If I had to guess, I’d say Mayor Daley is a 40 short -- but his jacket fits almost every member of the Chicago City Council.
Why are so many Daley allies talking about passing up their re-election bids next year? Because they don’t want to face voters who are angry about paying more money to parking meters, red-light cameras and property taxes, and getting shorter hours at the libraries and less street sweeping.
Those were all Daley’s decisions, of course, but if there’s one eternal truth in Chicago politics, it’s that Mayor Daley never has to take responsibility for anything. Everyone who works in City Hall, or even supports him on the Council, has to be prepared to serve as a whipping boy for Daley’s shortcomings or errors. Remember the whipping boy? In medieval England, it was believed that only the king could punish a prince. But since the king was usually off fighting a war somewhere, every prince had a whipping boy who was beaten when the prince refused to do his lessons or otherwise misbehaved.
In Chicago, the king died in 1976. So who gets punished when Richard M. Daley does wrong?
After the Deep Tunnel flood in 1992, Daley fingered an engineer named Jim McTigue, called him lazy and incompetent at a press conference, and fired him. McTigue eventually won a lawsuit for wrongful termination. But it took six years, and he had to deliver pizzas to support his family in the meantime.
More recently, Al Sanchez, Daley’s Streets and San chief, was convicted of rigging city hiring to favor employees who did political legwork for the mayor. Sanchez’s schemes helped Daley’s allies win numerous aldermanic and legislative races.
It’s worth noting that aldermen who don’t fall in behind the mayor are raising their profiles. Toni Preckwinkle, who voted against the parking meter deal, is about to become county board president. Brian Doherty, the Council’s only Republican, is running for the state senate. Scott Waguespack, another parking meter holdout, is considering a run for mayor himself. Joe Moore barely won re-election in the 49th Ward last time out, but appears to be in a much stronger position for next February’s election, thanks to his independence.
If the City Council’s freshman class of 2011 is smart, they’ll understand that life as a Daley lackey does have its perks, but there may come a day when they’re thrown under the wheels of the Machine.