12:01am

Fri May 13, 2011
Politics

In Chicago, A Political Dynasty Nears Its End

Originally published on Wed May 23, 2012 9:50 am

In Chicago, a political transition will soon be under way. Next week, after 22 years in office, Mayor Richard M. Daley will step down, and a new mayor — former White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel — will be sworn in.

Daley's father, Richard J. Daley, who also served as mayor, was called "the boss." But his son cultivated his own kind of clout and became the city's longest-serving mayor.

'A Zest For Public Service'

When Daley took his first oath of office for mayor, he was quick to acknowledge his family history and to promise change.

"You don't hand down policies from generation to generation, but you do hand down values," he said. "As I take the oath my father took before me, I carry with me a love for our city and a zest for public service."

Daley's victory followed divisive racial politics that played out in Chicago's City Council in the 1980s, during Harold Washington's tenure as the city's first black mayor. That turmoil earned Chicago the dubious moniker "Beirut on the Lake."

Daley, who got only marginal support in the city's black wards, called for racial harmony. Last week, as he presided over his final City Council meeting, he recalled how he worked to win the support of black Chicagoans.

"I went out and campaigned in the community," he said. "I was determined then that, no way — that they were not going to believe that I was not their mayor."

Daley is often credited with making race much less of an issue in Chicago politics as he grew in his role as mayor, and he won his subsequent elections by wide margins.

The Legacy Of 'Boss Jr.'

Earlier this week, hundreds of Chicagoans showed up at City Hall to say goodbye and shake Daley's hand.

"It's a piece of history," said Vernon Esmond — and a chance to take a photo with Daley, or as Esmond calls him, "Boss Jr."

That aura of clout is exactly why Jacqueline Johnson said she wanted to see the mayor.

"I'm a paralegal, and I want to find out where I can find a paralegal position in the city," she said. "Since he's been in office so long and he has a lot of contacts, he may know."

Daley is also known as the "tree mayor" for planting thousands of trees and flowers that have beautified Chicago's downtown. He's widely credited with increasing tourism and attracting new business as other Midwest cities struggled.

Roosevelt University political scientist Paul Green says improving the city is Daley's passion.

"There were parts [of downtown] 30 years ago that you wouldn't drive through, let alone walk through, and now they're destination points," he says.

The mayor also took control of Chicago's public schools and revamped public housing. In 2005, Time magazine called Daley one of the best five big-city mayors.

But since then, his approval ratings have plummeted as a huge deficit, scarce jobs and City Hall scandals left their mark. Last September, as his wife continued her battle with cancer, Daley announced he wouldn't seek a record seventh term.

A New Era

In the anteroom of the City Council chambers, Alderman Scott Waguespack says part of Daley's legacy that shouldn't be ignored is City Hall corruption that surrounded but never touched him. Nearly 100 public servants were convicted during the mayor's tenure.

"The city inspector general reporter right now, in his quarterly reports, shows that there are many opportunities still where corruption exists, and it needs to change," he says. "I'm looking forward to the new mayor clamping down on that and saying enough is enough."

That new mayor, Emanuel, was also a fundraiser on Daley's first mayoral campaign.

Like Daley, Emanuel trounced his opposition. But while Daley could build and spend during better financial times, the operative word for Emanuel is likely to be "retrench," though he's trying to put a positive spin on it.

"I want people to see a city that is on the move, not scared of its future [but] ready to attack its future with a sense of confidence," Emanuel says. "And the greatest thing I know is that the public of the city of Chicago is ready to join that bandwagon."

Emanuel's inauguration is Monday. Later that day, he'll hold his own City Hall open house, where some Chicagoans will line up again to shake the hand of a mayor who, for the first time in more than two decades, is not named Daley.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

A political transition is about to take place in Chicago. Mayor Richard M. Daley steps down from office on Monday and a new era begins when former White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel is sworn in. Daley's father also served as mayor for many years and was known as The Boss. But his son cultivated his own kind of clout and became the city's longest serving mayor, NPR's Cheryl Corley reports.

(Soundbite of cheers and applause)

Unidentified Man: Ladies and gentlemen, Mayor Richard M. Daley.

CHERYL CORLEY: It was 22 years ago when Richard M. Daley took his first oath of office for mayor. He was quick to acknowledge his family history and to promise change.

Mayor RICHARD M. DALEY (Chicago): You don't hand down policies from generation to generation, but you do hand down values. As I take the oath my father took before me, I carry with me a love for our city and a zest for public service.

CORLEY: Daley's victory followed divisive racial politics that played out in Chicago's city council in the 1980s, during Harold Washington's tenure as the city's first black mayor. That turmoil earned Chicago the dubious moniker of Beirut on the Lake. Mayor Daley, who got only marginal support in the city's black wards, called for racial harmony. Last week, as he presided over his final city council meeting, Daley recalled how he worked to win the support of black Chicagoans.

Mr. DALEY: I went out and campaigned in the community. I was determined then, that no way - that they were not gonna believe that I was not their mayor. And I pledged to myself, that every day that every day, the block clubs, the community organizations, church leaders, that I was going to make sure that I was their mayor.

CORLEY: Daley's often credited with making race much less of an issue in Chicago politics as he grew in his role as mayor. And he won his subsequent elections by wide margins.

Unidentified Woman: Right over here. Thank you.

CORLEY: Earlier this week, hundreds of Chicagoans like Vernon Esmond, showed up at City Hall to say goodbye and shake Daley's hand.

Mr. VERNON ESMOND: There's a piece of history.

CORLEY: And a chance to take a photo with Daley, or as Esmond calls him:

Mr. ESMOND: It's with the Boss, Jr.

CORLEY: After Daley's father, The Boss. That aura of clout is exactly why Jacquelyn Johnson said she wanted to see the mayor.

Ms. JACQUELYN JOHNSON: I'm a paralegal and I want to find out where I can find a paralegal position in the city. He says he's been in office so long that he has a lot of contacts, he may know.

CORLEY: Daley is also known as the tree mayor, for planting thousands of trees and flowers that have beautified Chicago's downtown. He's widely credited with increasing tourism and attracting new business as other Mid West cities struggle. Roosevelt University political scientist, Paul Green, says improving the city is Daley's passion.

Mr. PAUL GREEN (Political Scientist, Roosevelt University): There were parts of downtown that 30 years ago, you wouldn't drive through, let alone walk through. And now they're destination points.

CORLEY: The mayor also took control of the Chicago Public Schools and revamped public housing. In 2005, Time magazine called Daley one of the best five big city mayors. His approval ratings have since plummeted though, as a budget with a huge deficit, scarce jobs, and city hall scandals left their mark. Last September, as his wife continues to battle with cancer, Daley announced he wouldn't see a record seventh term.

In the anteroom of the city council chambers, Alderman Scott Waguespack says part of Daley's legacy that shouldn't be ignored is city hall corruption that surrounded, but never touched him. Nearly 100 public servants were convicted during the mayor's tenure.

Mr. SCOTT WAGUESPACK (Alderman): The city inspector general right now, in his quarterly reports, shows that there are many opportunities still where corruption exists, and it needs to change, and we haven't changed that. And I'm looking forward to the new mayor clamping down on that and saying enough is enough.

CORLEY: That new mayor is Rahm Emanuel, the former White House chief of staff who was also a fundraiser on Daley's first mayoral campaign. Like Daley, Emanuel trounced his opposition. But while Daley could build and spend during better financial times, the operative word for Emanuel will likely be retrench, though he's trying to put a positive spin on it.

Mr. RAHM EMANUEL (Mayor Elect, Chicago): I want people to see a city that is on the move, not scared of its future, ready to attack its future with a sense of confidence. And the greatest thing I know, is that the public of the city of Chicago is ready to join that bandwagon.

CORLEY: Emanuel's inauguration is Monday. Later that day, he'll hold his own City Hall open house, where some Chicagoans will line up again, to shake the hand of a mayor who, for the first time in more than two decades, is not named Daley.

Cheryl Corley, NPR News, Chicago.

INSKEEP: By the way, the outgoing mayor of Chicago made his own contributions to the English language and you can read a few of his more famous Daley-isms at npr.org. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.