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Exit Stage Left! Daley Gives Himself the Hook

Daniel J. Kelley 8 September 2010 3 Comments

Another Victim of the Summer of Prosperity and Recovery?

While at lunch today, I saw former State Senator Howard Carroll across the dining room. I wondered what the one time Democratic Committeeman of the 50th Ward might have been thinking if he had heard of his DePaul Law School classmate’s decision not to run for re-election. I learned about Richard M. Daley’s City Hall press conference, where he announced his retirement, a few minutes before I was seated.

The news was not a complete surprise since insiders have been whispering about Daley’s future for weeks. What resonated after the announcement is that for the first time since the Democratic slating session in 1954, no one is discussing the prospects of a member of the Daley clan to secure or retain the mayoralty. It should be recalled that after the demise of Richard J. Daley in 1976, his namesake son was already considered to be a likely successor after a brief interim with Michael Bilandic at the helm. Jane Byrne and Harold Washington interrupted those plans and Richard M. Daley had to wait in the wings until he unseated Eugene Sawyer in 1989.

Unlike the immensely popular Calvin Coolidge, who famously chose not to run in 1928, Richard M. Daley is exiting under a partly cloudy sky of sorts. While he is retiring of his own volition, Daley has suffered a series of political reverses in recent months. While Coolidge could have been renominated by acclamation in 1928 and, later, had to twice rebuff attempts to “draft” him as a presidential candidate after he had announced his retirement, Daley is bowing out rather than facing the prospect of having to fight his most formidable campaign battle since the bruising 1983 Democratic mayoral primary in which he finished third behind Congressman Washington and Mayor Byrne. That primary defeat set back Daley’s political advancement for six years.

Can you imagine Richie Daley trying to defend his hugely unpopular program to lease the city’s parking meters to a private concern on a long term basis? The legality of the entire scheme is being challenged in court at the present time. Although Daley would have been a prohibitive favorite in 2011, several recent polls conducted on the incumbent’s behalf have indicated that his popularity with Chicagoans has declined precipitously while his negative ratings have soared. Growing public unrest over violent crime on the city’s South and West Sides have taken a serious toll.

For nearly thirty years, both as the state’s attorney and as mayor, Daley has been in a unique position to combat street gangs, but nothing has seemed to change and, at least in terms of perception, the situation appears to have actually worsened. In fact, it would be difficult to describe a time when the morale of the Chicago Police Department has been worse and when the police have been more openly contemptuous of the mayor and the police superintendent.

During a guest appearance benefiting a local candidate, Rudolph Giuliani, confided to Tom Roeser and others that he was baffled by the exceptionally poor relations that existed between Daley and the Chicago Police Department. As the popular mayor of New York, Giuliani credited the members of the NYPD as being among his most important supporters.

Daley’s constant refrain has been that stricter gun control legislation would act as a panacea. The US Supreme Court rejected Chicago’s gun control ordinance this past summer as unconstitutionally infringing upon the rights of citizens to own firearms for self-defense. Undeterred by this stinging rebuke, Daley is still trying to restrict private gun ownership rights as if street gang members were actually purchasing their weapons with proper credentials from licensed gun stores. I cannot estimate how many millions of dollars have been wasted by the Office of the Corporation Counsel and various outside attorneys during this prolonged litigation process.

It was supposed to have ended much differently. The scripted conclusion to Richard M. Daley’s administration was supposed to have been triumphant victory lap. As events unfolded, however, it was not the thrill of victory, but the agony of defeat that filled the newspapers. I can remember so clearly the dismay of our recently departed colleague, Phil Krone, when he was obliged to report that Chicago’s bid to host the 2016 Summer Games had been summarily rejected by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) which was assembled in Copenhagen.

President Barack H. Obama, who had confidently predicted that he would be in attendance at the Chicago Olympiad during his second term, had flown to Denmark to boost Chicago’s bid. His personal appeal failed to move any of the selection committee members as Chicago was unceremoniously dumped from consideration in the very first round of voting. This stinging rebuke suggested that Obama’s rock star status had begun to wane in Europe. In time, the euphoric public mood also began to shift in America. Some people now doubt Obama’s chances in 2012.

Some cynical Chicagoans were genuinely relieved that the Olympics were not coming to our city. Details of the stadium and athletic housing proposals were viewed with skepticism by some and outright hostility by others. Suggestions were made that corrupt political insiders would be awarded lucrative contracts while the taxpayers would be saddled with debts for decades to come. Allegations were made that City Hall insiders, possibly including Valerie Jarrett, a key advisor to Daley and President Obama, owned real estate holdings that would have been valuable acquisitions for the Olympic planners. Visiting members of the IOC were alarmed by the lack of local strong support for Chicago’s bid and this may have been a factor in the swift rejection of Chicago as a potential site. Daley seemed crushed by the loss.

In recent years, Richard M. Daley has seemed much more irritable during his public appearances and has been occasionally bellicose in responding to his critics. He tolerates no debates or discussions from the City Council which could be replaced by fifty rubber stamps. It frequently seems as if the mayor is not having fun any more. Added to the city’s myriad financial woes, Daley’s wife has been undergoing cancer treatment. Who needs the stress?

Before the conclusion of his current term, Richard M. Daley will have eclipsed his father’s record for mayoral longevity, but only by a slim margin. The senior Daley was elected six times and died in office in 1976 before completing his final term. His son will surpass his father’s tenure in December of 2010 by virtue of winning one special election to complete the remainder of Harold Washington’s second term, plus his five subsequent elections to full terms.

Both Daleys lent their considerable political prestige to two successful Democratic presidential candidates. Richard J. Daley’s determined effort to unseat Cook State’s Attorney Benjamin Adamowski in 1960 rebounded to the credit of US Senator John F. Kennedy (D-MA) who narrowly defeated Vice President Richard M. Nixon in the same election. Cook County provided Kennedy with his margin in Illinois. Forever afterward, Richard J. Daley was seen as a kingmaker in the mythical Camelot inhabited by the Kennedys. Richard M. Daley had the misfortune of lending his support to US Senator Barack H. Obama (D-IL), who may someday prove to be one of the least popular presidents in American history. If the polls are accurate, Republicans may be poised to make large gains this November, not due to solely to their own merits as much as to the public’s revulsion for Obama’s unpopular policies and programs. No one is applauding Richard M. Daley’s decision to support Obama now.

History has provided us with some unique parallels: not unlike the Daleys, the father and son team of Carter Harrison, Sr., and Carter Harrison, Jr., both served lengthy terms as Chicago mayors. The senior Harrison, who had to contend with the aftermath of an urban riot, was revered as a martyr after dying in office (the victim of an assassin) as the successful Columbian Exposition was being closed. His son eventually surpassed his father in terms of years of mayoral service, but endured more crises and faced entrenched opposition even within his own party. He served from 1897 until 1905, but had to sit on the sidelines for a time, excusing his absence due to a family member’s health, before resuming his career, and regaining the mayoralty in 191. His intra party opponent, Roger Sullivan, denied him renomination in 1915.

Harrison had the last word, however, as he outlived many of his political allies and opponents. He wrote two entertaining, if somewhat slanted, volumes of memoirs which absolved himself of his mistakes and faulted his contemporaries and critics for opposing his brilliant and unfulfilled plans. I am not certain if Richard M. Daley will write his autobiography, but his successor is going to be saddled with a desk covered with unpaid bills and many huge challenges in 2011.


Daniel J. Kelley is a regular contributor to “The Chicago Daily Observer.”


  • Frank DeBarnone said:

    I think Daley’s Father would have reversed the gun ban when he saw
    that that is what a majority of the people wanted. It is not a negative position to take that the Police can not be everywhere
    a crime is committed and the option of having a gun is needed at the very least in one’s home.

    I kept wondering when Daley Jr. was going to wake up and smell
    the coffee during the most recent gun ban controversy.
    Had he changed it and not let it travel all the way to the Supreme Court it believe would have bumped his popularity.

    Instead, I will remember Daley Jr in the same light I remember Frank Drebin the character played by Leslie Neilson in “Naked Gun” while standing front of a grand inner City explosion of his own making as he chanted:

    “Nothing to see here! Please disperse!” “Keep moving.”

    As if there is nothing to the idea of personal gun ownership by law abiding citzens in a city exploding from crime. The very City that he did little to protect.

    Good bye Mayor Daley Jr.

    Ave Imperator, morituri te salutant !

    (Maybe the next person to hold the office will allow Chicago to salute with out demanding quite so much commitment.)

  • RJE said:

    There are a lot of reasons why Daley decided to retire. One would hope that the main reason is to spend more time with his wife who is ailing.

    It’s apparant to me that Daley had to support political issues that he didn’t support personally, especially in recent years. His constituents and his party took a different direction and he had to placate them.

    I think his time is up. I think he’s had enough. I think he should walk out of this job and not get carried out.

    But what’s next?

  • Frank DeBarnone said:

    I think a talk show would be good. The Daley Morning Show.
    Or better yet, The Morning Daley Show. I mean we will all be feeling the loss of him in office for some time. What a unique opportunity for him, for who could better to take us through the grieving than politically deceased himself?

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