Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Personal Aside: What Does King Richard II Have in Mind for a New Chicago?


I tried to ask this question to two very knowledgeable guests on my radio program on Sunday night. They either didn’t want to answer it or couldn’t. Therefore I will…and I ask your indulgence to hear this through before you zing me in Reader’s Comments.

The Democratic regime in Chicago has existed since 1931…a total of 76 years which is two years longer than the Soviet Union ran. In all there were four very powerful mayors…actually three to be specific. The first powerhouse was Anton Cermak [1931-33] whose legacy…the Democratic machine…was created largely when he was president of the Cook county board. Cermak was assassinated before his mayoralty came to full fruition—but we include him as the builder of the machine (much as we do Lenin in the USSR) but his mayoralty was cut short.

The second was Edward J. Kelly [1933-47], the mayor when I was a boy. He took the mayoralty and moved it to a national perspective. He was dethroned when he failed to recognize the incipient racial struggle between blacks and whites—and was kicked out because he was too partial to the blacks. Hence Jack Arvey and others decided he had to go. (Arvey told him: “You’re even losing among the Irish!”). But Kelly’s dream was realized in that he became a national political figure in the Democratic party and participated hugely in the FDR victories as well as the beginning of Harry Truman’s presidency.

Third was Richard J. Daley, the mayor who served in my young manhood. He I regard as the greatest mayor of them all because…to be hideously blunt about it…he faced up to looming race riots and white nihilistic revolutionaries and devised a Grand Strategy that would have been fatal had it been publicized officially. It was: (a) forget the media; (b) don’t court radicals in any way; (c) convince the white middle class and blacks who wish to participate in the machine that there is a place for them and (d) court big business. The result was that the middle class understood Daley would be the man Roland was (not that they had ever heard of Roland) and they stayed in Chicago. As one who met him once, as I was preparing to go to Washington to run the black capitalism program (then called minority enterprise) I can testify that he was provincial, insensitive and unsympathetic to the boiling caldron of black poor. But it is clear that had he tried to deal with the poor’s problems ala John Lindsay (who was a gross failure as New York mayor) he would have lost his white middle class base and that of big business as well.

He was not only astute is remaining aloof from seeking to be a kind of Mother Teresa pol, ministering to the black poor, he was courageous. He stood up against a ferocious assault by the media—Mike Royko, Len O’Connor, all the rest of them. The greatest thing he did came with the riots following the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. That was his official order issued to the police for which he was widely condemned by the media and liberals—“Shoot to kill any arsonist or anyone with a Molotov cocktail in his hand because they are potential murderers…and shoot to maim or cripple anyone looking any stores in our city.”

That statement galvanized white support and emboldened the city to join with him in forsaking the trip to disaster that was made by Detroit. To me he resembled the mythological (perhaps) but medieval Roland, the nephew of Charlemagne who held the mountain pass open against the Saracens for others to pass through safely. Richard I was the greatest mayor because he was self-sacrificing. He took the heat that had to be dished out in order to preserve order. And he did it also at the Democratic convention.

Now let’s recap. Richard I’s Grand Strategy was to forget media criticism…add what minorities he could to the Democratic machine—give some of them elevator jobs at city hall, promote servile types like the senior Stroger and others… but taking care not to allow them to take it over, preferring passive ones…instill the white majority with his refusal to buckle and encourage big business to stay—which gave all of us the legacy we have today. I repeat: Richard I was the greatest.

Richard II is much different from his father but he has a Grand Strategy too. Or Grand Strategy II. . He has forsaken the Democratic party because (as John Kass believes and I think it right) he was stung when Jane Byrne was mayor and ran Ed Burke for states attorney…with an appalling number of Democrats backing Burke. Daley perforce decided to obviate the Democratic party and build a cult of personality—his own. Thus the supplicants who wanted jobs went not to the party but to Daley II’s minions. That in itself may ultimately do him in by connecting his fiefdom to patronage corruption—but Patrick Fitzgerald will have to act soon. President Bush who is no fan of Fitzgerald’s will be leaving office and it is indeterminate what his successors will do. If I were to guess, if the successor is Republican, all except Mitt Romney, will reappoint Fitzgerald (if, that is, Fitzgerald wants to continue to serve). Romney has said he will not (angry as he is at the conviction by Fitzgerald of Scooter Libby). I don’t know but I would imagine the balance of the likely Republicans would re-appoint Fitzgerald because it is in their interest to see that the Democratic USSR version here is weakened.

Of the Democrats I have no first hand knowledge, of course, but I would seriously doubt that Hillary Clinton would reappoint Fitzgerald. She is too good a Democrat to see the city’s strong mayor and his citadel assailed. Barack Obama would probably not (although I don’t imagine he will have the opportunity). The others in the lineup don’t matter because odds are they’re not going to be nominated or elected anyhow.

But I digress. There are very good odds that Daley will not be indicted and that the only ones who go to jail are his minions. Now what would be the Grand Strategy for Richard II?

Well, first of all, he seems intent on violating all the canons of good political sense. He is proposing to raise taxes to a stupendous rate—far more than he needs to. Why? My personal view is that his Grand Strategy is to leave the city far more politically impregnable than his father did. You remember his father very nearly lost in an ethnic revolt to Ben Adamowski—and the shifting sands of personality cult may not be extended to anyone after Richard II given the potential for cultural upheaval in the city.

Well, to glimpse Grand Strategy II, just take a look at what the city has become. Looking over the neighborhoods you see what were deteriorating ones becoming gentrified. You see an older, largely white, once suburban and exurban group moving back…their kids having been raised. They want to take advantages of the cultural limelight of the city. You also see young singles coming here—fresh from Harvard B school, young people with law degrees taking up jobs as associates at $90,000 a year at prestigious firms; bond traders; young single women in real estate and computer technological jobs; gays—newly affluent and highly educated. These are people who are probably not concerned whatsoever about paying Daley’s high tax freight. They glory in Millennium Park and regard corruption as a fee that can be paid for societal civility. Moreover they believe in the view of the historian Herodotus—“when you purify the pond, the lilies die.” Meaning: make this place too honest and you will not have a mayoralty which can get things done.

Richard II differs from his father in two respects: his disinterest in the Democratic party rather than his own Personality Cult and the media. Richard II has used good press—and by and large he has received it notwithstanding Hired Trucks and the other incidentals which are vexing but not all that essential to keeping his throne. Why he has received it? Because unlike his father he has been a social liberal which the media fondly respects. He supports abortion rights which to the media comes very near being a sacrament. He supports gay rights which to the media is today’s reincarnation of the old civil rights days they missed out on because they are so young.

Assuredly Daley will be able to compromise somewhat on taxes—but my guess is that by and large he will win and the exorbitant taxes will be levied. Chicago then will proceed to become whiter…more middle class…populated by new arrivals, wealthy retired oldsters and newly affluent youth. If Daley gets the Olympics (which somehow I think he will) he will have the contractual possibilities to make more people rich and to continue to build an army of followers. Chicago will be whiter, richer and even solider for Daley and his heirs—maybe his very own son Patrick when he returns from Iraq.

What could have gone wrong with Richard I’s Grand Strategy? Well, had he yielded to a burst of liberalism and tried to conciliate the mob he would have been sucked up by it…chewed up…rendered impotent in appearance which would have lost the business community—and he would have failed.

What can go wrong with Richard II”s Grand Strategy? The Olympic dream may fade. The more affluent whites who move here also read the “Wall Street Journal” and travel to other towns—seeing that other advantages have been gained without the wholesale corruption Daley is either powerless to control or unable to appease. But most of all…even now…they see that Chicago and Illinois’ economies lag behind national growth rates. A cyclical downturn that affects tax revenues can spur bitterness and the realization that on a cost-benefit analysis corruption is too expensive and that a return to representative democracy should be tried.

By that time Richard II may well have been retired and living in Florida. But it is my contention that his Grand Strategy II should be at least recognized as a possibility. If it succeeds Richard II may at long last…at least in my view anyhow…become as great as his father—the Roland who saved the city for us. If not he is distinctly number two.


  1. Not that my vote counts, but I hope that the mayor or some of his advisors take heed from Montreal (Olympics) or Knoxville (World's Fair) before they take the plunge. Both of these cities ended up saddled with debt when their expositions and games flopped at the box office.

  2. I despair of Daley ever leaving office without retiring. As long as I can remember, there has never been a strong candidate against him.

    And Republicans don't even try.

    It's a one-party town with only token opposition. He is probably more corrupt than any other major city's mayor, and he remains in office.

    How I wish an African American Republican would run against him. That would be our only chance at getting rid of the thief.