Daley Speaks Out

On schools, business, and being mayor

On Oct. 22, Mayor Daley and I continued a conversation begun at the beginning of September at the Villa d'Este hotel on Lake Cuomo, Italy—the setting for the Ambrosetti conference of world business leaders. The mayor was on a panel I moderated about the importance and influence of cities.

The demographics in the world's cities are changing. As wealth is being created worldwide, people are migrating to metropolises in big numbers. And the strength of a city today can be instrumental in the economic growth of a nation. This is as true in Turino, Italy, where the Olympics acted as a catalyst to improve the infrastructure and attract people, as it is in Chicago, where Daley is leading a revival.

As you know, we've started a new magazine, BW Chicago, that fits in with the revitalization of the city you have led. Where are you in that process?

To rebuild a city, you have to have the people agreeing with you. It requires citizens to understand that we respect the past and that we understand the future. You need the cooperation of the citizens, and you need the cooperation of the business community.

So, have you gotten that?

Yes, we have. In a number of examples, like school reform. Most people move out of cities because of a lack of quality schools. So everyone said, let's get a quality education for all children9poor, middle-class, rich. And that's what we've done, with business community support. We've spent over $4 billion on school construction since 1989. To me, the future of Chicago will depend on the quality of education. For example, we have over 7,000 children learning Chinese—one of the few public school systems in the country that has that many. We're teaching them Arabic, and next year we'll be teaching Russian.

What has been the response to the teaching of all these languages?

The first language, Chinese, is much easier because every time you purchase something, you flip over the plate, it says "Made in China." So most people automatically said they wanted their children to learn Chinese. Arabic is a little more difficult because…unfortunately, there [is] an attitude about Arabic or the Muslim world.

Why are those languages so important to you?

If you don't teach them, you don't become a global city. You're a city that only understands the past.

How do you answer critics who say you're too business-friendly and don't represent the needs of the poor and working people?

Then why am I building more new schools? Why am I building more libraries, more parks? Why is it most children enrolled in the Chinese language program are African-Americans and Hispanics? And why is it we are putting more and more money into affordable housing? When you represent all the people, you just don't represent a segment. [But] go to cities that don't have a business community. There's no one living there anymore. There's no younger people or new immigrants moving in. If you don't have a business community, basically you have a hollow city.

How do you keep Chicago on top when it comes to financial markets?

What we did is we had the merger. Who would ever think that two old established organizations like the Chicago Mercantile Exchange and the Board of Trade would merge? This is the home of the global futures industry, right here in Chicago, because of that setting aside of differences.

You've endorsed Barack Obama in the Democratic primaries. Was that a tough decision for you given your ties and your brother Bill's ties to the Clintons? [William Daley was Commerce Secretary under Bill Clinton.]

Well, Barack hails from Illinois. I think, like anything else, it's a decision, and I think everybody understood that. I talked to Hillary. She understood it, and many people here have endorsed him—[Senator] Dick Durbin, and others. But I was proud to endorse Obama. Americans in Chicago and elsewhere are anxious about the economy.

Do you worry that Barack is going to raise taxes and slow down the economy even more?

I'm not into the details of all his proposals. But I believe that those who look at things differently shouldn't be critized for thinking outside the box. I mean, if people had thought outside the box, we would not have the subprime mortgage fiasco that we have today that's affecting all of America and the rest of the world.

A lot of people credit your dad with getting JFK elected. How important is it today for a candidate in the general election to carry Chicago?

Illinois has become more of a Democratic state since—I'll be very frank—Bill Clinton was elected. We have all Democratic officeholders. We have the General Assembly…and we're going to vote Democratic—especially in the Presidential election.

Some people say you could be mayor for life. You're 65. Would you ever accept a post in a Democratic administration?

No. I enjoy what I'm doing. If you don't enjoy what you're doing, you should leave office. Final question. Are other Daleys in the wings who might be headed for the mayor's office? I don't think so. You have to have the passion and the commitment. This is not a dynasty or anything like that. I mean, this is a very difficult job, and you have to have the will to do it. You just can't say: "O.K., gee, I'd like to be mayor." It's not that easy.

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