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I was enjoying my beer the other night, and my friend's friend appeared to be enjoying his, until Mayor Daley's name came up. While I kept drinking, he seemed to taper off.... And maybe that's why my arguments seemed to get louder--and altogether more powerful--as the conversation rolled on.
My inspiration, shall we say, didn't come from the fact that this smart, polite guy really likes the mayor; to me, liking or disliking the mayor is beside the point. My issue is that I just can't buy into the "Chicago isn't Detroit; therefore, Richard M. Daley is a great mayor" line of thinking, and I hear it all the time. In fact, I'm guessing Daley could get reelected on that platform alone: "I was the mayor when Chicago continued not becoming Detroit!"
It's undeniable that over the last 20 years Chicago has fared far better in most ways than Detroit and the rest of the rust belt. And as its leader over that time, Daley can take credit for some of Chicago's successes. Large swaths of the city, including downtown and the north lakefront, do look better than ever. Millennium Park, the flower beds, the reconstruction/gentrification of the South and West Loop, the thriving arts and tourism districts--if you like all of this, you can rightly point to the mayor as contributing to your happiness in ways small and perhaps great. And I have to give the mayor props for his passion for the environment, bicycling, and the lives of ex-offenders, even if the accompanying programs are often modest at this point.
On the other hand, I don't think Daley is responsible for the fact that the auto industry was centered in another state and ran itself into the ground there, or that Chicago is so much bigger than Flint or Gary that white people here could flee from their incoming black neighbors and still find homes (and pay taxes) inside the city limits.
My gripe with Daley supporters, like my friend at the bar, is the implication that what's happened here is as good as it gets, and that no one needs to challenge this administration with new ideas or modes of governing.
The other day the mayor had an op-ed piece in the Sun-Times that declared it's "time for Springfield to do its part and enact long-term funding reform" to ensure we continue to have have public schools, public transportation, sane tax policies, and an aggressive response to gun violence.
But in outlining the ways his administration has supposedly "taken responsibility" and "acted to keep Chicago moving forward," Daley (or whoever on his team wrote the piece in his name), once again chose to play politics and throw out misleading campaign rhetoric.
School test scores have inched up, which is good. But Chicago has become a national model for creating a multitiered, inequitable system of public education, and Daley's pet tax increment financing districts have sucked millions from local schools' coffers.
The mayor expressed confidence in the CTA's new management team, but smartly avoided explaining why he watched the city's transit system erode for years under the leadership of his pal Frank Kruesi, who wasn't sacked until May. Daley rightly condemned gun violence, but didn't touch the fact that many children who grow up in the city--away from the thriving neighborhoods along the lakefront--are at least as afraid of the police who patrol their neighborhoods as they are of gangs, while the mayor has repeatedly failed to act to weed out even the worst cops. The mayor had the nerve to boast of his administration's fiscal discipline as taxpayers cover millions of dollars in legal fees stemming from bad police officers and illegal patronage hires.
And if you've bothered to travel the length and width of the city recently, you'll find it harder to claim that Chicago is wholly different from the rest of the rust belt.
If you think I'm ranting, fair enough; this time I can't even blame it on the beer. Just prove your point by telling me specifically how and where we're wrong to ask why a mayor who's spent 18 years in office belittling the ideas of opponents shouldn't produce even more.