Mayor Daley

We just posted a roundup of Chicago‘s best stories about Mayor Daley. The best place to start, even if you think you know the mayor, is David Bernstein’s lengthy, meticulously compiled piece about the legacies of Richard M. and Richard J., their public works, and their private temperaments.

But going through the archives unearthed an interesting little gem from 1991 by Gretchen Reynolds: "Is Mayor Daley Really a Republican?" Well, no, of course. His gun-control efforts alone would keep him out of even the moderate (such as it is now) wing of the Republican party, not to mention his obsession with supertrains. But some of Reynolds’s evidence is pretty interesting:

"Chicago and Du Page will always have their differences, says James "Pate" Phillip, minority leader of the state senate. “But I do enjoy working with Richie. He was a fiscal conservative when he was in Springfield [as a senator] and he’s a fiscal conservative now. I think he probably understands the suburbs better than some  recent mayors.”

Samuel R. Mitchell, president of the Chicago Association of Commerce and Industry, is more effusive. “I am absolutely thrilled to have the current Mayor in he says. “He’s noticeably pro-business—unlike some of his predecessors,” he adds, steel in his voice. “And that’s what we like to see.”

Even the unabashedly conservative Heartland Institute chimes in with praise. "He’s going against the traditional support base of the Democratic Party,” says Alejandro Bertuol,  a spokesman for the group “He’s undercutting the support base of his father. We’re in favor of it.”

To add to Phillip’s point, Daley was also a Republican, or at least Republican-ish, state’s attorney, as detailed in David Jackson’s 1988 piece "The Law and Richard M. Daley," about his tenure as state’s attorney and the political ambitions his policies and politicking hinted at. Daley cracked down on narcotics users…

He cut from 30 to 15 grams the amount of cocaine needed for a “class X” possession charge. Fifteen grams, assistant state’s attorneys say, can get five people high. “Class X” means six years in the pen, minimum, with no possibility of probation-a stiffer sentence than you’d get for committing burglary, auto theft, or several sex offenses. Daley has made possession of more than one gram of cocaine with intent to deliver a “class one” felony (4 to 15 years).

… and young offenders:

Daley’s critics point to an analysis of juvenile court data by University of Illinois sociologist Tom Regulus. Regulus’s research shows that judges were in fact granting transfers to adult court almost every time the state’s attorney requested them—until 1982, when Daley drastically stepped up his requests for transfers in armed robbery cases.

Which, as you probably know, he was doing up until the end of his tenure as mayor. Not to mention privatization, the biggest story from the end of his term. But that was nothing new:

ln Chicago, under Daley, privatization has become a daily event. Already, the Mayor has farmed out the city’s drug and alcohol rehabilitation programs, its parking-ticket collection, and its car-towing jobs; he’s talking about doing the same for engineering, housing loan programs, and, yes, even garbage collection….

In 1991, some of the people Reynolds talked to suggested that Daley’s relative conservatism suggested his ambition for the governor’s mansion—building a record that would appeal to downstate and suburban voters. But I think this is closer to the truth (emphasis mine):

Some people do point out that the Republican-style policies Daley has adopted are similar to notes being sounded by such young, flashy Democratic Presidential candidates as Governor Bill Clinton of Arkansas. This suggests to these same people that Daley may be hoping to use his leadership to reshape and lead the Chicago Democratic Party into a new, stronger, pragmatic age.

In short, Daley was evolving with his party, particularly the Democratic party as it was reinventing itself on a national level. And, of course, one man bridged the gap between Chicago Democrats and national Democrats: our new mayor, Rahm Emanuel. From Daley protege to Clinton protege to U.S. Representative from the north side, Emanuel was in both places as the Clinton and Daley eras dawned and the New Democrats emerged in a watershed moment for the party and its ideology.

And that’s why, I continue to believe, that Emanuel won. He’s the logical next step. Chicago might not be ready for reform, but it’s at least willing to follow the mainstream of the Democratic party as it changes.


Photograph: dbking (CC by 2.0)