Thursday, September 09, 2010

And they're off! Wannabe Daley successors begin jostling for advantage

As I forked over my six bits for the Sun-Times yesterday morning, the newspaper guy asked me, "So, are you running?"

Even in this anonymous blog -- wherein I suppose I could indulge my fantasies of self-importance without immediate fear of ridicule -- I can not pretend that the newspaper guy was making any suggestion about my actual political charisma. Rather, said newspaper guy was making a very valid point on the heels of Richard M. Daley's decision not to seek a seventh term as Mayor of Chicago, namely, that everyone and his brother are eyeing Daley's soon to be vacated chair.

I responded in kind. "Sure, I'm running," I said, "if I can talk my wife out of running against me." He laughed and I went to work. (Come to think of it, Jesse Jackson, Jr. may be saying the same thing for real....)

It is a time of celebration in many parts of Chicago. While Mayor Daley has unquestionably employed some extraordinarily good people in key positions, many of Daley's political operatives have been convicted of corruption charges. Daley has raised fees and costs, imposed crazy fencing requirements (either history or the U.S. Attorney will eventually reveal, I am certain, some Daley relative in the wrought iron business), lost the Olympics, starved the police department, forced unpaid furloughs on municipal employees, and -- worst of all -- apparently managed somehow to spend the windfalls acquired from the sale of Chicago's parking meters and the long-term lease of the Chicago Skyway.

The City is broke and breaking down.

Still, if Daley had chosen to run again, whatever the numbers suggested before his announcement, I believe he would have been reelected. The Daleys have always managed to quash or co-opt any potentially credible opposition before they can become a real threat. In other words, there was no viable alternative.

Scott Waguespack, alderman of the 32nd Ward, and one of the few brave souls willing to talk about seeking the crown before Mayor Daley's announcement, said the first thing he'd order, were he elected, is a comprehensive forensic audit of the City's finances. Where has the parking meter money gone? Where did the Skyway money go? What is laying around in all those TIFF accounts?

This is something on which all voters should insist. The next mayor is going to be told by his or her staff that property taxes must go up. But why?

Daley's legacy is not all tarnish and tyranny. This is a beautiful city, and more beautiful now than ever. Daley deserves credit for this transformation of the Hog Butcher of the World into an international tourist destination. Unless we can keep our police force intact, however, we will rapidly decline. Tourists will not come here. Unless we can save our tax base, we will rapidly decline. Beautiful skyscrapers lose something of their charm (for businessowners at least) as taxes increase.

Mr. Daley has been a strongman. When Richard I (a strongman if ever there was one) passed from the scene in 1976, chaos reigned. We had the Bilandic interregnum, smothered by the Blizzard of 1979. We had Jane Byrne for a time and The Blues Brothers. But we fell into "Council Wars." We became "Beirut-by-the-Lake."

Will the passage of Richard II unleash similar forces of chaos? What happened when Tito was no longer on the scene in Yugoslavia? What happened when Saddam Hussein was removed in Iraq?

I doubt that any new mayor will have anywhere near the control that Daley has had. Some are pleased with this. I understand. But I am also worried....


Jean-Luc Picard said...

Is there anyone who isn't running?

Empress Bee (of the high sea) said...

buggers, blogger ate my comment. i shall try again.

i am very cynical about all this. i know someone very close to bo wants this position very badly and i am convinced there was a, how shall i say it, nudge?

smiles, bee

The Curmudgeon said...

Bee, I understand that the national media is spinning this -- for a number of reasons -- as an opportunity for Mr. Emmanuel. Don't be too sure. Earliest poll numbers show him in single digits (along with most of the wannabes). "Don't Know" is leading the pack with a robust 35%. The other leaders are the incumbent Sheriff (a South Side Irishman) and a minister from the South Side (an African American state Senator).

The Left is mad at Rahmbo because he's not a True Believer. The Right is mad at him because they think he might be. So there's a lot of folks in D.C. who'd like to see him gone. That's part of the boomlet you're hearing about.

Mr. Emmanuel raised a lot of money for other candidates -- but can he raise the necessary moolah for himself in this race? He went to Congress from Chicago (replacing Blagojevich, you may recall) but not from the traditionally "Jewish seat" (the 9th District). His ethnicity will probably hurt him, though, in a citywide race.

He may want to be mayor, and Mr. Obama's support may be very helpful here -- but Emmanuel will not run if he doesn't think he can win. My prediction.