Is Daley Chicago's George W. Bush?

Will Mayor Richard M. Daley become Chicago's own version of former President George W. Bush? The guy who gets blamed for everything bad that has happened?

Could be. As the campaign to succeed Daley unfolds, it's becoming apparent the strongest candidates -- or at least the most credible ones -- are campaigning on a platform of fixing Chicago's grim problems. As they should.

And that means running against Daley. As they should.

One candidate, Gery Chico, who has focused on the city's underperforming -- to put it charitably -- schools, already has ignited Daley's wick. Chico's offense was his assertion that school reform has "lost momentum." That prompted a Daley Hall of Fame retort: ".... Excuse me. He (Chico) was president of the Board of Education. He was president of the City Colleges. He never, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever mentioned that to me." One more "ever" and Daley risked someone slapping him upside the head to unstick his needle.

Then there's Rahm Emanuel. In his candidacy announcement, he attacked the "culture of city government," saying that the tough choices that the city faces have been delayed too long "because of politics and inertia." City government, he said, can no longer be "an insiders' game" serving primarily "the lobbyists and well-connected." Contracts should go to the lowest bidder, not the most connected, and no longer should be "shrouded in secrecy or kept separate from the city budget." He asked why Chicago should still be collecting garbage the same way it has for decades, instead of more efficiently as do other cities. He promised to phase out the head tax, which the business community has long attacked as a major disincentive to job growth.

If this isn't a direct attack on Daley, I don't know what is. Sure, Emanuel and others who pursue this rhetoric will insist that it isn't a personal attack on the mayor, only on some of his policies. They also can distance themselves from appearing to attack Daley by blaming the City Council for the policies. But that would be a hard sell, considering aldermen are rubber stamps to such Daley-initiated disasters as the privatization of the city's parking meters.

There's no getting around the fact that a good portion of the city's dismal financial problems are the result of Daley's decades of bungling. As Bush critics love to say, we're laboring under the burden that the predecessor loaded on us. Digging out will take time, energy and sacrifice, they say. So, in my mind, the mayoral candidate who will be the most credible, will be the one who most clearly enunciates that the Daley-inspired policies have left Chicago drained.

Daley is fleeing massive problems, some that were generated by the recession, but many more that are his progeny. He is handing his successor a bag of ugly stuff, and why anyone would want to accept that load is a puzzle. Being a smart fellow, Daley knows exactly what he's escaping, and I suppose I can't blame him for scramming. His legacy, however, will be less shiny than he probably imagines.

Here's just one of Daley's departing gifts: Pension funds for the city's fire, police, laborers and other municipal workers. A commission -- appointed by Daley -- reported last April that those pensions are so severely underfunded that without "drastic" changes, the pensions will start to run out of funds in "a decade or sooner."

A press release describing the commission's report said: "Fixing the funding issues will cost approximately $710 million per year, growing with inflation for the next 50 years, in addition (my emphasis) to the annual pension contributions required under current law." However, the report points out that "recent changes to state pension laws calling for a two-tiered system with reduced benefits for future employees other than public safety will reduce that cost to approximately $660 million." Gee, only $660 million. Money that the city doesn't have.

Add to that the many other problems besetting Chicago, problems that are unique to Chicago and can't simply be explained away as only a reflection of a struggling national economy. Daley's fingerprints are all over those problems. Daley's a lame duck, but the usual negative connotations attached to that description seem to have escaped Daley. It will be most interesting to see if the candidates have the brass to treat him like one. And, in truth, really mean it.


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  • The question is "really mean it," since Chico and Emmanuel (if you believe Kass) were part of it. Hence, stammering Daley was somewhat right with regard to Chico. I'm sure DeValle didn't get elected clerk without Daley's help.

    The alternative seems to be the candidates from the Hood. However, Meeks seems to be the only one with an independent platform, but, as I noted and polling seems to exist, he doesn't have support in the Hood, and probably has to disassociate himself from his political mentor on 75th Street.

  • Nah. Daley didn't get elected with the intent of destroying the city. Also, he's not a war criminal.

  • Bush and Daley are actually close friends . It is not surprising that they had similar policies especially with regard to privatization and spending.

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