For the last couple of weeks Mayor Daley has been taking what his press office calls a “Neighborhood Appreciation Tour” to thank the residents of communities around the city for helping him “keep Chicago moving forward,” as he and his supporters say as often as they can. But what the mayor is really embarking on is a Legacy Preservation Tour.
As Mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel makes daily announcements about his new leadership team and its plans to “overhaul,” “change,” and “improve” city government, “decrease inefficiencies,” “engage people,” and “respond effectively to taxpayers’ needs,” the incumbent is using his last days with the bully pulpit to try to convince us he's done all kinds of things to keep the city from going to hell—or, even worse, becoming another Cleveland.
On Friday afternoon Daley and a couple of his department heads were downtown at the Daley Center to lead a celebration of Earth Day (sponsored by United Airlines). Though the event wasn’t officially part of the neighborhood tour, it had much the same purpose and feel.
Before a backdrop of hybrid vehicles from the city's fleet, including a CTA bus and a garbage truck, Daley announced one new policy initiative: a $1 million program, funded by a grant, to help taxi drivers switch to hybrids and alternative-fuel cars.
The rest of the event was sort of a Greatest Hits of the Green Mayor—a list of all the ways Daley supposedly made Chicago “the most environmentally friendly city in the nation." They were things he’s been touting for years, such as the green roof atop City Hall; the city’s ambitious-if-toothless climate action plan; the mayor's penchant for planting trees and landscaping street medians; the construction of new sewers; and the addition of miles of bike lanes.
“I’ve always believed that nature can coexist with a large metropolitan area like ours,” Daley said. “We’re the protectors of the air and the water, every one of us.”
Behind him, demonstrators waved placards demanding tougher regulations for the coal-burning power plants on the Southwest Side, which Daley has repeatedly thwarted; yesterday, in fact, a City Council committee controlled by the mayor once again tabled a proposal to force the plants to clean up.
The subject didn’t come up in the official Earth Day program.
And not surprisingly, recycling received only passing mention. After years of an incomplete and incoherent recycling policy, the Daley administration has moved to privatize pickup of recyclables for homes that receive city garbage service, though many details remain unclear. Nor has the city fully addressed recycling among businesses and large residential buildings, which produce the vast majority of the city's waste.
But Daley and his aides preferred to see the recycling bin as half full, with environment commissioner Suzanne Malec-McKenna highlighting a city program that helps people cut the number of catalogs they receive in the mail.
“It is up to us to be the stewards of the environment,” Daley said, shortly before yielding the stage to a youth rap and dance group that performed songs about environmental protection.
On Wednesday Daley was warmly received when he took his message to a new senior citizens’ home in Roseland.
Though the neighborhood has struggled with violence and disinvestment for decades, the economic downturn of the last few years has left it with even more boarded-up homes, abandoned storefronts, and unemployed youth.
Nevertheless, the mayor and his supporters asserted that progress is being made. “The Ninth Ward is thriving,” said alderman Anthony Beale. He gestured toward Daley. “And it’s all because of the man standing beside me.”
Daley thanked residents for supporting him—"There's no better job"—and then read a list of all the things he'd managed to get done in the area since taking office in 1989, from the rehab of the Fifth District police station to the deal with Walmart to build a new store on the site of a former steel mill. He got cheers and amens from the seniors and other neighborhood residents in the room, including Beale, one of the City Council’s many Daley loyalists.
As the alderman spoke, it became apparent that he was feeling both grateful for Daley and anxious about life without him.
“This is hard—this is the only mayor I’ve ever known,” Beale said. “Change is good but I don’t know about this one. We are going to build a relationship with the new mayor, but he has to learn the communities. This mayor knows all the communities.”
Daley was not displeased. After the formalities ended, he hugged and posed for pictures with a long line of seniors and cops, then took a brief tour of an apartment and lounge area upstairs. He muttered jokes and laughed loudly at them. He pointed to a flat screen TV in the lounge. “Will you be hosting a Bulls championship viewing?” he asked.
He made his way very slowly toward his chauffeured car. He looked like he didn’t want to leave.