In many ways Mayor Daley’s last City Council meeting was surreal. But that means it was pretty much like the others he presided over since 1989, because they were all kind of surreal—a forum where the fantastical often mixed comfortably with reality, and where truth was in the eyes of the mayor.
Council meetings have long been dominated by hours of speeches in support of honorary resolutions commending the heroic deeds and inimitable lives of firefighters, cops, nuns, high school championship teams, retired patronage workers, and other great Chicagoans.
Other business is sometimes done along the way. In those instances when aldermen have discussed or even debated a piece of legislation before signing off, they’ve been fond of explaining how none of it would have been possible without Mayor Daley.
On Wednesday they combined everything into one as they eulogized the mayor's tenure.
“What other mayor in Chicago can boast of this type of career?” wondered 14th Ward alderman Ed Burke.
“You are a great example of what a public servant should be,” said Latasha Thomas (17th).
“You’ve been a leader not just here in Chicago but you’ve been a model for mayors across the country,” added Tom Tunney (44th).
“My fondest memory will always be when you said, ‘I want Carrie Austin as my budget chair,’” said Carrie Austin (34th).
Unmentioned, in that case, was the small detail that Mayor Daley wasn’t technically supposed to decide who chaired the council’s budget committee, since under council rules aldermen have the right and duty to select their own leaders. But aldermanic control has long since yielded to a more "civil" process.
Up was down in other ways through Daley’s last minutes with the gavel.
Aldermen praised his passion, his work in improving and promoting Chicago’s international reputation, his fondness for planting trees, his massive investments in downtown, his willingness to take control of the Chicago Public Schools and Chicago Housing Authority—all things that most Chicagoans would give him credit for.
And then there were the accolades for how Daley supposedly rebuilt the west and south sides—of Chicago—and used his political strength judiciously.
“It takes years to learn to be a leader,” said Bob Fioretti (2nd). “It was during your time at the  Constitutional Convention that you learned the limits of municipal power.”
“I have learned so many things from you,” said Walter Burnett (27th). “I have learned about being independent.”
Perhaps it does take years to learn.
Beneath the celebration, though, some aldermen were anxious about a life without Daley. While Roberto Maldonado (26th) expressed concern about a couple of unfinished projects in his ward, Pat O’Connor (40th) asked Daley to have his phone nearby in case they needed to call. Deborah Graham (29th) recalled how much Daley had helped her believe she was capable of being an alderman after he appointed her last year. “When I make a big decision, I always want to do a lot of backpedaling,” she said.
Daley soaked it all in before delivering a closing speech that touched on many of his favorite themes: his pride in “keeping the city moving forward”; his love of the city; his belief that he had the greatest job in the world; his admiration for the economic boom in China; his optimism in the future; and his insistence that the council had done the right thing in “working together” with him.
“This is a legislative body we can truly be proud of,” the mayor said. “They work, they compromise, they move legislation forward.”
He urged the aldermen who were returning to work closely with Mayor Emanuel.