Thursday, February 24, 2005


The Great Mayor?

Today's Opinion Journal has a fairly glowing piece about Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley:

Rich Daley appears to have no theory of government, but merely a boundless appetite for governing. He is a fix-it, a problem-solving, man, treating the city of Chicago as if it were an unending episode of "This Old House"--and he seems to be turning the old heap into a damn stately mansion.
Daley-- who will always be "Richie" to any Chicagoan above a certain age-- is one of those rarest of modern politicians: he knows when and where to stop.

Rest assured, there will never be a "Daley for Governor" or "Daley for Senate" banner swinging above Bridgeport. He seems quite happy to be Mayor-For-Life.

Given Mayor Daley's rock-solid political base, it's equally amazing that he's so rarely used its leverage to pontificate outside of his purview. Aside from a few humbling instances-- an ill-fated foray into anti-gunmaker lawsuits a few years back comes to mind-- Daley's mostly kept to Chicago, and himself. Which, knowing Chicago politics, is redundant at this point.

Many think Diamond Joe Quimby is based on a Kennedy; Chicagoans know he's a Daley.

The Opinion Journal piece briefly mentions the racially-tinged political discored prevalent in Chicago during the 1980's. I vividly remember the "City Council Wars" that pitted powerful white aldermen like Eddie Vrdolyak and Edward Burke against black mayors Harold Washington and Eugene Sawyer. The city was practically paralyzed for years.

No one really expected Richie Daley to ever become mayor. He had run for the office before and had lost, and a lot of pundits debated whether the underestimated Daley was genuinely interested in the job, or was just pursuing it out of some sense of familial responsibility. One wouldn't stretch the analogy too far, but in many respects Richie Daley was Chicago's version of George W. Bush-- a bit of a punchline in the shadow of his famous father, someone no one ever expected to amount to much of anything.

Oh, and they both mangle their words a lot, too.

So why is the Opinion Journal-- typically a page of conservative editorials-- echoing the praises of a Democratic mayor of a Democratic city?

For anyone who's never lived in Chicago, I'll let you in on a little secret. Remember when I mentioned the racial streak to Chicago politics? It goes deeper than just black vs. white.

There's an old Chicago joke:

Who's the Republican favorite for Mayor of Chicago?

The white Democrat.

Whether Richie Daley has benefited from crossover Republican support is indisputable, especially given his more radically liberal opponents. However, his vote tallies and polling percentages reflect racial crossover support as well. Whether there is still racial motivation in Daley's victories is open to debate, but I believe it's safe to assume that the scars of the past haven't gone away entirely. They certainly won't go away when and if future Democratic primaries involve brilliant intellectual luminaries like Jesse Jackson, Jr. Mayoral races never seem able to escape the whole white vs. black thing.

That said, Daley has been the candidate for all Chicagoans. He's been as constant as the weather. I no longer live in my hometown, but whenever I talk to my friends, inevitably one of my earliest questions is "How's Richie doing?" Just as inevitable is the reply, involving the latest esoteric scandal involving parking meters, city trash haulers, or nepotism in the Park District.

Evidence that Southsider Richie Daley will do absolutely *anything* for votes.

Still, in the end, nothing seems likely to topple the man. Like the weather, he may be a topic for complaint, but one would be a fool to think a storm disippates on account of criticism alone. Absent a genuine scandal, I don't see how Richie can fail to stay in office as long he likes.

Hey, if the snow gets shoveled, I'd vote for the man too.

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