Mayor Daley

Will he or won’t he? Within Chicago political circles, that’s the question on everybody’s mind. True to form, the sometimes inscrutable Richard M. Daley hasn’t said one way or another whether he’s going to seek a seventh term next year. But read the tea leaves and you’ll see that, despite the year from hell in 2009, the mayor appears to be gearing up for re-election next year. Here are five telltale signs:

1) Renewed interest in property tax relief
Practically every election cycle, the mayor plays the property tax card. We gotta lower property taxes, he’ll cry. Now, with homeowners in the city facing skyrocketing increases, the mayor has started beating the drum again, after a relative silence on the issue for some time. Specifically, Daley is back front-and-center on the property-tax-cap bandwagon, urging state lawmakers to reenact the 7-percent limit on annual increases, which expires this year. Meantime, the mayor set aside $35 million from the parking meter proceeds for cash grants of $25 to $200 to homeowners seeking tax relief.

2) Get-out-of-ticket-free proposal
Can you say “short-term sucking up”? The parking meter deal has led to steep rate increases and equipment breakdowns. The mayor knows that voters are furious. In January, looking to ease their pain, he introduced an ordinance that allows the city’s revenue department to void one parking ticket per year per vehicle, if the ticket is issued within five minutes of the expiration time. This probably won’t be enough to quell the outrage, but it’ll sound good in a 30-second commercial.

3) Buying polls
Look at Daley’s campaign disclosure reports, commonly known as D-2s, and you’ll see that his campaign committee spent bundles last year on stuff like meals, hotels, rent, and Bears and Sox tickets. But one category stands out: polling. The mayor’s campaign spent a total of $292,250.24 on polling services, or 42 percent of total annual expenditures. Of that, $154,250.24 was paid to Greenberg Quinlan Rosner, a Washington, D.C., polling firm, and $138,000 went to Dana Herring, the mayor’s top local hired gun. You can bet that Daley wanted to conduct his own polls to see if his approval ratings really were at an all-time low, as the Tribune found last September.

4) Avoiding Wal-Mart
Daley’s reluctance to intervene in the Wal-Mart stalemate smacks of election-year politics. If he instructs his staff to approve the proposed big-box store in Chatham, then he risks angering union leaders who opposed him during his last election. But if he doesn’t grant approval for the Chatham Wal-Mart and four other stores in predominantly African American neighborhoods, he risks not only alienating black voters who are clamoring for more economic development and jobs but also angering the city’s business establishment, a key backer of his campaigns. Uncharacteristically, Daley has deferred to the city council on this one. For now.

5) Because Bill says so . . . and nobody else has stepped up
Asked whether the city’s failed Olympics bid would affect Daley’s reelection decision, the mayor’s brother and close political advisor, William Daley, said no way: “The Olympics were never going to determine what Rich Daley was going to do,” he told reporters. “I believe he runs again.” More important, the mayor still doesn’t have any potential opposition. Unlike his last election when the congressmen Jesse Jackson Jr. and Luis Gutierrez were publicly contemplating runs against him, no possible challenger has uttered a peep with the primary a year away. Even Rahm Emanuel couldn’t run away fast enough from rumors that he has his eyes on city hall.