Daley vs. Daley

For much of the past half century, a mayor named Daley has towered over Chicago. We compare the reigns of father and son, assessing their triumphs and failures, their impact on the city—and what their enduring dominance at the polls says about us

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Richard J. celebrates his 70th birthday with his four sons, (left to right) Michael, Richard M., Bill, and John.

 

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Richard M. Daley, the city’s most famous biker, now rides along the same paths his father built, not to mention the 50 miles of new trails and 100 miles of bike lanes that he’s added. Like his father, Daley II is a builder. But he has had a more checkered career than Daley I when it comes to handling public works, especially the biggies. In his early mayoral years, Daley II’s grandiose proposals—such as the $10-billion third airport at Lake Calumet, the $500-million riverfront theme park with casinos, and the $1-billion downtown circulator trolley—never made it off the drawing board.

Daley II turned his attention to smaller projects. He remodeled bridges, widened sidewalks, planted flowers, repaved streets, demolished dilapidated buildings, and lined the streets with wrought-iron fences. More so than his father, Daley II has pushed his beautification efforts into the neighborhoods, sometimes by thematizing them—the classical-looking columns along Halsted Street in Greektown or the rainbow-ringed sidewalk pylons in Boystown. And unlike his father, Daley II has remade the look of the city while preserving its prized buildings, though critics say it was only belatedly, after a string of high-profile demolitions—including Ludwig Mies van der Rohe’s Arts Club—brought preservation to the political forefront. “When you look at other cities in the U.S.,” says Kamin, “he’s perceived, correctly, as a leader” in preservation efforts.

Some of his larger projects have been remakes or expansions of existing structures. He pushed through three (much maligned) professional stadium projects: the new White Sox park, the United Center, and, most controversially, the new Soldier Field. In 1996, he enlarged McCormick Place, and he’s currently expanding O’Hare, a $15-billion project to add runways and flight capacity. He also revitalized Navy Pier, the Randolph Street theatre district, and the State Street shopping corridor. In 1998, he rerouted northbound Lake Shore Drive west of the Field Museum to create a unified museum campus. Meantime, scores of privately developed residential high-rises and office buildings have sprung up in and around the Loop—a formerly grim expanse of rail yards and warehouses that has been turned into a thriving neighborhood.

Years ago Daley II promised to turn Chicago into the “greenest city in America,” and in large part, he’s delivered. He has planted 500,000 trees and added more than 200 acres of new parks and green space, including 43 acres of parkland along the river. In 2000, he put up the first municipal rooftop garden at City Hall. Now, the city boasts more than 400 such green roofs, as well as some of the most energy-efficient and environmentally friendly municipal buildings in the country. To Daley II, making the city prettier has a trickle-down effect: Greenery builds community pride, which keeps people and businesses in the city, which keeps the city’s economy strong, which reduces crime and poverty, and so on.

Big projects continue to be Daley II’s Achilles’ heel. The O’Hare modernization project has been mired in corruption, cost overruns, and delays, caused in part by litigation by expansion opponents. For years, Block 37 in the Loop has been a civic joke. “That block was supposed to be paying off now between $30 million and $40 million in taxes a year,” says Ross Miller. It’s finally turning into a business, shopping, and entertainment center, but a plan to add a “superstation” express-train system to O’Hare and Midway has hit a snag.

Even Daley II’s greatest triumph so far, Millennium Park, opened four years late and $325 million over budget. Only by going hat in hand to wealthy civic leaders, foundations, and corporations was he able to recoup about half the costs of the project. But the investment appears to be paying off. The park is now the city’s second largest tourist attraction, drawing 3.5 million visitors last year. It has spurred significant residential and commercial development in the East Loop, plus billions more in sales and tax revenues from tourist spending.

Daley II’s current big project is the controversial plan to host the 2016 Summer Olympics. The city is one of four finalists, vying with Tokyo, Madrid, and Rio de Janeiro. If Chicago does land the games—and many prognosticators doubt it, but we’ll find out in October 2009—parts of the city, particularly areas on the South Side, would be transformed, as would the city’s image with the international prestige the games would bring. “Richard M. Daley is sort of the builder for the 21st century,” says Dick Simpson. “What he built is not quite all bricks and mortar but a switch in the economy, a change in society, a transformation of the city.” Still, Simpson thinks that if Chicago winds up hosting the Olympics, Daley II won’t stay in office much past the opening gun: “We will get stuck with a big bill, and I don’t think he really wants to handle that.”

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Photograph: Chicago Tribune photo by Jim O ’Leary

 

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