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Daley leaves legacy for next mayor

Contenders hope to force runoff with Emanuel

Chicago mayoral candidate Carol Moseley Braun smiled at US Representative Danny Davis (right) at a rally yesterday. Braun, a former US senator, is one of six people on today’s ballot. Chicago mayoral candidate Carol Moseley Braun smiled at US Representative Danny Davis (right) at a rally yesterday. Braun, a former US senator, is one of six people on today’s ballot. (M. Spencer Green/Associated Press)
By Don Babwin
Associated Press / February 22, 2011

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CHICAGO — They call this “The City that Works’’ — a metropolis anchoring middle America with thriving neighborhoods, prosperous business, and a skyline unmatched.

It’s a city that avoided the decline that befell Rust Belt casualties Detroit and Cleveland, steered through decades of turmoil by an old-school political boss.

It’s a city guided into a new century by the boss’s son, a second Mayor Richard Daley who kept it vibrant through passionate promotion, a sometimes absurd focus on random details of city problems, and, yes, the family tradition of arm-twisting and spreading around the spoils.

That is the vast inheritance left to the winner of today’s mayoral election in Chicago, the first in more than 20 years in which Richard M. Daley won’t be on the ballot. It’s a legacy that also comes paired with a legion of challenges the Daley era leaves unresolved, some which he helped foster.

There is the corruption that still makes the front page: Just this month, a top Daley lieutenant headed off to federal prison. The scars of racial segregation linger: Cement scabs on the city’s West Side mark places where buildings burned in the riots that followed the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr..

Daley’s administration has torn through cash reserves that were supposed to last decades and the city may soon be as much as $1 billion in the red. Students in public high schools are as likely to drop out as they are to graduate.

The six candidates on the ballot to replace Daley began wrapping up their campaigns yesterday. Two rivals of Rahm Emanuel, the former White House chief of staff, predicted that they will get enough votes to force a runoff with him.

Former public school president Gery Chico and former US senator Carol Moseley Braun say they will get enough votes to force a two-person runoff with Emanuel in April. The fourth major candidate is City Clerk Miguel del Valle.

There will be a runoff between the top two candidates unless someone gets more than 50 percent of the vote. Polls show Emanuel well ahead.

Daley hasn’t publicly endorsed any of the candidates, commenting only indirectly on the choice of who will take his place at City Hall. But, in the weeks leading up to the election, the Associated Press asked some of city’s top creators, thinkers and doers for advice on how the next mayor will maintain Chicago as “The City that Works,’’ and how to do it without the clout that came with the Daley name.

“What I think will be different is the new mayor will be required and expected to more specifically explain to the citizens of the city the nature of the problem and why a recommended solution is necessary,’’ said airline chief Glenn Tilton, chairman of Chicago-based United Continental Holdings Inc.

It’s not an overstatement to say that no US mayor in recent memory has changed the look and feel of a city more than Daley. He lined the city’s historic boulevards with trees and pushed for the construction of Millennium Park, blithely ignoring hundreds of millions of cost overruns to build one of the nation’s most widely acclaimed city parks.

Renowned architect Stanley Tigerman said Daley succeeded by obsessing over the tiniest of details, something city department heads discovered when they got a call from the boss about overflowing trash cans or, heaven forbid, a rat the mayor saw scurry across an alley.

The rabid attention to the little things was paired with thinking that some saw as “too big.’’ Many in the city wondered why Daley put so much effort into the ultimately unsuccessful bid for the 2016 Olympics at a time when the city could not afford to hire more police or improve schools.

But a walk along the Chicago River shows how the big-thinking Daley helped transform the city from its industrial past into a booming hub of international commerce. There are the headquarters of Boeing Co. and United Continental, corporations he attracted with millions in financial incentives.

It’s also in the city’s neighborhoods, many of which evolved during his time in office as Daley helped a city with blue-collar sensibility become a magnet for young professionals.

But as the city’s Loop and surrounding neighborhoods prospered in the past decade, areas on the South and West Sides lost population. Roughly 200,000 residents, many of them blacks, left neighborhoods that didn’t share in downtown’s success.

Those slices of the city continue to struggle “with many of the same forces that were bearing down on them 15 to 20 years ago — poor schools, the shortage of affordable housing,’’ said Alex Kotlowitz, a Chicago journalist and writer whose book 1992 book “There Are No Children Here’’ exposed the horrors of a child’s life in the city’s public housing.

The next mayor won’t start from a position of financial strength. The nation’s economic downturn made for an ugly combination with what critics say is a municipal government that under Daley lived beyond its means.

Daley also leaves a city government that is still known as a place where it pays to be the mayor’s buddy, where people land plum jobs for no other reason than they “know a guy who knows a guy.’’ The outgoing mayor has seen top aides end up behind bars, including one convicted for handing out patronage jobs years after federal decrees outlawed the practice.

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