I do not live in the city, but I utilize all the things that have been buffed and polished during Mayor Daley’s term. I realize that we can always expect more and do better, but my vantage point as a Detroit transplantee encourages me to amplify all the progress and minimize the shortcomings during the Richard II years. I love living here.
The riots of the 60’s chased the White population out of downtown Detroit, and there was no returning. A vacuum of leadership enabled the political landscape to erode into chaos. Even in a ramshackle and deserted city like Detroit, there is plenty of federal funding to plunder, plenty of opportunity to exploit. Corrupt and self interested mayors like Coleman Young and Kwame Kilpatrick, coupled with a weak City Council, chased business to the suburbs. Now the city of Detroit looks like a war zone, with a very few oases of industry…mostly sports venues and casinos. It is heartbreaking to me.
Maybe I set the bar lower for Daley because of my Detroit roots. But every time I gaze upon this wondrous city I flash back to what might have been, had the city not been overseen by a man who passionately loves it. Richard M wished to extend and enlarge the legacy of his Father. It is a desire that accrued to the people of Illinois, Chicago and its suburbs.
When I started law school in the South Loop in the 80’s, the State Street mall area was being abandoned. If I had a night class, I had to be escorted to the parking garage, which was a short block south of Binyon’s. Columbus Drive marked the end of civility. The neighborhood adjacent to Moody Bible was strafed by streetwalkers and danger. Many sections of the city that we use every day have made the pivot from slum to commerce. How quickly we forget grit and take beauty for granted.
Of course there is work to do. But there is a vital base to build upon. We are ready for phase 2.
I do not know Rahm Emmanuel. I know he continues Daley’s passion for Chicago. He inherits a beautifully realized downtown, clean and safe. Our museums, parks, theater district, world class shopping and architecture beckon suburbanites and citizens of the world. We all puff with pride, knowing that Chicago is one of the best places in America to live or visit. The challenges percolate below the glorious veneer: fatigued infrastructure, bad schools, disenfranchised neighborhoods. The biggest impediment to the future glory is debt. All Big Fixes take more money than flower boxes. Most of them do not encourage the philanthropy that a Millennium Park and Pritzker amphitheater attract. The future of the city resides in the schools and the neighborhoods. These will need the immediate and constant attention of the incoming Mayor and his appointees. They will all have their hands full.
But as we close out an era where my native city has died, I am especially appreciative to be a Chicagoan. One of Mayor Richard M Daley’s Chicagoans. I never had the chance to live downtown, and when I moved here, such a choice would be folly. Today, all of my children are city residents. My daughter in law teaches there. Their lives are broadened and enriched by their experiences. I hope that attention to education will mean that they can raise their families there, if they choose.
Richard II is not the most eloquent man. He may have an affinity for keeping his friends close, and his enemies closer. Some may have been given an advantage, some may have taken it. But he had a dream for the future of our city on the Lake, and we all benefit from its realization.
The newspapers are rife with report cards, critiques, and lists of hits and misses made by Richard M. Daley. Public service means every taxpayer gets to crow “I pay your salary, so I get to criticize whatever I want”. I know- I am just finishing out a run as a trustee in my quiet, issue-challenged Village of Western Springs. Ironically, it is the Village of John Kass, critic extraordinaire. I used to be a critic, or the resident asking “why don’t you do ______?” The responsibility of making the legal/ethical/useful decision is much harder and nuanced than rhetorical questions. Generally, there is a succinct and logical response to the “why not?” question or the unsolicited mandate. (I guess I am gratified that Mr. Kass never had a big problem during my tenure. Maybe I should hush, I have 2 weeks left).
Coming from my rear view mirror of a destroyed Detroit, I appreciate that the view ahead is one of possibility. I just wish to say “thank you” to Mayor Daley for the years of passion and rejuvenation.
Rahm Emmanuel does not start from a place of hopelessness. He inherits a polished gem, and will be challenged to improve its structural integrity. It is a little back-assward, I admit. But it is a quantum leap from starting from despair. To the scathing masses, I say- there is much to celebrate. Try it.