committee, has said that beat realignment was most recently promised four years ago. He’s still waiting. “There’s just no reason for that,” says Block.

 

8. The police department.

And while we’re talking about the police department, let’s review some of the lowlights under Daley’s watch. One of the mayor’s police chiefs, Matt Rodriguez, was forced to resign over a personal friendship with a reputed Mob figure and murder suspect. Earlier this year, a special prosecutor was appointed to look into the allegations (from 66 people) of torture linked to former area commander Jon Burge; the full story has yet to be told, but the mayor, who was the Cook County state’s attorney when some of the abuses allegedly took place, hasn’t exactly been out front demanding a clean accounting. The department has had several high-profile shootings of unarmed civilians, including LaTanya Haggerty and Robert Russ. And it only recently bought stun guns to disable suspects who need not be killed. It’s too bad the department didn’t begin using nonlethal weapons in time to save the life of Timothy Crotty, shot this year in a station house for wielding a three-and-a-half-inch knife, or of Arthur Hutchinson, shot two years ago in an alley wielding a fork. And let’s not forget: According to a Tribune investigation, there is an astounding depth of ties between the department and the Mob. Nice.

Is there room for a law-and-order candidate-one who insists that law and order apply to the police department as well as to common criminals?

9. The heat wave.

Perhaps the 1995 heat wave is old news. But only this year did we learn of the tragedy’s full dimensions, and the culpability of the mayor and his administration, as revealed by the sociologist Eric Klinenberg’s book Heat Wave. If you haven’t read the book, or the reviews, you’re probably thinking: Yes, it was a disaster, but what could Daley have done?

Plenty, according to Klinenberg’s damning indictment-which hasn’t been publicly challenged by Daley or any other city official. In Klinenberg’s account, Daley was slow to realize what was happening even as bodies piled up outside the city morgue. Daley then denied that the city had a public health disaster on its hands.

Daley did not enact the city’s skimpy emergency plan, even as paramedics pleaded for help. The city ran out of ambulances and refused to call in extras from the suburbs. Emergency rooms overflowed and shut down; ambulances with dying patients who could have been saved roamed the city looking for hospitals that would take them. Cooling centers were opened, but many seniors and younger poor people had no way to get to them. And the city’s desolate neighborhoods that lacked street life and public spaces provided no respite for poor, old, and isolated citizens with nowhere else to go.

Klinenberg titles one chapter of his book “Governing by Public Relations,” and details how the city spent more energy trying to manipulate the media and shape public opinion than respond to the disaster in the making-the most deadly disaster in Chicago history.

The city has performed much better in recent, albeit less extreme, heat waves, showing that Daley has learned some lessons. But the city’s handling of the heat now is only an implicit acknowledgment by the mayor that he screwed up in 1995, an acknowledgment he has otherwise never made.

It was the kind of performance under pressure that easily costs many public officials their jobs.

 

10. School days.

We don’t doubt the effort that has been put into the city’s schools, but it’s still hard to sift out the real gains from the smoke and mirrors. Suspicions are raised amid reports like a recent Tribune analysis that found that Chicago’s public elementary schools had not only the shortest day in the state, but the shortest among the ten biggest districts in the country. That doesn’t sound like progress. The mayor likes to take credit for turning around Chicago’s schools, and he may deserve it, but as with the other items on this list, it sure would be nice to hear what another candidate might propose about fixing a terrible education system that is still failing our children.

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Look, we’re happy to give Daley some credit. Running Chicago is incredibly complicated. No one’s record is going to be perfect. Maybe he really is the best guy for the job. He’s grown in office tremendously. But if you strip away the public relations, this mayor’s record isn’t as pretty as the flowers he’s planted. At the least, his record ought to be debated in a healthy, contentious campaign. He should be challenged by a smart, loyal opposition that would rescue the city’s political culture from its one-man rule. That, to us, would produce a stronger Chicago. Even if Daley retained the helm-without a pay raise, of course.

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