With the mess of sweetheart deals coming to light—what will Mayor Daley’s legacy be?

With the mess of sweetheart deals coming to light—what will Mayor Daley’s legacy be?

Mayor Daley:  Do you care what Chicagoans think of you? 

Do you care that Chicagoans feel like you screwed us over?

Do you feel guilt?  Or do you giggle?  Or do you think you deserved it? 

These are some of the questions that go through my mind when I read Wednesday’s Chicago Tribune detailing another episode wherein Mayor Daley cost me—and the other 2.9 million Chicago taxpayers—more of my hard earned money.

I already think about Mayor Daley (with a few choice words going through my head) every time I put my debit card into one of those parking meter payboxes.  But now, after reading how he has used the pension system to enrich himself and his friends, more choice words regarding Mayor Daley go through my head.   

If you haven’t heard, the former Mayor Daley, through political maneuvering back in 1991, was able to secure himself $183,778.00 in annual public pension benefits.  He receives a city pension of $66,149.00 annually, while also receiving a state pension of $117,629.00.  Back in 1991, Mayor Daley was allowed to re-enter the Illinois legislative pension plan for about one month—although he had been out of the General Assembly for over 10 years.  This allowance boosted his pension $50,000.00 a year while he also avoided paying $400,000.00 into the system to get the benefits. 

Chicago Tribune reporter Jason Grotto wrote:

The Tribune and WGN-TV already have detailed how Daley used the city’s pension funds for political purposes.  In 1991, the same year he secured his much larger pension, Daley’s administration helped aldermen land a dramatic pension increase, providing them with benefits far exceeding those of the average worker.

The same legislation, rushed through the General Assembly on the last day of the session, also gave private labor leaders public pensions based upon their much higher union salaries.  Under Daley’s watch, former Chicago Federation of Labor President Dennis Gannon was given a one-day city job that allowed him to collect a public pension based upon his $200,000 a year private union salary. 

In 1995, when Daley wanted to fund his school reform package, his administration pushed legislation that allowed it to divert $1.5 billion from the Chicago Teachers’ Pensi0n Fund over a 15-year period. 

All the while, Daley blessed benefit increases for city workers without ensuring that payments into the funds would cover the costs, a problem worsened by the economic downturn.  Today, the combined unfunded liabilities of Chicago’s four pension funds have grown to nearly $20 billion, which doesn’t include the $6.8 billion shortfall at the teachers’ fund. 

At best, Mayor Daley was completely incompetent and did not have the foresight to see that borrowing from a pension fund to use toward pet projects could endanger the pension fund.   But an incompetent person doesn’t make the moves he made in 1991 with his own pension. 

Maybe Daley views himself as Robin Hood.  The only problem with that is he took from the middle class that championed him for two decades and gave the money to himself and his friends. 

And I don’t blame the voter for reelecting him.  Because of the stranglehold he had on the Democratic machine, voters were never given a worthy alternative.  Rahm Emanuel said a year prior to his own election as mayor that he would not run against Mayor Daley. 

As his ride into the sunset of his lucrative retirement continues, the question becomes what will his legacy be? 

Will it be the guy who hoodwinked the entire City Council to get his parking meter deal done (in honesty, the City Council hoodwinked itself)?  His shortsightedness on this deal cost taxpayers roughly $1 billion.  Although the city made $1.15 billion after the City Council voted for the deal in December 2008, Mayor Daley has already spent that money by putting it into two years of budget deficits.  So, instead of even attempting to balance the budget his last two years in office, he sold away Chicago parking meters off to a private company for 75 years. 

Maybe he is incompetent?

Will he be the guy that gave his friends and family city contracts to beautify the city?  We all knew what he was doing as he put planters and iron fences throughout Chicago. 

Or will he be remembered like an 18th century doctor that bled people to death?  Hopefully, all of the perks he gave himself, his family and friends over the years won’t bleed this city dry.  Considering the $650 million budget shortfall Mayor Emanuel inherited when he took over, I wonder what Rahm’s candid assessment is on his predecessor?

Or, considering all the federal subpoenas that still make their way to City Hall, maybe he will be remembered like George Ryan or Rod Blagojevich?  If that ever came to pass—at least we wouldn’t be on the hook for his pension.


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  • His daddy is basically remembered for the 1968 convention, that this was the "city that worked," and everyone around him was corrupt, be he supposedly wasn't.

    Probably no different from King Richard II, except there was not the rioting in 1996 that there was in 1968.

    Richard II probably didn't run again, because he realized that after 22 years, he had no more answers, and he didn't want to be hauled out on a stretcher, like da Foist Mare.

    He is reportedly miffed that Rahm says the opposite of that he inherited a well running city.

    But with regard to the pension, I figure that is the price of getting him off the throne. So, unlike the Tribune, I am not enraged.

  • Thanks Jack for reading and commenting. As I hadn't posted in a while, I feared I lost you as a reader.

    I agree with you on the pension. To get $180,000 in retirement benefits through private investment, one would need a bit less than $5 million in investments (assuming taking down 4% annually so you never go through the principal). Maybe I'll do the math to figure out how much that is a year assuming 7% ROI annually. But that just sounds like too much math to make a point. Considering Daley has been in public government for 40 years and mayor for 22 years, $5 million in investment income is not terribly much. If he was CEO of a corporation with a comparable amount of employees as the city has, his compensation package would be much, much more.

    That said, I do curse and think of him everytime I pay a meter. I know I'm not the only one who curses when they pay a meter. I've heard others curse him as I wait in line to pay and curse. Those meters (and the collective cursing) will be his legacy.

    Unless, of course, Pat Fitzgerald gets his way.

    Thanks again Jack.

  • Rahm is cut from the same -- or moldier-- cloth as Richie.

    One might say that Rahm is even more advanced than some city-schlub mayor, in that he has already collected a fortune because of his public position.

    The budget mess is just another thing to be swept into the city's sewers and flushed out for awhile, until it all runs downhill as sh -lude-it will.

    Notice the Infrastructure Slush Fund? Meet the new boss.... who then becomes the old boss, who will be voted up to 1600 Penn Ave.

  • Having lived here for 21 years, I have never seen that much outrage from the general public. Although no one is ever surprised to find out what the pols have been doing (think George Ryan, Rostenkowski, Betty Maltese and Blago to name but a few) it is almost seen as the price you pay for living in Chicago.
    The entire culture (ghost pay-rolling, no-bid contracts etc) is deeply engrained in this city, and Daley helped by not calling it out publicly, and as we now know, being a huge part of it. I can almost hardly blame Mr and Mrs Blago for part of their defense being that he was only doing what everyone else does.

  • Thanks for the column and it takes courage to create and maintain a public blog. But I disagree with the following, number one, Daley did have very good opponents. But to win the office in Chicago you need to inspire the voters and you need money. It is a fact that the black businesses in Chicago refused to back any other candidate. Daley's strategy of divide and conquer worked from day one. Daley would pay off the ministers with vacant lots and grant money, he would then hire a few of us to make it seem like we were running things and with the promise of a few contracts keep the rest at bay. Also to compare him to a CEO is a joke. The man is a fool and always has been. But I will give him this much credit, for the massive theft, he has not left any traces. And his poor wife took all the secrets with her. My sister works for the city and she will never see the incredible pensions that union officials, alderman and the other politicians get.

  • Great article!

    This made me so angry that I am going to have to force myself to look at a romantic comedy to get this out of my head. I've spent time managing programs with the State and consulted for a short time on a project in the mayor's office. After seven years I realized that I just couldn't stomach how politics/policy functions in this city. My feelings on Daley are mixed - I personally observed how he wanted to help certain minority neighborhoods but didn't want the drama that would come from not helping other minority neighborhoods. I also personally observed a genuine passion for improving education. But at the end of the day, I believe (anecdotally and from things that I observed) that he was so entrenched in the system of patronage that he and his father created that he made himself believe that what he was doing wasn't wrong -- which is truly the issue with many politicians in this State.

    I don't know what to make out of Rahm. I think the lack of real "push-back" that he has received from the city council is very concerning. I wonder if he is threatening to whack their family pets or something??
    Either way, I thank God that I am out of that environment. (Sorry for the rant)

  • In reply to Kay S:

    Don't apologize. This is what happens when there is "rule of man" vs "rule of law". Even those who mean well will fail, because they cannot help but pander to those who will keep the political ball rolling.

    It also suggests too much money in politics. If the milk's blood were cut off so too would be the level of corruption.

    Rahm is a mini-dictator, who is, I believe, grooming himself to be president. His former boss likes to rule by executive order and mandate, so it is not surprising that Rahm is not getting any pushback.

  • Your kidding, this guy helped make Chicago the butt of jokes THE WORLD OVER about corruption, and yet he gets elected time & time again.

    WHY would any voters who helped put this guy in office ever have the GUTS to complain now about him!?!?

    The guy had a ACTIVE airport bulldozed in the middle of the night!!!
    If anyone else would have done that they would be serving YEARS in prison for terrorism!

    Chicago voters KNEW what they were getting...(and still are with the new boss in the city)...a lil late to cry about it now.

  • First off Chicago has about 2.6M residents not the 2.9M you mention. During the last ten years of Daley's reign Chicago lost over 200K people. That surely will be as part of Daley's legacy as anything. And yes Chicago has over 20B of unfunded debt. And to pay for that will weaken the City for years to come. Daley the Junior got elected because a lot of people have selective memories . They believed in the "The City that works" none sense from the old Daley but it wasn't. Not to the vast majority of people. Chicago lost people then as well its schools were bad and got worse . Crime got worse, public transit got worse. Public housing was a disaster. Daley Jr. continued somewhat. Downtown got better but the outer parts continued their decay. So people go downtown and think things are better but they're not. Chicago is a Potemkin village . A showy facade masking a corrupt dying shell. Emanual seems to have some good ideas but I think like Daley he will have to much control and make the same mistakes. Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

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