That's His Honor, Not HizzonerDavid Greising
In Chicago, pothole politics has always ruled: Politicians who fix the potholes win reelection. But Richard M. Daley is moving far beyond street repair as he steamrolls into his first full term as mayor. With economic turmoil and racial strife consuming his peers in New York and Los Angeles, Daley is emerging as a new-style city boss, making big plans on a small budget. And now, Daley is seeking a new national presence much as another Chicago mayor, Richard J. Daley, did in his time.
Certainly, Richard II is tending to the pothole issues: A new airport, convention center expansion, school reform, law enforcement, and improved transit sit atop his agenda. But in his May 6 inaugural speech at Chicago's Navy Pier, itself undergoing a $150 million reconstruction, Daley staked out controversial new policy positions with national implications: He called for a ban on handguns in the city and announced the possibility of a public school voucher system "if we can't break the stranglehold of bureaucracy and politics." What's more, he's pushing for a shrinkage of Chicago's police bureaucracy, a veritable shrine to patronage.
POLITICAL HEAT. That's quite a turnaround for a man once dismissed as a hack. Now, no one takes him lightly. He won 30% of the black vote in April's election, which featured a popular black candidate running under the banner of the Harold Washington Party, named for Chicago's first black mayor. "People looked beyond the narrow confines of race to look at who could pull the town together, and enough of the resources together, to make a difference," said Leon D. Finney Jr., a black who opposed Daley's father but backs the son.
Daley won despite taking some controversial stands. He took heat for his plan to displace 9,000 families with a new $4.9 billion airport on Chicago's southeast side. The tradeoff: The project could create as many as 200,000 jobs. He won't give city backing to a domed stadium for the Chicago Bears unless the dome pays its way by attracting convention business. In his first year, he eliminated a $120 million budgetary shortfall, and he's promising to shrink city government.
It's nothing like his father's payroll-padding style. But Daley is facing challenges that would test even his old man: 42 city unions will want higher pay and better health benefits when their four-year contract expires Dec. 31. The city may have to reopen a three-year teachers' contract because of budgetary shortfalls that could force the closure of up to 30 schools. Meanwhile, the city must absorb the loss of more than $200 million from state sources.
Apparently unfazed, Daley continues to push ahead with ambitious building plans. That has won him support from the city's unions, despite their unhappiness over privatization. But some black political leaders charge that Daley, like his father, is a captive of business. "He pays attention to the special interests who can see no farther than the Loop, while the rest of the city sinks," says Jim Hutchinson, vice-chairman of the Harold Washington Party. And other critics claim that privatization is just patronage tarted up as free-market ideology.
Despite the heavy workload, Daley seems intent on carving a national reputation by speaking out on issues like gun control, privatization, and parental choice of schools. "These issues are beyond any city limit," says Daley.
Juggling the city's business while reaching for national exposure would test the most seasoned politician. But Daley has surprised naysayers before. "He has achieved a measure of success in his two years that is eluding some of his more senior colleagues in other big cities," says James R. Thompson, the former Republican governor of Illinois. The time may come when he will wield the kind of clout that would impress even his pop.