When I was really young … maybe 7 years old, there was a somewhat large banquet hall that was a long walk (for a 7 year old) from my home. It was a supper club and performance hall. I remember my parents telling me that Frank Sinatra was there opening night a few years earlier. But one night, President Jimmy Carter was coming. I’m not sure why, but I think it must have been a fundraiser.
I remember walking down two blocks and walking part way to the busy street and waiting to see the president. He arrived late, and I had to go home before he got there. I remember my mom pointing out someone “that’s the mayor’s son … I bet he’ll be mayor some day”.
Richard M. Daley was very young back then. Heck, I was too. He was a distant friend of my uncle’s.
Fast forward 11 years. It is about a month before I graduate from high school. Daley was elected to the office his father had held when I was born.
Fast forward 22 years.
Unlike his father, Richard M. has survived to walk out of the mayor’s office. He has that going for him. On the one hand, he took over a city that was far from the best of shape. Murder rates were high, the city had decayed away under largely ineffective leadership. Daley, much like his father, took the reigns of government and get the city going again. In his tenure, the lakefront was reborn. His father’s attempts to segregate the city through high rise tenaments came to an end … they are nearly all gone. A lot of the city is still in bad shape, but it is better today. A political convention came to Chicago for the first time since the Chicago Police beat up the hippies. He negotiated Boeing out of Seattle. He set Chicago on the path to a “can’t miss Olympics” … only to see them fizzle out with a slap to the face by the IOC. Chicago will likely not bid for the Olympics any time soon. When the state and federal government told him he couldn’t take over Meigs Field, he sent city workers out to paint big “X”s on the runways, and then tore them up.
Of course, it came at a cost. The city is largely broke. The City recently made billions selling off the parking, toll, and Midway airport concessions, but that money disappeared in years instead of decades. Improvement cost money … that money was more than the city had, and the city is in debt.
The debt issue is going to be left to his successor … an outsider who was not part of the Chicago machine. It has been the better part of a century since this happened. It will be interesting to see what will happen.
Much like his father, we will be living with the effects of this mayor for decades to come … for all of the good and all of the bad.