Daley who? Rahm, City Council candidates downplay their ties to the political dynasty | Bleader

Daley who? Rahm, City Council candidates downplay their ties to the political dynasty

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Patrick D. Thompson--the D is for Daley--embraces his uncle, county commissioner John Daley, after joining the water reclamation district board in 2012.
  • Al Podgorski/Sun-Times
  • Patrick D. Thompson—the D is for Daley—embraces his uncle, county commissioner John Daley, after joining the water reclamation district board in 2012.
Patrick D. Thompson's campaign website has a page labeled FAMILY that describes how he grew up at 35th and Lowe in Bridgeport around the family of his mother, Patricia Daley.

It's the only place on the site that brings up the family name, and it avoids mentioning that this is the same Daley clan that ran Chicago for more than four decades.

While his full name—Patrick Daley Thompson—will be on the ballot for 11th Ward alderman, he's kept it out of his campaign ads.

In the ward dominated by his family for almost 70 years, the grandson of Mayor Richard J. Daley and nephew of Mayor Richard M. Daley sure looks like he would prefer to run for alderman as a Thompson.

Thompson insists that's not the case. "I am not running away from my Daley name at all. It's a tremendous asset and I'm proud of it," he says. "But what are my qualifications? My experience and vision for the ward are what people care about."

Maybe so. And maybe it's also a bad time to be running for office as a Daley—even in the 11th Ward, which Thompson's uncle John Daley, a county commissioner, still oversees as Democratic committeeman.

"There's a lot of anti-Daley sentiment—I think it's at an all-time high," says Maureen Sullivan, a community activist who's running against Thompson. "I have never seen that family campaigning like they are now."

Just a few years ago other elected officials couldn't get enough of the second Mayor Daley, as with his father before him.

They asked to have their pictures taken with him. They did what he said. And at election time they begged for his endorsement, imploring him to at least refrain from endorsing their opponents.

But four years after Rich Daley left office, many of those same politicians are now slinking away from their ties to him as they run for reelection—if they're not trashing his tenure outright.

At the top of this list is Daley's successor, Mayor Rahm Emanuel, whose campaign is built on the narrative that he brought Chicago back from the depths. He doesn't even need to mention Daley by name—why go to those dark days?

"Four years ago, Chicago was tottering on the heels of the Great Recession," Emanuel said in a speech last week. "To reverse that economic slide, we needed a plan for growth and new jobs."

Of course, Daley always claimed that he had such a plan too, and Emanuel always lined up firmly behind him. Emanuel owed Daley for dispatching patronage workers to help him get elected to Congress.

But in 2008 the recession hit and bills started coming due, and now Emanuel is the guy who has to figure out how to pay them. He's busy telling voters that the reason he's not always such an endearing, hug-me type of guy is that he's making the "tough decisions" that others—Daley—refused to make.

Along with much of the current City Council, some new candidates for alderman are also trying to gloss over their ties to the Daleys.

In the Second Ward, City Council hopeful Brian Hopkins has far more political and government experience than his five opponents. Yet he doesn't talk about it in his fliers or on his website, perhaps because he was John Daley's chief of staff on the county board.

One of Hopkins's campaign fliers showed him standing between John Daley and popular county board president Toni Preckwinkle. The same picture ran in his next set of fliers—only Daley was cropped out.

Hopkins says both Daley and Preckwinkle are honorary co-chairs of his campaign and both their pictures are in rotation on his website. They weren't when I looked.

"What I'm doing is emphasizing my experience as a community leader and as a volunteer," says Hopkins.

Yet he's received thousands of dollars in campaign donations from figures allied with the Daleys. One check came from Daley and Georges, the law firm led by Michael Daley, a brother of John's and Rich's, and Mara Georges, the city's corporation counsel when Rich Daley was mayor. Another was sent by Becky Carroll, who served in the Daley and Emanuel administrations and now runs Chicago Forward, a political action committee set up to attack Emanuel's opponents.

His opponents refer to Hopkins as "the machine candidate," and they're pretty sure this won't be seen as a good thing.

But if the anti-machine feelings have spread to the 11th Ward—cradle of Chicago mayors—that would truly be history.

Thompson is an attorney who was elected to the water reclamation district board in 2012 with the help of his powerful uncles and the use of his full name, including the Daley part.

But he insists that he's often shortened his name to Patrick D. Thompson to make things simpler—not because he's trying to avoid association with the Daley legacy. To underscore his point, an aide sent me a picture of a window sign from the 2012 water rec campaign that uses Thompson's middle initial.

Thompson also rejects the suggestion that the alderman's seat is being handed to him, even though the incumbent, James Balcer, abruptly announced his retirement in August, just before election season got underway.

It's widely known that Balcer served at the pleasure of John Daley, who tapped him for the job when the previous alderman resigned amid a corruption scandal in 1997. That's the way things usually worked: the Daleys and their organization handpicked the alderman on behalf of voters. The ward hasn't held an open-seat election since at least 1969.

"Under the old politics, the alderman would have stepped down early and I would have run as an incumbent," Thompson says. "We didn't do that."

The Daley operation simply knew it would be harder to pull that off this time around, say Sullivan and Thompson's other challenger, law school student John Kozlar.

The ward has changed. It's no longer dominated by families who've lived in Bridgeport for generations, and it now includes areas like the Pilsen arts district and University Village. Residents expect better city services and more amenities.

Thompson touts his experience in real estate development and says he'll make sure the ward office is more accessible. "I leave for work before the office opens and it's closed before I come home," he says. "We need to keep it open at least some evenings and weekend days."

His opponents say it's too late, charging that Balcer and the ward organization have stopped taking care of the neighborhood's basic needs. As an example, Sullivan notes that the garbage cans on the sidewalks along Halsted have disappeared. Trash is now often strewn around the main business district in Bridgeport, which already had a number of empty storefronts.

When she asked ward officials about it, Sullivan says she was told the cans were removed because "they were used too much."

"The old machine at least knew what it meant to have a garbage can on the street corner," she says.

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