In a racially charged atmosphere, says Mayor Richard M. Daley, Chicago’s chief executive can best defuse tensions by concentrating on fair distribution of basic city services.
“I think I’m changing people’s minds and attitudes by providing what l’m supposed to: providing the services fair and equitably, and responding, whether it’s a letter I receive in the mail or a complaint on the corner from a citizen,” Daley said in a recent interview.
Daley’s well aware that his administration has been accused of race bias. “If you respond angrily, or very excited," he said, “then people feel that the charge sometimes is acceptable. I sometimes avoid it, I don’t respond to it, and I just say, that person has their own political agenda. They’re using an issue like that for their own political advancement."
“If there’s racism,” he said “my administration will strike out and correct it.”
Daley thinks charges of racism are often politically motivated. “I’ll give you an example. Right before the GospelFest, there were rumors going around on certain radio stations that I was going to cancel the GospelFest, which was untrue—a complete lie—and they were using that for political purposes, charging racism.. .. I think our administration is very fair and open. But unfortunately a lot of these politicians have their own political agenda.”
Daley responded to the criticism that his administration is doing things for-but not with-black Chicago by saying, “There’s been input and dialogue from many leaders in the business community and religious community. An example is [Urban League president] Jim Compton. He’s been a wealth of help and assistance for me as mayor of the city of Chicago. And there are many other people I could point out in the black community and the Hispanic community and Asian community and the women’s community. So maybe some of the politicians want to be included all the time-I don’t include all politicians in everythingl do in the city.”
Other black leaders upon whom he relies include Clarence Wood, president of the Chicago Community Trust’s Human Relations Task Force, Chicago United head Warren Bacon, Dr. Kenneth Smith, president of the Chicago Theological Seminary, “and many ministers from the West Side and the South Side of Chicago.”
Daley pointed to his program in towing abandoned cars, many of which are in minority communities. “An abandoned car means crime in the community, it means sanitation is not being taken care of, children are injured, or even killed, narcotic sales, rape cases.” He said when people “see all these abandoned cars across from the schools, the churches, they lose faith. They think, no one cares about us…. Pulling these abandoned cars sends a signal.”
Daley said the city began the program two weeks before it was officially announced, to work out any bugs, so that “you don’t raise people’s expectations so high that they turn around and say, ‘He’s just like all these other I politicians: They an
nounce a program and in three weeks it’s gone.’ Daley feels he is slowly but surely convincing skeptics that his administration is not biased:
“The day the [teachers’ contract] negotiations were settled here in the city, I was walking down Randolph Street into the Hall. A black woman stopped me and thanked me because her children go to school and she said, ‘The great frustration I have is if the schools didn’t open for a week, it would cost me. I’d have to get a baby sitter.’ That week concerned her."
He became most animated discussing his bid for mayor, when he “campaigned in a lot of communities where I was not going to get a vote, but I would shake their hands and reach out to them, and I don’t think they felt alienation to me. Some of them weren’t going to vote for me. I kept saying it didn’t matter. It’s only an election, and after the election the mayor of the city of Chicago brings everybody together."
He said, “I think that set the whole tone.”