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The Three Chicagos of Richard M. Daley
Culture, Constituencies & Clout in the Windy City
by Richard Lindberg
Copyright © 2007

I was born and raised in "Daley Country"—not in Irish Bridgeport—the fabled 11th Ward where the Patron Saints of the last big city "Machine" in America made their bones, but in the land before O'Hare, the Far Northwest Side of Chicago.

This is where I made my bones; deep in heart of the Bungalow Belt of Chicago, with its miles of unassuming low-to-the ground residential architecture designed for the common man. Today, much of the outer rim of the Bungalow Belt forms the last bastion of white Chicago. It is one of the "Three Chicagos" of Richard M. Daley.

To my grandparents' generation, the purchase of a brick or frame bungalow represented the highest attainment in life. It was a place to call home; a comfort in old age, and something of value to leave to your kids at a time in our history when a passbook savings account was the golden path to retirement. More than 100,000 of these sturdy homes sprouted on the windy prairie following World War I. They were sold on the installment plan by developers to first and second generation Irish, Poles, Swedes, Italians, Danes, Norwegians, Czechs, Croats, Germans and all the other tribes of the European melting pot for $500.00 down.

I grew up in a stolid red brick bungalow purchased by my grandfather in 1927 when this side of town was a remote suburban resort community located nine miles northwest of smokestack Chicago. These days, my feelings about the neighborhood are ambiguous and conflicted. On the one hand I still live here and feel very safe in my surroundings. I respect my neighbors for their sturdy, work before play ethic, although without children in my household, I suppose that qualifies me as a certifiable conformist.

The neighbors are industrious and family-centric in every way. But I can also remember the intolerance and cold-shoulder attitude toward newcomers and those who failed to conform to a proscribed set of social mores, and I am not talking about people of color because in the 1950s and 1960s there were no people of color living out this way. The only time I encountered a black person were during holiday shopping trips downtown on the streetcar or CTA elevated line with my mother and grandmother who raised me, minus a father. There one could find them on State Street, although I seem to recall a time when the big department stores did not welcome African Americans as customers, but that is another story.

I experienced the thorns of intolerance from my vantage point as a child growing up in a broken home. In Roman Catholic Norwood it was a great shame to admit to one's peers that your parents were divorced. I kept that dirty secret all the way through eighth grade at Onahan School. Because I was perceived as "different" I was teased and tormented all through grammar school. My best friend committed suicide at age 22 because the scorn and ridicule he had felt as a social pariah amongst these good Parish people was too much to bear. These lasting scars will never heal.

Life moves on at a slower pace as conformity and anxiety co-mingle. Nervous parents of school-age children scheme and contrive to send their offspring to the Catholic high schools or safely out of district to ensure a "quality education" (Code words for gang-free, white suburban school). It's been that way ever since 1979 when the first black students were bussed into all-white Taft High School to satisfy federally mandated quotas. In these politically sensitive times when overt racism is de rigueur, no one would dare admit to such a thing of course unless it is whispered in confidence to the next door neighbor in the smoky haze of backyard barbecues on warm summer nights; or private block parties arranged with the help of the Ward Committeeman.

Make no mistake. This is still Daley's Chicago a perfect order to life is sustained by crime-free streets, verdant lawns manicured and nursed through the draught of summer, neighborhood watch patrols and a Citizen's Association to keep a reproachful eye on real estate development. Four thousand cops and firefighters reside in the 41st Ward. Hemmed in by tough residency requirements, they would flee Norwood Park and its more affluent neighbor to the north, Edison Park, in a heartbeat if only the city would relent. Were such a suburban exodus to begin, the soaring property values ($300,000 for a common Chicago bungalow, imagine!) would likely fall, and the third leg of Richard M. Daley's power base would crumble in the crush of runaway cops, paramedics, sewer workers, firemen and building inspectors seeking refuge in the fast-growing, mostly homogenous counties of DuPage, Lake and Kane. But that will never happen with the racial and ethnic composition of the city teetering in a state of precarious balance.

In this predominantly Roman Catholic community in the most segregated city in America, the name of the game is real estate property values and pride in home ownership. If you are a good homeowner who respects your neighbors, you rake and mulch and shovel and sweep and go to Sunday mass. You look up to the younger Daley as the natural leader of his party and the City of Chicago, because you remember his father so well and will always cherish his blessed memory. Homeowners who lived through the harrowing days of the 1968 Democratic Convention riots, to this day, applaud Richard J.'s "Get out of town!" edict against the Hippies, Yippies and Weathermen camping out in Lincoln Park as if they owned the place. "What trees do they plant?" Daley sputtered and snarled, as he contrasted his "Keep Chicago Clean" ward beautification programs with the unfathomable chaos in the streets that had descended upon his city. The Mayor's controversial decision earlier that year to allow his cops to "shoot to kill" looters amid the turmoil on the West Side accompanying the assassination of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, earned respect in the Bungalow Belt.

Regardless of one's political stripes, the elder Daley is held in the highest esteem, and his son Richie is respected as the legitimate successor to the throne by these meat and potato Reagan Democrats who prefer to remember the party as it was in the time of Harry Truman—a friend of the working man, a champion of trade unions, and a natural enemy of the "high hats"—and not as they see it today, a party of kooks, crazies, and activists.

Daley is not only the logical choice. He is the only choice. "If not Richie then who? The panic among Northwest Side homeowners in 1983 when the late Harold Washington stood on the verge of becoming the city's first African-American mayor serves as a reminder of how divided and polarized we are as a people. In the closing hours of that tense three-cornered race pitting Washington against incumbent Mayor Jane Byrne, Republican challenger Bernard Epton, and a young Daley, precinct workers in the 41st Ward raced from door to door, urging the elderly people to get out and vote…before it was too late! How well I remember my poor 70-year-old mother, full of apathy and bitter resignation that things couldn't get much worse, being chased up a flight of stairs by one such solicitor while a CBS camera man trailed behind, his tape rolling for the 10:00 news. "I'm too old to care," she told the man. "I only go to the store once a week." Still, he was persistent and appealed to her reason. "This is for our property values."

Rising property values in the Bungalow Belt also mean rising property taxes. Freshly dormered attics, two car Danley garages and the scarcity of low-income housing drive up the values and put the squeeze on elderly pensioners and empty nesters who have resided under these ancient Dutch Elms since they fled their racially changing inner-city neighborhoods 40-50 years earlier. Broken-hearted seniors who maintained their homes with a fervor bordering on fanaticism were forced out in the twilight of life. Treasured mementos and bric-a-brac were left to the weekend garage sale scavengers as the adult children sold off the items piecemeal.

Properties were acquired by an advancing army of cops, firemen, and Polish-speaking Solidarity immigrants flooding Portage Park, Cragin and Jefferson Park in the 1980s and 1990s. Lately, Polish is the language most often overheard in the delicatessens and bakeries along the Belmont Avenue retail corridor near Austin Avenue. The steady stream of Polish immigration into these neighborhoods have formed a natural "buffer zone" between the poor and displaced of the West Side and the Far Northwest Side single-family homeowners.

Surprisingly, the 41st Ward has sent the last two Republican aldermen to serve in the Chicago City Council. There are more Republicans counted on the voter rolls than the rest of the city combined. Yet, it will continue to remain a Daley stronghold, even in those years when the Organization decides to run some poor, under-funded lamb against Brian Doherty, the boyish looking incumbent likely to hold his seat for many years to come. I fancy that Richard M. Daley is rather amused to have a lone Republican occupying space in his City Council.

To residents living in other areas of the Daley Triangle—the downtown Chamber of Commerce civic boosters melding with the artsy "Lakefront Liberals" east of Ashland Avenue who support the mayor for entirely different reasons than the Teamster with a mortgaged bungalow; or Hispanics shut out of political power for so long that they welcomed Richie's patronage with open arms, the attitudes and opinions of the Bungalow Belt residents are mostly irrelevant and therefore ignored.

The three Daley constituencies exist in a vacuum; narrowly viewing one another with suspicion and mistrust. It is to the Mayor's advantage to keep the base of his support isolated but content, and the responsibility falls to the Organization Aldermen with long incumbencies; Eddie Burke (14th), Dick Mell (33rd), Mary Ann Smith (48th), Marge Laurino (39th), Bernie Stone (50th), Thomas Allen (38th), William J.P. Banks (36th), Ginger Rugai (19th), Burton Natarus (42nd), Patrick Levar (45th) and Pat O'Connor (40th), knowing that ward boundaries as presently constituted are large enough and important enough to narrowly overcome an African-American vote that would surely sink the administration if a "fusion" candidate with Harold Washington's personal charm and charisma were to chip away at the traditional strongholds.

A "fusion" candidate representing a cross-section of the "Three Chicago's" and the African-American community cannot be found. Despite the innumerable corruption scandals, incidents of influence peddling, abusive cops, flagging credibility and frivolous Aldermanic debate over attaching diaper bags to carriage horses on Michigan Avenue, banning marijuana flavored candy and mandatory height requirements for downtown crossing guards, Chicagoans will automatically vote the Daley ticket, because they fear a worse alternative.

The latest census data shows that Chicago's voting population is 42 percent white, 37 percent black and 21 percent Hispanic, but the demographics are changing. Gentrification in the central city and an expanding Hispanic population crowding into the Grand Avenue corridor and southwest along Ogden Avenue are slowly pushing blacks out. Whites are re-populating former African-American enclaves to the immediate west and near south. Meanwhile, a new Hispanic-majority ward is likely to take shape by the next census, altering a near equilibrium of 20 black-majority wards and 23 white-majority wards. It is interesting to note that among Chicago's 50 wards, only two are represented by Aldermen who are not members of the racial majority in that ward.For now, chronically low voter turnouts in minority neighborhoods provide the Mayor with a decisive advantage.

The one-and a-half million Hispanics (the Mexican community is by far the largest) who live in Chicago constitute the third largest voting group of its kind in the United States, but as political analyst Russ Stewart has observed: "….no fruit will be born in Chicago. Most Mexican-Americans in Chicago are first-generation non-citizens, and most can't vote. As Hispanics get more affluent they move out to the suburbs and often to the collar county suburbs." Yet, Latinos hold the keys to the kingdom without fully realizing the implications. To be sure, Daley studies the changing demographics and he has doled out his patronage plums accordingly. He knows that he will need 90 percent of the combined Hispanic/white vote, and only five percent of the African-American vote to keep his job.

The mayor has tabbed key operatives within the Latino wards, among them Victor Reyes, who served as an Assistant to the Mayor before moving up to the directorship of the Mayor's Office of Intergovernmental Affairs from 1995 to 2002. Unfortunately for Reyes, his Hispanic Democratic Organization (HDO) was linked to the scandal-ridden Hired Truck Program that has raised the ire of the moribund Cook County Republican Party who decry what they perceive to be a serious leadership gap in Chicago.

In 2005 Cook County Republican Party Chairman Gary Skoien announced a $10,000 bounty to anyone who would agree to come forward with incriminating evidence leading to Rich Daley's indictment and conviction, but the media dismissed it as an amusing publicity stunt. Among the people who matter the most, the city voter, Skoien was riding a dead horse with his crusade to raise the bar on voter discontent and restore the semblance of a two-party system to Chicago. He filed 16 ethics complaints charging 16 aldermen with conducting political fund raising out of taxpayer-funded ward offices. He estimated that $1.5 million dollars was paid to rent aldermanic offices where political activity went on and waited for a ground swell of public support that never materialized. Gary Skoien miscalculated and was fired by his employer, the Prime Group Inc., where the CEO happens to be a Daley supporter. Internet bloggers ridiculed the whole affair. Worse, nobody listened to what he had to say because nobody really cared. It brings to mind the backroom parlance of another era, "Make no waves, and we don't want nobody sent."

"Gary Skoien's termination highlights the tentacles that the Chicago Democratic Machine has in the metropolitan region," commented Tony Peraica, a Cook County Commissioner since 2002. "What happened to Gary is outrageous both for he, and his family and for the larger Chicago and Cook county business community. Step out of line and you'll get squashed, that's the message sent by the Daley machine. This action reinforces two important truths: first, it explains why good people don't get into public service; and second, it highlights that the need is greater than ever for political leadership in Chicago and Cook County that challenges the status quo."

In the real world (that is, the world outside of Cook County), one would think that younger, more affluent, urban white-collar professionals who pledge to PBS, volunteer for walk-a-thons to fight breast cancer or the latest "cause de jour," would be outraged by allegations of municipal malfeasance and challenge the status quo, but it is not the case. With a Starbucks on every corner, the small jazz & blues venues, singles bars, and new store front theatre operations opening for business every week, and the Cubbies playing baseball nearby, the 60657, 60610, and 60614 gaggle of urban aesthetes much prefer that the real world not intrude upon their bread and circuses As Crain's Chicago Business ruefully noted in a February 2005 editorial: "Maybe we're naïve. Corruption has been a way of life here for generations. Scandals have been exposed, officials prosecuted and reforms enacted, but the culture of cronyism endures."

In truth, Richard M. Daley is hailed as part of the "new breed" of "progressive" big city mayors by informed, socially liberal people who reject their parents' suburban cul-de-sacs and homogenous shopping centers as much too boring for their eclectic tastes. With a sizeable chunk of mommy and daddy's money to help them get started in the 60657 Zip Code, the 20-something transients seized the chance to partake in a real "urban "safari" within the gentrified city neighborhoods teeming with trendy jazz clubs, taverns, art galleries and nouvelle cuisine restaurants. That is, until it is time for them to pack up and race back to the suburbs once marriage and children are in the cards.

While they are still here and contentedly sipping their Lattes, the lakefront hipsters pay lip service to the doctrine of social tolerance, inclusion and Richard M. Daley who proudly marched in the City's gay-pride parade, demonstrating a brand of liberalism that would have made their parents squirm and Richard J. simmer, were he around to see it today. "This is not our parents' Daley," they are happily convinced. That Richie is practicing shrewder, 21st Century brand of politics diverting attention from a myriad of government contracting scandals is either lost or simply irrelevant as they gaze upon miles of flower boxes and decorative wrought iron fencing circling our gas stations, public parks, and abandoned lots.

From end to end, you will hear people say just how wonderful the city looks. The architects, developers and Chamber of Commerce mavens are all aglow, and Chicago's business community and tightly-wound corporate boards couldn't be more supportive, at least outwardly. But at what cost to the taxpayer, the landlord and the small business entrepreneur? Crain's noted that "the near meltdown of city, county and state finances raised public awareness that taxpayers pay the fright on all those insider deals that make government more expensive."

Chicago is praised as a spectacular vision of green parkland, office towers, a new downtown theatre district and millions of square feet of condominiums. Gone are the Rush Street strip clubs, the pin-ball arcades on Randolph; the Greyhound Bus Station where pimps congregated; the old X-rated Shangri-La movie house on North State; "B-Girl" clip joints and the seedy bookstores that once lined South State opposite the big Sears Roebuck flagship store. Chicago is no longer that "Toddlin' Town," offering lonely conventioneers a cheap thrill for the cost of a High Ball and a 50-cent cover charge at the "Talk of the Town" on North Clark Street. The sizzle in the swizzle stick is a relic of another time. One by one Mr. Kelly's, the Happy Medium and the other spectacular nightclubs of yesteryear closed. A colorful supporting cast of Runyonesque characters prowling the Near North thoroughfare in the 1950s were chased out of town. In 1974, home boy Hugh Hefner shuttered the Mansion and literally and figuratively fled for the hills — Beverly Hills — because of his disgust with the new moral priggishness.

In the reign of Richard J., it was understood that whatever financial crimes, insider real estate deals and payoffs regulated by the Tom Keanes, Vito Marzullos and their ilk were indemnified, providing the powerful ward sachems respected the moral code and went home to their wives every night. The Cardinal, the Mayor and the Archdiocese decided what would play at the Roxy and what would not, and slowly Chicago began to change.

One might reasonably argue that too much moral atonement is not a good thing for a city such as Chicago with a swaggering reputation to uphold. The sassy "Wicked City" of the 1930s, forties and early fifties atrophied and vanished by the 1980s with the closing of the "Candy Store" because such places were a great moral affront to the Daleys, the Bungalow culture and the Catholic Church. By the time of Rich Daley's ascension to City Hall in 1989, Chicago was scrubbed, cleansed and sanitized, at least superficially. Besides, the Chicago Outfit lost interest and the values of land once occupied by the old buckets of blood, soared.

Real estate is the prime mover these days, specifically condos, condos, and more condos. Everywhere you look a condo. What are we to make of the exterior signage fronting every new condo that this next project promises to become the next example of true "Luxury Living?" Displaced victims of neighborhood gentrification, uprooted and driven out of changing communities, chuckle at the bitter irony. Within a decade city housing has gone from "barely affordable" to "unaffordable." A saner policy of locking in property values with built-in inflation adjustments would go a long way toward stabilizing out-of-control development, foster a movement toward building communities intelligently and bridge a racial divide that is Chicago's most serious social problem of the New Millennium.

Downtown developers form the third leg of the Daley triangle. Development is the watchword these days, from the blooming flower boxes dividing the center of the boulevards to the "Bean" in Millennium Park. Indeed, this Daley has "made no little plans."

At the time of the Park's conception in 1998, the Mayor Daley announced that parking garage revenues and the philanthropy of private donors would foot the entire $150,000,000 cost. However, staggering cost overruns (final price tag: $475,000,000, or triple the original estimate) and the four-year delay from the promised delivery date to the time of completion mattered little to the Fourth of July celebrants and the urban adventurers pushing around baby strollers in the Park as they gaped at the spectacle of nighttime fireworks silhouetted against the evening sky. "Oh, Glorious Fourth! Oh Chicago! Stacker of Wheat, Hog Butcher to the World!" Try repeating that again with a straight face.

How quickly people forget that the last Chicago hog was slaughtered in 1971, and manufacturing, once the lifeblood of the city economy, has mostly drained away. The South Works are shuttered; factories lie in ruins, and unemployed union men and women are working the counter at McDonald's or lining up to cash unemployment checks. Planned Manufacturing Districts (PMDs), a noble concept introduced by City Hall, have been slow to yield their fruit as the sucking wind of condo developers buy up properties and devour everything in their path. Meanwhile, Southwest Suburban mayors along the I-55 and I-80 transportation corridors reap the whirlwind of a booming rail/air logistics distribution network, shipping goods across the nation and around the world.

The modern-day Windy City is all about tourism, conventions and entertainment, one reason the Mayor has been so hot to trot for a land-based downtown casino, ignoring distress calls from the Chicago Crime Commission that such a venture is certain to re-invigorate organized crime. William Jahoda, a former wise guy who ran the "biggest and most lucrative illegal gambling operation" in the city warned that "every pimp, burglar, grafter, car thief, booster, arsonist, counterfeiter, whore, dope dealer, con man, hijacker, extortionist from six continents" will converge upon Chicago once Daley's entertainment complex is launched. In an eye-opening 1992 letter to the CCC, a time when the Mayor was pushing the gambling scheme full throttle, Jahoda predicted that a Chicago casino would be "a stone-lock score-and-a-half" for the Outfit.

Build it and they will come. Build it and 36,000 low-paying service jobs are sure to follow. But so far, the dream of a land-based downtown casino has eluded Daley's grasp. It is the only brick and mortar edifice the Mayor hasn't been able to build from the ground up during his regime.

"Daley has become our 21st Century Daniel Burnham!" so sayeth renowned city architect Stanley Tigerman. All around town construction booms, especially in the Loop west of Wabash Avenue. The P.R. mantra surrounding new buildings will always trump criticism and negative perceptions. It is a lesson handed down from Daley to Daley.

In the private sector, abandoning the economies of scale and consideration for architectural preservation, the big skyscraper developers continue to add supply to a historically weak office leasing market. Gleaming new Class A office towers rise in the West Loop and Central Business District, leaving behind a trail of empty space in older, obsolete East Loop buildings, thus contributing to the exodus of the big law firms and financial houses into more desirable locations. Commercial brokers complain about persistently soft leasing markets. Desperate landlords are offering negative lease rates just to stop the bleeding. From 2000-2005, developers added 9.5 million square feet of downtown office space with another 2.4 million in the construction pipeline, despite an anemic job market and fewer office workers to fill the floors. Significantly, 29 percent of the city's retail investment capital is from foreign investors.

Ribbon cuttings bolster the image of big city Mayors, their administrations, and help build legacies. Daley the Builder will chisel his name in stone alongside the names of the great mayors of the past who reversed the flow of the Chicago River, dug the drainage canal and opened the Merchandise Mart. Meanwhile, the Downtown office vacancy rates have locked in at the 20 percent range, among the highest in the nation, with no indication thus far of going down.

My best guess is Richard M. Daley will be the Mayor of the "State of Chicago" as long as he wants to, or at least one day longer than his father. When the time comes to depart, he will leave behind the albatross of a political machine that will not know how to function, because the Regular Democratic Organization is so used to receiving its marching orders that it cannot think for itself. The question left to ponder is whether Chicago will be a better place without Daley, or will it become another Detroit if the politics of race and fear mongering factor into the likely power struggle?

Chicago is still the "City that Works"….for some more than others. The three Chicagos of Richard M. Daley is a mirror image of "Balkanized" Chicago and its historically divided cultures, ethnicity and religions. How different is it now from the 1850s when Irish Catholics and Anglo-Saxon Protestants sparred with one another over the issue of saloon closings? Power breeds contempt, and the old resentments boiling just below the surface in this "controlled" city will result in political chaos likely to drag on for decades to come once he is gone.

Like it or not, Chicago needs a viable two-party system. The model works in New York City, but does not stand much of a chance here as long as voters cling to the outdated canard that the "Democrats are the party of the working people," based on hoary Depression Era rhetoric passed down from one generation to the next by simpletons. The voice of independents and Republicans with a vision challenging the status quo will be stifled.

A quarter of a century from now, Daley's legacy will not be measured within the context of office towers, flower boxes on Ashland Avenue or "the Bean" in Millennium Park, but rather as the last big-city czar who re-fortified invisible and impenetrable walls that hermetically seal one class of people from another. The sad thing is, it should never have come to that.

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