I like Rahm Emanuel, but for me, an admitted carpetbagger, the potential of Emanuel someday running for Chicago mayor is chiefly about building some momentum to finally end the Richard M. Daley Era.
There are only a handful of American cities where the question of who the mayor is takes on national prominence: New York and Chicago for certain, and perhaps D.C., Los Angeles and San Francisco too.
While New York has shamed itself in the nation’s eyes with a continual string of incompetent Gracie Mansion residents (Koch, Dinkins, Giuliani, the ever-private Bloomberg), Chicago has endured one long, humiliating stint of pure, unadulterated Daley.
Gullible Chicagoans first elected Richard M. Daley (son of corrupt Chicago mayor Richard J. Daley) on 1989, and then proceeded to re-elect him five times and counting. When Daley the younger runs for re-election, it’s more of a coronation than a race. He essentially runs uncontested: a popular Democrat in a Democratic town.
When I first moved to flyover country, I thought Daley was the fucking bee’s knees. Being an effective big-city mayor requires a cult of personality, and Daley’s got that down pat. It’s easy to be seduced by Daley’s effective, get-shit-done style of leadership. He can boast of an impressive list of accomplishments: adding lots of green space to the city, booming business, expanding neighborhoods.
Once you peek behind the curtain, though, Daley’s warts become apparent, and his accomplishments become blighted by the manner in which he achieved them.
First of all, Daley’s corrupt. Obviously. I mean, it is Chicago, after all, and his last name is Daley. No one here really seems to mind though. Through the Hired Truck Scandal, the Patronage Scandal, corrupt aldermen, and a slew of other scandals to hit Daley and his trusted inner circle, Chicago has largely played The City of Big Shrugging Shoulders, content to look the other way and ignore such details as long as things were generally going OK for the city.
Well, things are not going OK.
The economy sucks everywhere, but Chicago has been particularly ill-equipped to deal with the downturn. (I mean it’s not Detroit or anything, but we’re talking about one of the country’s three most prominent cities here.) The city’s budget is perpetually in crisis, to the point that city employees are required to take an ever-increasing number of unpaid furlough days (well, most city employees).
Meanwhile, the city has sold off or leased much of its infrastructure to private interests, a desperate, shortsighted scheme that will impact Chicago’s financial outlook and lifestyle for generations to come. You have to pay to park everywhere in this city now, and when you get a ticket, it’s doubly insulting because you know your money is going straight to a fucking investment group. In addition to roads and parking meters, the city’s also discussed privatizing airports and water.
Then, there was Daley’s special pet project – the failed bid to host the 2016 Olympics, and a failed attempt by the mayor to secure his legacy. The bid alone cost the cash-strapped city more than $100 million; imagine what hosting the actual games would have cost, especially given Daley’s propensity for lying and backroom deals. And all that for the chance to host an Olympiad, which history has shown typically grants its host city zero tangible benefits. But hey, Richard Daley woulda been on the teevee!
Have I mentioned Chicago’s murder rate? No? Let’s put it this way: every year on New Year’s Eve, when most people are making resolutions, I’m giving thanks that I made it through the year without being gutshot. At least Chicago Public Schools, which Daley famously wrested control of, are in great shape. Wait…they aren’t? But Chicago cops are the country’s finest, no? Oh. Shit.
Even Daley’s supposed successes, like Millennium Park, have been fraught with cost overruns and controversy. Daley’s not a mayor, he’s a fucking king. And it’s time for some political regicide.
Will Rahm Emanuel be a significant improvement over Daley? Don’t know. God knows he’s just as much of an egotist. But at least he won’t actually be Daley. And that’s worth something at this point. Also, he’s got nine fingers, which is cool.
We need a new hope.