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04/07/2009

20 Years Later...

  Convictions, indictments, deficits, potholes, broken parking meters, the International Olympic Committee inspection tour and an ill-timed snowstorm have so overwhelmed Chicago city hall recently that an important anniversary was barely noticed as it came and went.  Twenty years ago, on April 4, 1989, Richard M. Daley was elected the 54th mayor of the City of Chicago. (He was officially sworn-in 20 days later on April 24th, 1989, his 47th birthday)  Two decades later, the six-times-elected Daley is confronted by more challenges and crises than in any comparable period of his tenure as mayor. 

  During the past month the mayor and his administration have been caught in a Chicago political whirlwind.  The biggest worry at city hall continues to be the recession-related revenue shortfalls which currently run in the neighborhood of $25 million a month.  The Streets and Sanitation Department, which laid off workers as part of the mayor's belt-tightening effort last year, appears unable to keep pace with this spring's pothole invasion.  Quite frankly, the city's streets in many places are more than frayed and that definitely is not what we've come to know as Daley's style.

  The police officers' union is in revolt, demanding a new contract and the resignation and/or firing of the mayor's hand-picked, $310,000 a year superintendent to which patrol officers gave an overwhelming vote of "no confidence" last month.   Union members also picketed city hall with chants of "Daley Sucks" on the same day the IOC committee arrived to begin its inspection tour of Chicago as a site for the 2016 Olympics.

   Meanwhile, the city's lease of its parking meters to a private company that the mayor force-fed to the city council has exploded in public outrage.  The rates have soared and the contractor has proven itself clueless on how to manage the system.  And another group of "privateers" who agreed to lease Midway Airport have failed to come up with financing for the deal.  The city will get to keep the "down payment" if financing can't be secured but the deal's collapse could put Chicago's long-range finances in some peril.

  And then there's the financially-troubled O'Hare Modernization Program (OMP).  At an estimated $15 billion, it's called the largest aviation-related public works project underway in the United States.  For years, the Daley administration has told anyone who would listen that reconfiguring and building new runways at O'Hare will reduce flight delays not only in Chicago but also throughout the country.   But apparently, the folks who wrote the rules for the American Recovery and Reinvestment Plan are unimpressed.  OMP has only been able to collect a relatively measly $12 million in Stimulus grants so far.  That's out of nearly one billion set aside for aviation nationally.

   But wait, there's more.  The mayor had to apologize for the misdeeds of his former Streets and Sanitation Commissioner Al Sanchez.  Sanchez, Streets and San boss from 1999-2005, was convicted in Federal Court last month for giving pro-Daley political workers hiring preference in the department.  Sanchez is the third Daley administration official in the past decade, and highest-ranking so far, to be convicted or implicated in illegal patronage schemes.  Former deputy water commissioner Donald Tomczak and former Director of Intergovernmental Affairs Robert Sorich were sentenced to federal prisons for the same kind of corruption.  The mayor has insisted he had no knowledge of any illegal activities by any of his subordinates as the parade continues to 219 S. Dearborn and on to various stops at the Federal Bureau of Prisons.

  And like the mayor needs such headaches while he's trying to convince the IOC to stage the 2016 summer games in Chicago.  Then, boom!  "Mt. Blagojevich" erupts on the very afternoon that IOC inspection committee members begin arriving in Chicago.  The recently ousted governor, his brother, two former aides and two fundraisers are indicted.   Earlier, Daley said at a news conference indictments during the IOC visit wouldn't make any difference to the city's bid.  But hey, do you really want those 13 inspectors waking up and seeing a headline about an allegedly corrupt ex-governor on the front page of the newspaper laid outside their hotel room doors on the first morning they're here?

  And then came the freaky weather.  Chicago 2016 supporters really needed the IOC group to see the city in its sunlit best.  Surely, the visitors realized it doesn't snow here in August but I'd bet my dollars to your donuts that Rio, Madrid and Tokyo put on a better showing weatherwise when the tour visits those cities.

  So during his 20th anniversary month, the political gods are showing Mayor Daley that longevity in office doesn't make the job any easier.  In fact, from a political/administrative point of view, 2009 might be the most challenging year in office that he's ever had.

 

 

    

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