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The “City that works” a potential national laughingstock

Friday, Jul 28, 2006

My Sun-Times column this week is a bit of a departure for me. I blog about Chicago and Cook County politics, but I don’t often write about them, unless they have a state connection. This one has no such connection.

Most pundits have decided that they no longer want Mayor Daley’s political machine running things, but almost no thought has been given to what could happen if the “enemy” is ever vanquished.

It’s a little bit like the debate over enforcing democracy in the Middle East. Is the end result worth the chaos?

Unlike Iraq, there won’t be gun battles in Chicago’s streets if the Machine finally falls, but there will be plenty of political chaos.

And for those of you too lazy to click through and read the whole thing but still motivated enough to post comment, this is in no way a pro-machine column.

- Posted by Rich Miller        

  1. - Reddbyrd - Friday, Jul 28, 06 @ 6:32 am:

    CaptFax had a nice thing going ignoring the City beat.
    The pundits never wanted teh Daley’s charge, but the publishers and station owners are just fine with the situation. It called a stable economy stupid.
    All the handwringers and haters call for change and believe Daley should go, but the folks plunking down the heavy coin to live across the street from the former CaptFax HQ want calm.
    Therefore Daley stays as long as he wants.

  2. - Cesane - Friday, Jul 28, 06 @ 6:41 am:

    I would like to see in my lifetime the City of Chicago shed itself of the old-guard cronyism and political structure to really unlock the potential of this city. That can only happen if we get rid of the kingpin. Daley.

  3. - Larry - Friday, Jul 28, 06 @ 7:06 am:

    This morning on WVON radio Cliff Kelly mentioned that a complaint was filed against Cook County States Attorney Dick Devine about his role in the John Burge torture cases.

  4. - Pat Hickey - Friday, Jul 28, 06 @ 7:51 am:

    I too look forward to an age of Progressive realism; where pigeons no longer stain the statuary; where the union of man and man/woman and woman produces the off-spring necessary to sustain a loving planet; where community activists can order enough T-shirts to really put and end to gun violence; where increasing a part time ( 35 of 50) Alderman to a salary commensurate to the failed economics of corporate CEO’s who rarely work in best interests of their shareholders; where public icons have no civic virtue; where people of faith can be brought to court and sued; where MY thoughts on all things are really important; and where I can nestle in the funding of University based ‘Centers’ of doctrine and correct living; where every citizen gets it good and hard for his/her own good; where we can achieve a life that celebrates no crime too horrific or dysfunction too personal in a very public way; and where I can bring my pot-bellied pet pig into the Garfield Park for a feed-and greet with Loretta Swit; and my children can be proud in the fact that their Dad loves ’short haired women and long-haired men’ who have struggled to convince all of us that abortion is a good thing and that Catholics can not be good because of our fealty to German Pope in an Italian City State. Free Patty Columbo! And Free T-Shirts to the Children!

  5. - Levois - Friday, Jul 28, 06 @ 8:46 am:

    This is a good column perhaps strong leadership somewhere, whether the mayor’s office or elsewhere, is how one governs a city like Chicago. Somebody just has to be the voice of reason.

  6. - Burton's Hurtin for Certain - Friday, Jul 28, 06 @ 9:01 am:

    Presented with a historic opportunity to enact some meaningful ordinances after years of mayoral dominance the Chicago City Council chooses to pursue the passage of bills dealing with esoteric trivia and half baked ideas from the lunatic fringe. What a waste.

  7. - Mariner - Friday, Jul 28, 06 @ 9:03 am:

    If you think it’s funny now, imagine if Peraica wins this fall.

  8. - Yellow Dog Democrat - Friday, Jul 28, 06 @ 9:07 am:

    Pat -

    They say he who defines the terms wins the wars, so let me take a stab at progressive realism for you:

    -A city where “sweeping education reform” actually results in better schools;

    -A city who’s recycling program actually ends up recycling stuff;

    -A city where the public trusts its own police force;

    -A city where neighbors don’t have to make campaign contributions or stage a public protest to have a voice in everyday development decisions;

    -A city that works for people besides the insiders.

    Miller is right: this city is not well-served by putting Burt Natarus at the helm. Given the recent, colorful speches he’s made on dog-poo, we ought to retire him and make him the city’s Honorary Dogcatcher.

  9. - Ravenswood Right Winger - Friday, Jul 28, 06 @ 9:16 am:

    Pat Hickey: “Free Patty Columbo!” LOL!!! The Chicago Tribune story notes that two members of the IL Parole Board are former IL State Reps: Jesse Madison (D) from Chicago, who voted for parole, and Craig Findley (R) from Central IL, who voted against.

  10. - Pat Hickey - Friday, Jul 28, 06 @ 9:21 am:


    Excellent litany of good government and, as always, convincing in its conviction from your pen.

    My problems lie not in the script but with the cast.

    And them’s just the lads ( and ladies) to lead the way to my skewed view of progressive politicians! You guys are asking Andy Dick to play a role written for Gene Hackman. He’ll star but . . .????

  11. - BuckTurgidson - Friday, Jul 28, 06 @ 9:34 am:

    “And for those of you too lazy to click through and read the whole thing…”

    Sigh. Your cynicism is well placed - though it looks like everyone thus far has troubled themselves to read.

    I think perhaps “national laughingstock” might be a little harsh (though it’s no “Beruit by the Lake” - a name that would be once again sadly relevant).

    To be sure, Daley has never been weaker. I think he could handle the corruption fatigue alone, but his wife’s near miraculous reception to treatment notwithstanding, metastatic cancer is gravely serious - and Daley is famously close to his wife - so her sickness (along with his advancing age) is no doubt adding to the toll.

    I am fascinated by the SEIU push to compete for as many seats as possible. I’m certain they’ll pick up a few - but oddly enough, by forcing some of the alderfolk to fight for their seats, they may actually knock them down a peg or two (which wouldn’t be so terrible).

    Make no mistake, all things being equal (ie Maggie’s health stays strong, and the fed doesn’t get too close), Daley will be reelected in February next winter.

    What will be fascinating to see is the jockeying for 2011. Books just might be written about that.

    The traditional alliances might just fly out the window, too. Black voters will be no monolith - because I suspect the West Siders have grown weary to taking a back seat to the South Side. Labor is clearly already divided between service and trades. Whites between moderate/blue collar and progressives.

    And then again, maybe one or two deals get cut, and before we know it, someone cruises in with hardly a fight.

    BTW - speaking of Daley, anyone see the Trib piece on Jackie Heard? Good stuff from last Sunday - catch it before they take it off the web site.

  12. - RoseyB - Friday, Jul 28, 06 @ 9:50 am:

    Won’t Peraica have to create a bi-partisan organization? There is no Republican infrastructure to put in place.

    And might a Peraica win wake-up the City machine and prompt some to follow the rules of a civil society more closely?

    I like RMD but he powerless to fix the muddled mess the Democratic infrastructure has become.

  13. - Captain America - Friday, Jul 28, 06 @ 10:39 am:

    Mayor Daley has too much power, and he and his associates have abused thier power flagrantly. The hired trucl scheme/scandal dates back to his father’s administration. The Duff contracts and other phony minority set-asides were an outrage.
    Hypocrisy reigned supreme when the city tried to have The Shakman decree vacated legally. The sytmeatic hiring fraud set forth in the recent IGA trials has been occurring ever since Daley was elected in 1989. (I’m not opposed to a reasonable amount of patronage - it does make sense to hire your frienda and supporters assuming that certain objective qualifications exist. Similarly, giving contracts to friends and suppoters also makes sense if you get a fair price and a q

  14. - Tom - Friday, Jul 28, 06 @ 11:04 am:

    Having a strong mayor is good in that it keeps the aldermen from proposing too many stupid laws. However Daley went way over the top as evidenced by the hiring scandals as well as the contracts and land deals steered toward his friends. He already had all the power and votes he needed but he got greedy and created a mess.

    If the aldermen truly have found their stones I want to see them put their voices to good use. Instead of banning foie gras, trans fats, etc. they should hold Daley’s feet to the fire on corruption.

  15. - Bubs - Friday, Jul 28, 06 @ 11:05 am:

    Winston Churchill: “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others.”

    Chicago hasn’t seen true democracy in a long, long time, as least half a century. What it seen lately is a paternal dictator with a rubber stamp parliament, straight out of the bad old days of South American history. But most of White Chicago will accept that rather than have a . . . (shhh! You’d better not even say that!) . . . dare I say it? . . . ok . . . NEGRO as Mayor! (there, I said it, where are my rosary beads.)

    The aldermen are kooky, because rarely do they ever have to face the electorate in a real campaign.

    Electing Tony Peraica County Board President is an excellent first step to putting Chicago and Cook County in “political therapy.” Who knows? In a few years, a real democracy may arise. When it does, Chicago will be on its way to fulfilling its potential as a leading city of not only America, but the World.

    My advice? Vote Republican, for a change!

  16. - Captain America - Friday, Jul 28, 06 @ 11:07 am:

    (comtinued - thread interrupted) quality product.) But in Chicago,Cook County. and Illinois, little appears to “on the square”- everything appears to be fixed.

    Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Despite the pervasive and sytmeatic corruption that exists from top-to=bottom,Daley is competent. I recall a colorful description of another corrupt, but competent politican:

    “He stinks like a mackeral shining in the moonlight.”

    I think we’re pretty close to the ‘tipping point in what the electorate is willing to tolerate in terms of politcal corruption, cronyism,and nepotism in Chicago, Cook County and Illinois.

    I expect Daley to be reelected one more time.

    I think 2010 and 2011 will be the real turning point- hopefully, we will have capable, competent,honest independent candidates from both
    parties vying for the Governorship, Cook County Board President and Mayor Daley will not run/be relected in 2011. I too fear the vacuum that might be created, because the current city council collectively in not an impressive legislative body.

    But 2011 be high time for Daley’s dictatorship to end. He really is and has been a complete tyrant , notwithstanding his many accomplishments.

  17. - Captain America - Friday, Jul 28, 06 @ 11:18 am:

    I want to apologize to all Capital fax bloggers, now and forevermore for my terrible typing and proofing. I’m actually a good speller and moderately literate, but my typing definitely “sucks”!

  18. - Nanny State Ned - Friday, Jul 28, 06 @ 11:21 am:

    Rich, Fantastic column today! Really, really great! It’s already started–the national news stories about the breathtaking reach of the Big Box ordinance passed this week, combined with all the equally goofy City Council meddling in our economy and our personal lives.

    Chicago will quickly become a national laughingstock if the alderman continue to run wild–undoing all the positive changes in the city’s perception nationally in the past two decades.

    Obviously, none of us are proud of the corruption we’ve seen, and now, with the city morphing into a larger version of the People’s Republic of Santa Monica, well, start packing!

  19. - Truthful James - Friday, Jul 28, 06 @ 11:32 am:

    YDD — as much as I respect your opinions, your litany lacks resposnes other than “Amen” or “Deo Gratias”.

    A city where “sweeping education reform” actually results in better schools;

    Yes, the schools are showing some progress. The administrative costs are extremely high, the instruction comes from people whose qualifications in most instances do not include degrees or advanced degrees in the content they are teaching. The move towards Choice is good, but needs to be expanded to vest all students. Vesting will be equally for all students, with provision for special needs kids. Let the parent chose, using the vested amount any accredited public or private school. Rid the teachers unions from the right to refuse going to ‘difficult’ schools. Demand that the ISBE stop dumbing down the tests and norming up the results.
    We need to aim at international standards, where McDonald’s is a way station not an end. But there has been a good initial start. Do not stop now.

    -A city who’s recycling program actually ends up recycling stuff;

    The Blue Bag program was a gigantic joke, with the waste haulers in on it. Hopefully, reform has struck here.

    -A city where the public trusts its own police force;

    Working towards it. Basically, the lake front liberals trust the police, but the gang infested neigborhoods are forced to trust the gangs. Block by block, the Police Districts are starting to take back the neighborhoods.

    -A city where neighbors don’t have to make campaign contributions or stage a public protest to have a voice in everyday development decisions;

    Must be a different city

    -A city that works for people besides the insiders.

    Not quite there yet. The City Hall insiders are in the first tier. The ward insiders get the second tier. After they are satieated, the public gets the bread and circuses that are left.

    A weak mayor would result in the anarchy of cabals. Mayor Daley has a vision, but Rome was not built in a day.

  20. - BuckTurgidson - Friday, Jul 28, 06 @ 11:52 am:

    TJ, I think that was a wish list from YDD, not an accomplishment list.

    Nevertheless, your analysis raises some good points, and rightly points out we needn’t stand on the ledge just yet.

  21. - Left Leaner - Friday, Jul 28, 06 @ 12:34 pm:

    Great column Rich. You bring up an issue that Chicagoan’s are going to need to take a hard look at during the next decade. Mixing up city hall, the city council, and how politics works in Chicago will have tremendous quality of life implications for residents - and would certainly affect the entire State whether downstaters want to admit it or not.

  22. - Wacky Liberal - Friday, Jul 28, 06 @ 12:47 pm:


    What kind of “wackier liberal laws” we’re you referring to?

    Is it a crazy idea that if you work 40 hours a week, you should make enough to get by?

    Is it just totally wacky to pass resolution against a war that’s proven to be an umitigated disaster?

  23. - Loop Lady - Friday, Jul 28, 06 @ 1:08 pm:

    The Mare should be commended for his Green initiatives, leveraging public and private partnerships, and his continuing efforts to improve the public school system.

    He deserves a kick in the keester for not working in partnership to include the burgeoning Latino community and their leadership. The goon squad from his old ward are obviously helping to bring him down politically…

    If his wife is seriously ill, I don’t think he will want to run again…
    the concentration of power and clout was too big for even him to handle. problem is, I can’t think of anyone who could do a better job than him.
    His front line employees I have worked with are top notch. It’s a shame for them should he go down, but morale amongst the public sector employee ranks is not great anyplace of late–I wonder if the leaadership of the ship of state realizes or cares how demoralizing the never ending plague of scandals is for rank and file folks…

  24. - Smell the Coffee - Friday, Jul 28, 06 @ 1:35 pm:

    “The goon squad from his old ward are obviously helping to bring him down politically…”

    Oh, like he has had nothing to do with it all? He just sits above us as our Loving and Omnipotent Great Father?

    Still buying that semi-Catholic spin, huh?


  25. - Loop Lady - Friday, Jul 28, 06 @ 2:17 pm:

    lay off the coffee 1:35 pm–of course I know he directs the squad– but trust can be abused even by your most closest allies, that feeling of untouchability will go straight to the head until your hand gets caught in the cookie jar (reference to the insurance funny business in da ward) he and his underlings just couldn’t keep all the plates spinning anymore–

  26. - Slats Grobnick - Friday, Jul 28, 06 @ 2:30 pm:

    When a strong mayor holds onto the lawmaking process too tight and leaves nothing of significance for the aldermen to do, they look for what’s left to work on, e.g. cafe dogs, fois gras, whatever. People forgive the minor excesses of a strong mayor as long as they feel the city is working efficiently, competently, if order is preserved and people feel safe, and if they feel the government is working for their interests. or at least parellel to them. But then if the strong mayor gets lax in micro-managing the city, the forgiveness ends, and a new guy gets a chance to do better.

  27. - VanillaMan - Friday, Jul 28, 06 @ 2:39 pm:

    Chicago needs what NYC and LA got over the past 20 years - competative elections. What have we seen over the past 60 years? A one-party ruled city that is as corrupt as the old USSR. What can be done? It is time to build a two or three party system in Cook County and Chicago. It is time for voters to stop sleep-voting and select someone other than an entrenched Democrat selected through nepotism.

    It is amazing that Chicago has held on for so long. It must have an incredible foundation to have survived such political abandonment for so many generations. Imagine what Chicago could be with a real competative political system!

  28. - Yellow Dog Democrat - Friday, Jul 28, 06 @ 3:04 pm:

    TJ - Rome was not built in a day

    Okay, I’ll grant you that, but Daley has been Mayor for 17 years. Chicago school reform is 11 years old. Please, tell me, just how much more time does he need?

    At this point, I think that whether or not Daley stays or goes, wins re-election or loses is a moot point. Even if Fitzgerald leaves, Durbin will undoubtedly appoint someone just as tough and independent. The Machine will reinvent itself in smaller ways, but the days of trading jobs for votes are over, and the playing field has definitely been leveled somewhat.

    Nature abhors a vacuum, and Burt Natarus has been able to captivate the city’s attention because goofy guys like him stand out like a clown at an accountants’ convention. I think that the City Council will go through a period of tumult until some strong leaders emerge. Probably Burke, Mell, Olivo and Carothers, or some such combination. Natarus will be long gone in a few months, along with some others whom history has passed by or who are solely dependent on the Mayor’s patronage army for re-election.

  29. - Bill Baar - Friday, Jul 28, 06 @ 3:09 pm:

    Durbin will undoubtedly appoint someone just as tough and independent.

    I don’t think so.

    It will be a mess when he goes. And that will be sooner rather than later.

    I’m not optimistic about the future.

  30. - Bubs - Friday, Jul 28, 06 @ 3:25 pm:

    Are you all so sure about it being such a mess after Daley? The Mayor has been quite clever at subtly portraying himself as the “Bulwark Against Chaos.” But people remember the bad old days of “Beruit by the Lake” and I doubt if many will stand for it again. It would be a sign of a maturing democracy, and Aldermanic races would suddenly become very relevant, as they were meant to be under this City’s charter.

    It’s time for this City to learn to live without the corrupt paternalism of the past 50 years. There just is no “Secular Holy Father.” Everyone has to deal with it.

  31. - Yellow Dog Democrat - Friday, Jul 28, 06 @ 4:01 pm:

    Bubs - I think politics will be messy for awhile, but I think the city will be fine. Right now, everybody is trying to figure out what the latest headlines mean before they make their move, and nobody wants to be the first guy caught walking through the hallways whistling “Ding, Dong the Witch is Dead.”

  32. - the Other Anonymous - Friday, Jul 28, 06 @ 4:07 pm:

    A couple of points:

    1) Buck Turgidson has it exactly right: much of what is happening today is really about 2011. Conventional wisdom has it that Daley is running for his last term; and if decides to run again in 2011, he will not get a free ride.
    2) There seems to be some confusion about the phrase “weak mayor, strong council.” This is a term to describe a legal form of city government in Illinois; it is not a desciption of the personality of any particular mayor. So, to call Chicago a “strong mayor” city — in contrast to “weak mayor/strong council” — is a misnomer, even if few mayors have the amount of power that Daley has.

    Last, if this experiment in democracy — letting City Council set the policy agenda for the city — were to succeed, aldermen will have to become more willing to oppose each other. City Council in Chicago has long been a place where aldermen defer to the alderman whose ward is affected (e.g., zoning issues). This has to change if we bring council democracy to Chicago.

  33. - Ashur Odishoo - Friday, Jul 28, 06 @ 5:25 pm:

    While Mayor Daley has had some significant accomplishments and is generally lauded as doing a fine job in many areas, his downfall is his arrogance and conceit.

    Whether you like it or not, Daley has lost control. He may win again, but city council will run things. The political structure will fragment and we will have council wars until another strong leader prevails.

    Hopefully, it will be another reformer, like a Peraica.

    Ashur Odishoo
    State Representative 11th District
    As a Republican in the city, it is offensive that people look left and right before mentioning they are Republicans or criticizing the mayor. There is a palpable fear based on politics.

    Citizens generally accept the fear because they know the rules and where the line is drawn. If you challenge the Mayor politically, you get destroyed. Otherwise, enjoy the city, lakefront, buildings, and museums.

  34. - Ignatius J. Reily - Friday, Jul 28, 06 @ 6:45 pm:

    So that’s it is it? We know this bargain well–we hold its skull in our hands.

    The city that works?— There are costs of course.
    Incompetent aldermen!– Handpicked by Him.
    Democracy is for fools.– Are not your needs met!

    And it should be noted that with this post, it appears that Miller either independently or by others’ sugestion, has pointed to the core compact with the Machine:

    “By and through our rule, you may be certain of this: that in Chicago, the minority cannot and willnot ever ascend to the majority.”

  35. - Da Guy - Friday, Jul 28, 06 @ 7:42 pm:

    Help me if you know the answer. I have read a number of articles that seem to state the ordinace passed by the City Council is unconstitutional or at least in conflict with Federal Law. If that is the case the ordiance will be challenged in Federal Court, the Court will order a stay preventing the ordinance from taking effect.

    Maybe everybody wins. The alderman get to take credit for being pro labor, pro little guy; and standing up to the Mayor. The Mayor and the big boxes win because there will be no ordinance for a period of years while the litigation proceeds.

    The issue will fall off the radar, a reasonable compromise will be reached and eveybody lives happily everafter.


    Daley seems to be getting beat up pretty regularly. Some of which is no doubtedly deserved. But the fundemental question is-is the City a better place to live and work now than it was before he was elected? I think most reasonable people would answer yes; white, black or latino.

    Personally, I think Daley has a genuine affection for Chicago and his primary motivation is making the City a better place to live an work for all it residents. I think, like his father, his goal is power rather than money. As a general matter I think he uses the power for good purposes. No doubt some of his associates and insiders have hi-jacked the power for personal gain. Allowing this to happen on his watch is clearly a failure but I don’t believe a damning one.

    The City is an extraodinarily complex operation to manage on a day in day out basis. Daley has shown an exceptional aptitude for the work. Absent criminal conduct on his part, the City will be hard pressed to find a qualified successor.

    Justice will be served and if Daley is culpable, he have to go. Should that happen I believe it will be a sad day for Chicago on many levels.

    That said, I can’t wait till Blago gets indicted, couldn’t happen to a nicer guy.

  36. - Ignatius J. Reily - Friday, Jul 28, 06 @ 7:50 pm:

    The Masai people of Africa keep their cattle well and only slaughter the old and infirm. In return for food, water and safety from lions, hyenas and jackals– the cattle agree to be bled on a rotational basis. Everybody’s happy–great system.

  37. - the ole precinct captain - Friday, Jul 28, 06 @ 9:35 pm:

    Reform, this City ain’t ready for reform

    Paddy Bauler said this around 1955 still holds true today.

  38. - Justhonestly - Saturday, Jul 29, 06 @ 10:27 pm:

    I understand why everyone is interested in the Congressional Elections, but I’m interested in the State Races. I’m having some difficulty finding any debate on the State races. Don’t forget, all politics is local.

    I’ve decided to focus entirely on learning about my local candidates and the one I’ve zeroed in on the most is Joe Serra. Joe Serra is running for State Rep in the 50th Dist. He is opposing Patricia Lindner who has held the same seat since 1992.

    I’m pretty impressed with Serra’s grasp of the School Funding issue which seems to be heating up in our area (Batavia, Geneva, Kaneville, Sugar Grove, Aurora. Serra is a Democrat who believes in the Second Amendment and has a large family (six children).

    I think Serra is the sleeper candidate of Illinois Politics. Just wanted to add my 2 cents.


  39. - The Real Slats Grobnick - Monday, Jul 31, 06 @ 4:01 pm:

    Hey! Dat phony Slats better get off my barstool and go back ta Iowa where he belongs. What dis guy dont know about Chicago could fill da Torrence Avana leg of da Deep Tunnel. By da way, fooeee grass and coffee dogs don’t go so well all mixed up. Witchis why da alderman did what dey did. We dont wanna be like Iowa. Udder dan dat, I like lookin at all dese guys great ideas here. It’s like bein at da Biily Goat in da old days.

Sorry, comments for this post are now closed.

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