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.