Thursday, December 7, 2006
Chicago: A Decidedly Un-Normal City Where Daley Seems to Reign Supreme Where Love for Him Started with Gratitude to His Father.
[A column for The Wanderer, the nations oldest national Catholic weekly.]
By Thomas F. Roeser
Note: Wanderer readers have responded with great generosity to my article of two weeks ago reporting on The Womens Center and its director, Mary Strom, which gives aid and assistance to troubled pregnant young women, convincing them to turn away from the thought of abortion and have their babies. Readers have sent checks totaling several thousands of dollars plus a used Ultra-Sound machine which can be put to work in the Center right away. Thanks so much, readers!
CHICAGOIn a normal city where top mayoral aides are being hauled off to jail where the citys chief executive sent bulldozers at midnight to a profitable municipal lakefront airport to destroy it in the middle of the night and turn it into a park because his wife wanted to see more foliage prompting an outcry that continues to this day where flagrantly political patronage workers who electioneered on city time are being monitored by the federal government where a U. S. district attorney interviewed the mayor for two hours straight on corruption
where the City Clerk pleaded guilty to taking $48,000 in payoffs to get companies to qualify in the citys scandal-plagued Hired Truck program, the 33rd to be convicted in that particular scandal where the second ranking official in the Water Department and unofficial commander of a group of electioneering patronage workers, including campaigning on taxpayers time for Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-IL), has pleaded guilty to racketeering and tax fraud whereoh forget it.
The list can go on and on until this paper is filled but suffice it to say in a normal city, reelection would look nearly impossible for any normal mayor. But as I have been showing in these articles for the past several years Chicago is not a normal city. And Mayor Richard M. Daley is not a normal mayor. A former pro-life state Senator turned pro-abort, social traditionalist converted to pro-gay rights mayor, hes riding high. He is certain of reelection in 2007 if he doesnt get indicted by the feds first. Which normally shouldnt happen since his great and effusive fan is President George W. Bush. Bush appointed the U. S. Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois, Patrick Fitzgerald. But Fitzgerald is not your normal prosecutor, either.
In fact, some say Fitzgerald is a very odd duck as this story will detail. He could spoil the glorious the story involving the matriculation of Richard M. Daley, regarded once as the not-too-bright Dauphin prince-son of a brilliant old school mayor, Richard J. who on his own ascended to magazine cover status in Time and Newsweek as well as the London Economist, reaching the highest berth among the mayors of the nation, exceeding the record of his own father. The Economist, my favorite newsmagazine, bobbled it when they said Daleys city has a slight taint of scandal. Slight taint! But nevertheless
The International Olympics Committee has said it is giving Chicago top consideration for hosting the winter games in 2016. But, it added, if Daley isnt around as mayor, Chicago wont be considered. In 2016 he will be 76 years old. What is his secret? Not secretsecrets. Five of them.
First, rest assured if his name were Richard M. Snodgrass instead of Richard M. Daley--even if all the stars in the heavens were in such an unlikely alignment that he would be elected mayor (comparable to dropping a quarter from the Hancock building and have it stand on end)--Snodgrass would have been drummed out of power two years ago as a city disgrace sent to continue his education at the federal institution of higher learning specializing in the manufacture of license plates at Oxford, Wisconsin. The name Daley here is magic.
And was magic when Richie began his upward climb: for one reason only: the overwhelming number of long-time Chicagoans believe his father, the legendary Richard J., prevented the city from going the way of Detroit by standing up to black radicalism in the 1960s, a lonely sentinel for urban order when the entire mass media were against him. They insist Old man Daley held the line when Martin Luther King came to Chicago, the charismatic minister leading marches and protests, rent strikes and capturing the love of the media. Daley overcame King because of two reasons: he had welded a core of traditionalist blacks into the Democratic party and they stood with him against the most charismatic preacher the nation had ever seen; and Daley benefited because, while Chicagos segregation was illegal, time was on his side. Many blacks and whites never acknowledged it but nevertheless understood that had Daley tried to comply too much with black wishes he would have lost the white middle-class and the city would have crumpled.
Old man Daley has never received the credit for this with mainstream liberal media but most Chicagoans from that era believe the story. The few realistic social historians who arent co-opted by the trendy Left agree: He bent toward the forces of revolution just so far but not too far; never far enough to alienate his white working-class supporters, keeping all the time a tremendous following in black wards: the 6th, 7th 17th and in working class wards, the 5th , the 20th as well as the very poor black wards: the 2nd , 3rd and 24th. It was a performance worthy of Arturo Toscanini wielding the baton before the NBC symphony orchestra.
Newspapers of the time and Walter Cronkite screamed in outrage at old man Daleys statement during the furor following Kings assassination: I tell the police to shoot to kill any arsonist or anyone with a Molotov cocktail in his hand because they are potential murderers and to shoot to maim or cripple anyone looting any stores of our city! He was laughed at by the late-night TV comics and the intelligentsia snobs. He was condemned for this by all black leaders. But secretly, traditional bungalow Chicagoans privately supported him and loved him for his guts.
I can tell you this: he attained an immortality with working class people of the time: a luster that never dies. Intellectuals cried he was insensitive, provincial and unsympathetic to the plight of urban blacks but of this there is no doubt, as the famous urban historian John Allswang of UCLA, the nations foremost urbanologist, has written: Had Daley really tried to deal with black problems, there is good reason to argue that he would have lost not only much of his white ethnic support but his upper-class business support as well.
Add his stand-up posture to white, long-haired leftist radicals at the 1968 Democratic convention and he won an enduring legacy for the name Daley among the middle-class which remained with the family Whites stayed with the Democratic party for jobs and security; blacks learned that patronage could help them as it had the Irish, Lithuanians and Poles earlier. Standing as a sentinel while the New York-based TV networks blasted him was old man Daley. His public housing policies were criticized but have been seen by dispassionate realists as necessary for the time: not for now but then.
The everlasting gratitude of bungalow belt Chicagoans for the old man carried over to his son Richard. Young Richie began with a surge of popularity due to belief of the middle class that the heroism of his father saved their city when other towns declined: Detroit under Coleman Young, New York under John V. Lindsay. He was elected states attorney, failed in one mayoralty attempt when two whites split the vote to enable a black to win. But when it was Richies turn, the legacy of the old man gave him a big starting push. Not a permanent pass since after the first election he won he was on his own. He could just as easily gone down.
But the fact is he has exceeded his father in many aspectsnotably in one-man domination and having assumed personal patronage from the ward bosses. Exceeded his father in all but courage. He felt he had to adapt to contemporary cultural decadence where by shunning it he could have won but not by much. In co-opting the Left, he has gained far more power than his father had, has accomplished at least as much as the old man did plus with a finer appreciation of architectural and landscape beauty that the old man, who wrecked too many irreplaceable architectural treasures, never displayed.
Second, in criticizing Richard M. Daleys switch from pro-life traditionalism to espousing abortion and gay rights I have been practically alone among commentators in this city. His patronizing gay rights parades means practically nothing at all to most people who live here, Catholics and prelates included. Most Catholic laymen and clergy (with few exceptions) believe young Daley has matched the old mans heroism in saving the city from destruction by enabling it to prosper. Not to me. His capitulation to the forces of social disintegration has always bothered me. But Im alone. A conservative priest with whom I had lunch the other day was extolling Daley so fervently that I reminded him about the mayors support of abortion on demand and gay rights. Naw, he doesnt believe those things, he said. He may have said [these things] but he doesnt believe it. Not in the slightest. Then when shown that he does believe these things, he sipped his coffee thoughtfully and said, wellhes done a lot of good things for this city. See, thats the way he gets away with it.
And in fairness, young Daley (hes not young but 64; yet is called young Richie) has materially done a lot of good things here, graft or not. Chicago once had not one but two skid rows, one on south State street and the other on west Madison. If the old man saved the city from race suicide, his son has replaced both skid rows by charming neighborhoods inhabited for the most part by young professionals. The dreary west side skid row where my idol Msgr. Ignatius McDermott (who never cared for Daley or his old man because his big brother, Jim, an alderman was a rival) worked to reclaim drunks and homeless has been turned into rehab buildings, new buildings and Starbucks. Instead of old drunks coughing their lungs out on the street corners and getting rolled by thugs, theyre in spacious rehab and a prosperous class of gentry flows in once decrepit neighborhoods.
Moreover the city has been beautifiedwith a political sagacity behind it that trumps just good looks. The Wall Street Journal says that by beautifying Chicago, Daley has put it high on the list of desirable locations for industry. You can wonder who got rich undeservedly from it but looks alone played a big factor in causing Boeing to move its headquarters here from Seattle. The Economist, the premier international magazine covering the world economy, says that because the avenues of the city is decked out with concrete flower boxes over-spilling with blooms from Spring to late Fall like Paris, a new Millennium Park with its Frank Gehry outdoor concert hall, skating rink, modern sculptures, charming walkways and fields for lolling has given Chicago a great international acclaim.
Taking the other side is conservative African American ex-cop Frank Penn, a good friend of mine. In the old days when seeing a robbery suspects car roaring down a street, Penn could wheel his squad car around in mid-block and catch him. Now with elaborate cement flower boxes in the center of the streets, he would have to go to the end of the block to turn around and start the chase. But thats a cops eye-view, not that of the Economist or the National League of Cities.
And theres more than sheer beauty. In place of the racial animosity that reigned under the citys two black mayors with the city council in a furor, there is now a feeling of comfort and ease between the races. Thats because of a political co-optation. Congressman Bobby Rush, a formerly vehement critic, who ran against Daley thundering about his corruption has changed his tune completely: Id love to know why. Knowing Bobby, theres something there more than a honest intellectual change of heart.
Third, while corruption as outlined above exists, no one in my memory has thus far accused or even attempted to prove Daley of being a thief or his old man, either. Especially the old man. The senior Daley knew how to apply patronage to tame warring minorities. A latter day reform has caught young Daley unawares. Kass points out that because he distrusted the old Democratic party, he moved patronage from the wards to his own fifth floor at City Hall. That could have been a fatal mistake. Politicking with jobs was always an arms length away from the old man but its been resting in your Daleys lap. Past sins here could rise up to kill him. Not to mention the way he has pioneered the savvy of privatization for his political benefit.
Just one example: Rather than load the public payroll with political hires, young Richie has farmed out work to the private sector which repays his favors with lavish political contributions. But he hasnt always been vigilant. His people have held up truck owners for bribes to get city contracts. Chicagoans wink and say, so what? but the feds arent saying so what. Richie may yet get burned by the unfathomable federal gumshoe Patrick Fitzgeraldbut most Chicagoans would regard this as a great tragedy. They believe from the soles of their feet to the top of their heads that if you purify the pond the lilies die. A little scum on the top of the pond is allowed as the cost of running a city that purportedly works, they feel.
Fourth, Richie doesnt want to do anything but run Chicago; just like his old man. This dedication to staying here is a big comfort to many. Youll never see him flirting with the idea of running for governor or the U. S. Senate. Thats a marvelous sense of permanence for Chicagoans in a world that is not so permanent. His manic desire to keep on being mayor gives him a shrewd public sense. Not long ago, the Chicago Tribunes John Kass, the best political reporter in town whom I admire more than any other journalist, noted that certain ACLU-type liberals in the Daley coalition nixed advertisements for The Nativity Story from being displayed in Daley Plaza across from City Hall. It was the kind of hot story that could get Daley in trouble: as one who melts away from defending Christians while allowing other faiths to hold displays in the public square. Daley called a news conference. What did he do?
As Kass says: Daley changed the subject, thats what. He defended his patronage chief Robert Sorich, convicted by the feds for politicalization, as being a good family man. Sorich was taking the heat for Daley, was undoubtedly following orders which came from the mayors personal office but after Daleys defense of him few remembered this. Sorich is from the blue-collar neighborhood of Bridgeport where the Daleys come from. Growing red in the face defending Sorich was good for Daley in two ways: (a) welding even more support from the white neighborhoods like Bridgeport and (b) good to change the subject from his tolerating the squishy liberals who vetoed the nativity film. Indeed in Bridgeport, the old parish where the Daleys worshiped, Nativity of Our Lord, has held a fund-raiser for convicted felon Sorich. Kass reported a parish priest, Fr. Dan Brandt, saying: [The Lord] was a convicted felon and Robert was convicted and so he may have a lot in common with Jesus.
Fifth, ungrammatical and often a red-faced shouter when he gets upset with the media, Daley is in his own way as brilliant, astute and as devious a politician as the legendarily Machievellian 32nd president, FDR. His 2007 budget proclaims that next year the city of Chicago will make new investment in our people and neighborhoods without raising property taxes or any other tax or fee. This will be the third year in a row without a city of Chicago property tax increase. But as Mike Quigley, a bright young liberal reform Democratic Cook county commissioner, has pointed out (in statements that have received absolutely minimal press), the mayor has been steadily raising taxes over the last three years as can be testified by anyone who pays them. The ingenious device: tax increment financing districts or TIF about which very few people know or care.
The only newspaper that has given adequate coverage to the political payoff for Daley with TIFs is an alternative throw-away free paper, soft-porn but still with an extraordinarily good reporter. Its The Reader. Writer Ben Joravsky explains: TIFs are districts in which all the property taxes taken by the local taxing bodies schools, parks, librariesare frozen for 23 years. If a taxing body collects, let us say, $1,000 on a given property when a TIF is created, thats what itll be collecting when the TIF expires more than two decades later. Any property tax revenue created by new development or by the ever-rising assessments go into the TIF fund which is controlled by Daley and the local alderman (provided the alderman is loyal to the mayor). This control gives him authority over billions of property tax dollars. In fact, Joravsky reasons, TIFs are the hidden stratagem that has given Daley control of the city.
Daley has the power to do practically anything he wants with the money from TIFs. Once approved, they operate without any independent oversight, says Joravsky. There are no budgets attached to them. You cant even figure how much of your property taxes go into them since TIFs arent listed on your tax bill. As a result, the program has become a grab-bag, covering everything from Millennium Park cost overruns to upscale condos, with lots of money left over for well-connected planners, lawyers, bankers, developers, construction contractors and consultants. All of whom feel the need to contribute to Daleys favorite charity.
TIFs amount to property tax hikes. They suck up revenue and thereby present the schools, parks and county with a choice: cut programs to reduce spending or increase tax rates to compensate for the millions lost to the funds. Quigley whos calling for reform of the program calculates the average Chicago tax bill is 10% higher than it would be were it not for TIFs. Over the past ten years more than 100 new TIF districts have been created and Daley boasts hell battle any plan to cut back on them while at the same time he points with pride to his holding the line of property taxes (which are soaring). But as this is a very powerful mayor, local officials with the exception of the lone Quigley, have kept their mouths shut. The mayors favorite alderman, Burt Natarus who represents the posh lakefront was asked by a reformer why TIFs arent in the city budget. Natarus raised himself up to full height, faced his accuser and said, Because theyre not in the budget! Oh, I see. That explains it, then.
Normally things should be uncommonly good for Richie Daley to win reelection in 2007. Two potential opponents, Cong. Jesse Jackson, Jr. and Luis Guterriez, have declined to run against him. Even if they had run, its clear that they wouldnt have given him much trouble. Jackson huffed and puffed and said if he ran he could beat Daley: thats baloney and he knows it. I admire young Jackson (not his old man) but he should get over that lingering vestige of bravado. Hes not running because he cant beat Daley and he told me as much privately.
The only cloud on the horizon is the federal prosecutor Fitzgerald, the local district attorney here who has been a special prosecutor on the Valerie Plame non-case. Fitzgerald has done a magnificent job probing corruption in Chicago, Cook county and all of Illinois. Im mystified at his record in Washington where no one can explain the long persecution five times before a grand jury of Karl Rove when Fitzgerald knew all along that then leaker was Richard Armitage and told Armitage to shut up for a long time about it. Or why Scooter Libby remains in the prisoners dock. If anyone knows why, please tell me. I dont want to defend Rove who has committed a number of things that tick me off including his closeness to Bob Kjellander, but this one mystifies me.
It is not inconceivable that if he wants to go down as a totally fearless prosecutor, Fitzgerald can do it by indicting Daley, offending Democrats and even most big business Republicans plus George W. Bush. Jay Stewart the bright exec of the Better Government Association says he would not be surprised if he indicts Daley. Somehow, I would be stunnedbut what do I know? There are at least hundreds of patronage jobs that have been handled illegally, not from a backroom but from Daleys 5th floor mayoral office. Hundreds. Remember, Fitzgerald indicted Scooter Libby for one very slight so-called dereliction that baffles most legal scholars to this day. Indict Daley? The media would love it.
As I said when I started writing this, normally Richard M. Daley has nothing to worry about. But Chicago isnt a normal city and Patrick Fitzfgeralds not a normal prosecutor.
This must have Richie Daley worrying.