In December of 2010 Mayor Daley will become Chicago’s longest serving Mayor. In office since 1989, he will surpass the record held by his father. In the March issue of The New Yorker magazine, journalist Evan Osnos has a long article on Mayor Daley. The front cover of the magazine calls Daley, “America’s most successful mayor”.
By longevity standards Mayor Daley is a success, but then again so was the late Coleman Young who was Detroit’s Mayor for over 20 years.
The tone of Osnos’ piece is mostly positive, providing some history:
He took office at a moment when Chicago was paralyzed by infighting and mismanagement. In 1987, William Bennett, the Secretary of Education, said that Chicago had the worst school system in the country---“ an education meltdown.” The center of the city was a desiccating museum of masterpieces by Mies van der Rohe and Louis Sullivan. Infant mortality in remote neighborhoods was comparable to levels in the Third World.
In the years that followed, Detroit, Cleveland, and former industrial powers continued to wither, but Chicago did not. It has grown in population, income, and diversity; it has added more jobs than Los Angeles and Boston combined.
The problem with Osnos’ history is it’s not entirely accurate. First of all, by the time Mayor Daley was elected in 1989 the City Council infighting had mostly stopped. Eugene Sawyer, Chicago’s second African American Mayor, was supported by the white elements of the Chicago Democratic Machine.
Some of the mistakes are hard to fathom. Osnos cites no source on his rather incredible job numbers. Chicago has roughly the same population as it did in 1989, unlike Los Angeles which has climbed past the 4 million mark. Chicago is stuck under 3 million people with the long term population trend in decline. It’s difficult to have population growth without decent job growth.
Osnos’ article has provoked a heated reaction from Chicago Reader ace columnist Ben Joravsky. The Chicago Reader and Joravsky, over the years, have covered Daley’s shady tenure as Mayor. Jorasky reminds us in attacking the New Yorker article:
And why is it that Daley's boosters always compare Chicago to poor, unfortunate Detroit—a one-industry town battered by the collapse of its one industry? Chicago has always been a larger, healthier, more diverse town than Detroit. If you want to see how Chicago really ranks, compare it to New York City, whose population and wealth are rising faster than Chicago's with a fraction of the attendant corruption. In fact, Chicago's population has fallen in the last few years.
Joravsky could hardly keep from mentioning Chicago’s murder problem:
Did I mention that in recent years Chicago has been the murder capital of the country? In fact, the murder tally has been much higher under Daley than it ever was under Byrne or Washington—it's even higher than, yes, Detroit, which Osnos points out was known as the nation's murder capital in the 1970s. And now we're so broke we can't hire police officers to replace the hundreds of veterans who are retiring—even though our taxes keep going up and up. My property taxes were $2,700 in 1997; this year I expect I'll pay close to $8,000.
This isn’t Chicago’s only problem. Its convention business is evaporating. Chicago’s union run McCormick Place is headed towards financial ruin. Major trade shows have left Chicago for better places to do business. Part of McCormick Place’s problem has been the pervasive influence of the Chicago Mob, also known as the outfit. Mayor Daley is quite sensitive to the subject because it has affected so many aspects of Chicago. Recently, the Chicago Tribune quoted former senior FBI agent James Wagner explaining the situation:
The Outfit has long been entrenched at McCormick Place and in many of the unions and contractors that do business there.
"It's been a rehabilitate-the-felon location in terms of being a place to get people jobs when they get out of prison," said James Wagner, a former longtime organized-crime supervisor for the FBI in Chicago and now top investigator at the Illinois Tollway. "It's had these kinds of problems for about as long as it's been there. And it's had someone associated with the Outfit in just about every job there."
Among the factors that make McCormick Place a haven for the mob are its sheer size and the number of contracts and trade shows there, Wagner said.
Four years ago, the riggers union, whose members set up exhibits at McCormick Place, was under federal investigation after its boss, Fred Schreier, who was once married to the niece of the late mob boss Tony Accardo, pleaded guilty to taking a bribe.
Near the end of Osnos’ New Yorker article Mayor Daley’s scandals get a mention without too much detail. Daley fails to answer questions on the massive Hired Truck scandal which has been closely linked to the Chicago Mob. Daley also refuses to remain silent on why a major campaign contributor and close friend bombed a restaurant with the Chicago Mob, according to federal testimony. Recently, Daley admitted that he’s been questioned by the FBI concerning a major bribery and zoning case which just concluded.
Chicago’s immediate economic situation has been nicely summarized by blogger Gary Lucido:
How much worse can it get?
I just picked up the January employment numbers for the greater Chicago metropolitan area and the picture is getting more grim than I thought - we have hit a new 14 year low. The Chicago area has lost 162,000 jobs in just the last 12 months and a total of 459,000 jobs have been lost since employment peaked in July 2007. The unemployment rate for the Chicago area is now at 11.7%, which is up from a low of 4.6% in November 2007 and that is higher than any rate that I have access to (going back to 1990).
The New Yorker article mentions Mayor Daley polling numbers dropping into the 30s. In Chicago’s one party state, Daley can run next time, even with low polling numbers, and win -- unless a credible wealth financed candidate materializes. No candidate has. But, one sign that Mayor Daley feels he’s got a bad report card coming: he opened up a Twitter page.
Steve Bartin is a resident of Cook County and native who blogs regularly about urban affairs at http://nalert.blogspot.com. He works in Internet sales.