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Mayor Daley’s Bucket List: Ten Suggestions for How to Use the Remainder of His Term

EDITOR’S NOTE: On September 7th, Mayor Richard Daley announced in a brief news conference at City Hall that he will not seek re-election in 2011. The story below appears in our current issue.

(page 4 of 4)

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9. Turn Olympic dreams into safe streets

The best thing to come out of the Olympic debacle was that it demonstrated how the city—government, residents, businesses, and civic leaders—could rally around a common purpose. Just because we didn’t win the bid is no reason to let all that goodwill fade away. We need an Olympic-size effort to combat the two issues that keep Chicago from true greatness: poverty and its evil twin, crime.

The mayor boasted he would raise $246 million for the Olympics from private donors, including businesses and foundations. Even a fraction of that would help us stop children from being killed or going to bed hungry.

It’s high time we made this a priority, but the city clearly doesn’t have the resources to hire a thousand more police officers or fund a summer jobs program. Cynics will say that all those influential types got behind the Olympic bid only because of a famous Chicago aphorism: “Where’s mine?” The games promised contracts, jobs, business, and development opportunities—clout central. It’s up to the mayor to demonstrate that real dividends come to businesses that help make Chicago a better-educated, safer, and more livable city.

“I think there’s great opportunity to mobilize that same passion and effort and direct it at these issues,” says David Hiller, the president and chief executive officer of the McCormick Foundation. “High on the list would be a concentrated effort to make the city safe and secure, particularly for our children. In a world-class city like Chicago, this [level of violence] should be unacceptable.”

An Olympics-style campaign would make these issues more visible, Hiller adds. “There are thousands of great efforts going on out there. We need a center of gravity to pull these things together.”

The Olympics would have been the capstone to Mayor Daley’s career. This would be a public-private partnership far more worthy of his legacy.

 

10. Impose term limits on the mayor’s office and the city council

We’ll end where we began: If Chicago is really ready for reform, Daley can take a monumental leap forward by championing term limits—for his office and for aldermen.

“Mayors tend to be more dictatorial the longer they’re in office,” says Dick Simpson, the former 44th Ward alderman and longtime professor at the University of Illinois-Chicago. As for the aldermen, they have presented us with overwhelming evidence for term limits: They get indicted and convicted at the rate of almost one per year.

Sure, some people will argue that term limits deny the council valuable expertise on vital city issues—but the people who argue that are already aldermen. To win council approval, the mayor should give up his power to fill aldermanic vacancies. Daley has appointed 35 council members in two decades. Ward residents should choose their own representatives; when aldermen die or resign with more than a year left in their terms, let’s hold a special election to find their replacements.

Most term limits are for two four-year terms, but even three terms would be OK, Simpson says. Even then, aldermen are likely to balk at the change, and when that happens, the mayor should take this measure directly to the voters. New York City imposed two-term limits on council members in a 1993 referendum. In 2008, the New York City Council voted 29–22 to keep the limitation but extend it to three terms.

Some will complain that in this scenario Mayor Daley gets to have it both ways: After ruling Chicago for 25 years, he will single-handedly deny anyone else the chance.

True enough. But that could turn out to be clout’s finest hour.

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