Mayor Richard M. Daley, Chicago’s longest-serving mayor and the oldest brother of the new White House Chief of staff, chastised U.S. airlines and government for being short-sighted in a world of global competition.
He addressed everything from city finances to business relationships to missing a 1960 Oval Office visit with the newly inaugurated President John F. Kennedy in a wide-ranging interview for Bloomberg Television’s “Conversations With Judy Woodruff” to be broadcast this weekend.
Daley, 68, defended his expansion of the city-owned O’Hare International Airport in the face of a lawsuit filed this week by United Air Lines Inc. and American Airlines Inc. that seeks to block construction of new runways at the second-busiest U.S. airport. Daley said the construction work needs to progress because the project will take years to complete.
“They’re tenants,” he said. “You build for the future. You don’t build for the present.”
The mayor predicted that financial strains will continue to weigh on local governments following the worst recession since the Great Depression.
“You’ll see a lot of local governments trying to reorganize or file bankruptcy because their citizens can’t pour any more money into the system,” he said.
Daley, who said Sept. 7 that he wouldn’t seek re-election to a seventh term, will leave his replacement a city gleaming with public-works projects like the lakefront Millennium Park. Yet he paid for such improvements and balanced his budgets by tapping one-time revenue that won’t be available to his successor.
The City Council on Nov. 17 passed his 2011 budget of $6.15 billion, closing a $654 million deficit by spending most of what was left of the $1.15 billion the city received from leasing 36,000 parking meters.
Standard & Poor’s on Nov. 5 lowered Chicago’s credit rating to A+, the fifth-highest investment grade, partly reflecting concern about the city’s “heavy reliance on nonrecurring revenues to bridge its 2011 budget gap.”
The mayor defended his handling of city finances, saying he needed to dip into reserves and payments from leasing arrangements to avoid raising property taxes at a time when many people were struggling to keep their homes.
Public workers will have to make larger contributions to their retirement systems, Daley said: “Otherwise, no one can afford these pension obligations.”
Daley, who leaves office in May, said he would like to teach and may explore “business opportunities.” He said he’s also thinking about writing a book, the Chicago Sun-Times reported this week.
Though he was born into a family with deep Democratic roots, his comments on the role of government echo Republicans, who gained 63 seats in the U.S. House in November’s election.
Local governments can no longer look to Washington to solve their budget woes, the mayor said.
“But you can look to Washington in different ways,” Daley said. Those different ways include questioning lawmakers on “all the laws you passed, all the rules and regulations. It has an impact upon the cost of our government.”
Daley also criticized his state’s legislature and governor, fellow Democrat Patrick Quinn, for approving a 67 percent increase in personal income taxes. He suggested that Illinois should look for more efficient ways to use taxpayer money.
“Our state has not been reorganized for 50 or 60 years,” Daley said. “We should rethink it.”
Threat to Jobs
He said Illinois risks losing jobs because of the tax increases, which also will raise corporate rates.
“The sad thing in this tax, it’s only to pay the bills,” he said. “It’s not dealing with the deficit of the state. It doesn’t deal with education.”
Daley exceeded the tenure of his father, Richard J. Daley, on Dec. 26 when he became the city’s longest-serving mayor, logging 7,917 days, or 21 years and eight months. The two men governed the city for 43 of the last 55 years.
The current mayor said he thinks his father would be proudest of what he has tried to do to improve Chicago public schools. He declined to name a specific disappointment during his 21-year tenure.
Chicago is the only U.S. city outside Washington that Chinese President Hu Jintao is visiting this week as part of a trade mission. It’s an opportunity for Daley to highlight his strong relationships with business leaders.
“America has to say the business community is an asset,” Daley said. “That doesn’t mean you can’t have differences with them. But if we don’t make them an asset, in the global competition, America will suffer.”
The mayor said that his youngest brother, William M. Daley, in his role as White House chief of staff will help President Barack Obama gain a better sense of what business needs.
“In selecting Bill, I think he selected a person that was very disciplined and keeps his focus on jobs and the economy, and realize that the world is competing against us and we have to compete with the world,” he said.
Near the 50th anniversary of Kennedy’s inauguration, Daley reflected on how he missed an Oval Office visit with his family on that day.
“I had to take a test, and my parents knew that education was more important than the inauguration,” he said. “All my other brothers were the first visitors into the White House. Of course, I’m M.I.A., missing there. And later on, my father did bring me to the White House to meet John F. Kennedy.”
Daley also recalled a conversation his father had with Robert F. Kennedy, who came to Chicago shortly before he was assassinated.
“My father said, ‘If you win California, we’re going to endorse you out of Chicago, because we believe you’re the right person,’” Daley recalled.
“He went to California and won the election. And in his room, he called my parents and talked to my mother and talked to my dad,” the mayor said. “And after he went down, and the end of his speech, he said, ‘On to Chicago,’ walked off, and unfortunately was killed.”
Daley dismissed a suggestion that he has unofficially endorsed Rahm Emanuel, the former White House chief of staff who is running for mayor and who has had a long relationship with the Daley family.
“I don’t think anyone can anoint anyone,” he said. “People don’t like that. I mean, they respect me. They know I love this city. But I have no right to say that that person will be the mayor.”