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Monday, September 04, 2006

He can run but can't hide

Daley's record needs airing out for voters

By Dennis Byrne
Chicago Tribune

Quote of the day: "They thought I've lost my mind." --Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley

Having brought it up himself, does the mayor wish to make his mental health an issue if he decides to seek re-election? The debate should be vigorous.

Daley obviously doesn't think (nor do I) that he has lost his mind. He was only raising the issue last week as another part of his tiresome cat-and-mouse game of pretending he hasn't decided to seek re-election. He was explaining how his political advisers told him that he was bonkers if he tried to reform the abysmal Chicago public school system and the Chicago Housing Authority.

At least, that's what Daley said they told him. Attempts to reform the awful schools and projects were certain political losers. So, Daley would have us believe, it was an act of political valor of the first order, a leadership challenge that he had to accept, damn the political consequences, and so forth. Obviously, his "profile in courage" will be the centerpiece of his campaign.

Frankly, I think it all was a calculated act of political genius. Consider the political consequences if he had said those problems weren't his job. Technically, he might have been right, just as running the Chicago Park District and the CTA theoretically is not his job. But nobody falls for the charade that they're not. It would have been a political disaster if he had let the high-profile problems of the schools and public housing projects fester, costing Daley corporate, civic and plenty of other support. So give him credit for taking it on himself, instead of appointing a "blue ribbon" committee, as his father, Mayor Richard J., would have done.

But, has Daley actually solved the problems? When it came to actual school governance, his masterstroke was putting Paul Vallas in charge of the schools. Vallas re-energized the system, but then Daley dumped him because--why? Vallas was getting too big for his britches? All we know is that Daley now claims the glory as his.

Despite Daley's self-acclamation and the "evidence" of student test scores (the abomination of today's education system), I don't know that anyone can really say just how much better or worse the schools are under Daley. But here's one reliable test: How many suburban parents say, "Oh, gee, Chicago's schools are so great, I'm going to move back into the city because I want my kids to get a good education"? If Chicago parents had real choices, such as school vouchers, tens of thousands would abandon the city's public schools. Here's a second test: How many businesses are fighting each other to hire the products of the city's school system?

As for public housing problems? He made them disappear, literally. The miles of high-rise projects by consensus had become so cancerous, and the need to tear them down became so obvious, that to pretend that they could be made safe and livable would have been politically disastrous. Presto, away they went, leaving behind the lingering questions: Where did everyone go, and are the lives of the former residents any better?

So, despite what Daley would have everyone believe, he has not taken the schools and public housing out of play in the upcoming mayoral campaign. He has made them a legitimate campaign issue, and one that might not rebound to his benefit.

But these are only two issues that can challenge Daley. Population and jobs still flow to the suburbs, a larger social trend that can't be blamed on any one big-city mayor. At least not entirely. Here, you have to wonder just how many people want to have nothing to do with Chicago because they understand that the Daley administration begets corruption, and corruption begets higher taxes and higher taxes beget people and businesses getting fed up with it all and moving out? Just how much better could Chicago be without all the corruption?

The challenge is to find legitimate candidates who can credibly challenge Daley on these and other significant issues. Dorothy Brown, Cook County Circuit Court clerk, missed a chance to establish her own credibility when she announced her candidacy last week. Asked if she supported the controversial "big box" minimum wage ordinance, she bobbed and weaved. To be credible, you first must have a position. Not a good start.

© 2006, Chicago Tribune

1 comment:

Stephen Schade said...

Mr. Byrne:

You misunderstand why Chicago's population is shrinking. Indeed, the population increased during the 1990s, primarily because of lower crime and better schools. The influx caused property values and property taxes to skyrocket, pricing out many middle- and low-income people. Ironically, Chicago is suffering from too much of a good thing.