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Daley Quits on His Own Terms

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Daley Quits on His Own Terms
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Richard M. Daley just did something unprecedented in Chicago politics: he gave up the mayor’s office voluntarily.

Going back over a century, all of his predecessors ended their terms in death or defeat. Of course, Daley is about to break his father’s record as Chicago’s longest-serving mayor, and he probably realized that only God was powerful enough to toll the bell on his mayoralty. Daley makes the rules in this town, so he didn’t want to leave that decision up to someone else.

You could say, though, that Daley is leaving office because he lost an election. It just wasn’t an election held in Chicago. It was held in Copenhagen, where the International Olympic Committee voted Chicago out of the running for the 2016 Games in the first round. If Chicago had won the Games, do you think Daley would be quitting? He’d already be planning his 2015 re-election campaign, to ensure he was in office to preside over the Games as his city was featured on international television. Then he would have sewn a fifth star on the city’s flag -- which would have represented both the Olympics and His term in office -- and handed over the mayor’s gavel to Rahm Emanuel.

By quitting, Daley has given Chicago something else that’s unprecedented: a wide-open election for the mayor’s office.

An entire generation of Chicago politicians has suffered from a 22-year-long case of blue balls waiting for Daley to retire. Now they’re all free to indulge their ambition by running for the biggest office in Illinois. Mayor of Chicago is bigger than governor, bigger than senator. When Barack Obama was beginning his political career, he wanted to be mayor, like his idol, Harold Washington. Now he’s stuck in the White House.

Toni Preckwinkle wants to be mayor, but she’s stuck in the county board presidency. Forrest Claypool wants to be mayor, but he’s running for assessor. Roland Burris wants to be mayor, but he took a tainted Senate appointment from Rod Blagojevich, who also wants to be mayor. Every public official with a Chicago address, from the Local School Council to the United States Congress, wants to be mayor.  

Chicago has a more colorful political history than American city, but we’re about to witness the greatest scramble for power in all our 173 years -- the deal-makinest, back-stabbinest, eye-gouginest, money-grubbinest seven months we’ve ever seen. It’s going to be a spectacle as wild and entertaining as the Haymarket Square Riot, the 1968 Democratic National Convention and Super Bowl XX all rolled into one.

Thanks, Mayor Daley.

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