Daley's stunner: Mayor won't run again
Mayor Richard Daley announcing on Sept. 7, 2010, that he would not seek a seventh term. With him are his wife, Maggie, along with family members Sean Conroy, rear left, Nora Daley-Conroy, Elizabeth Daley and Patrick Daley. (Antonio Dickey/Mayor's Press Office)
He stepped off the political stage in stunning fashion Tuesday, with the city in a time of great transition, years of recession taking its toll on his reputation as a shrewd manager, and money running out to keep Chicago moving forward.
Daley leaves a legacy of broad accomplishments, such as Millennium Park and neighborhood revitalization. Other initiatives remain incomplete, such as the ongoing efforts to improve Chicago public schools and expand O'Hare International Airport.
Daley often spoke of how his passion for leading the city remained strong, so his decision to pull the plug led to questions about his underlying motivation.
Was it the fragile health of his wife, Maggie, who has been battling cancer for years? Was it the looming $600 million city budget deficit that could make running the city in the short term about as enjoyable as a root canal? Or was it the increasing un-restiveness of a once docile City Council emboldened by public outrage over the parking meter deal and other administration missteps?
Or, perhaps, it was the realization that his city may be suffering from Daley fatigue. He was elected to his sixth term in 2007 with 70 percent of the vote, yet a Tribune/WGN-TV poll in July found that just 31 percent of city voters said they wanted him elected to a seventh term while 53 percent said they did not.
For his part, Daley on Tuesday said the answer was none of the above, though he revealed very little about his thought process as he insisted he has been thinking about retiring for the last six months. He said he became increasingly comfortable with the idea in the last couple of weeks.
"It's time, everybody is replaceable in life, no one is here forever," Daley told reporters at a reception at the Chicago Cultural Center. "I knew it was my time. I was not afraid of any election ... I don't work on an election, I work on what to accomplish as an incumbent and I've done that for years.
"You know like anything else, it's time, it's personal, there wasn't one reason at all and it's hard for people to understand that and this was the best kept secret in Chicago."
For all his longevity, the younger Daley remains a sometimes baffling study in contrasts -- different in so many ways from his powerful father, Richard J. Daley, yet a chip off the old block in others.
To many, he has been the model of a progressive big city mayor, straddling the need for economic development with community inclusiveness in a diverse city. Yet others see him as a well-intentioned but sometimes inflexible autocrat who for most of his time in office ruled almost by fiat rather than consensus.
When he leaves office next spring, Daley's tenure will surpass by several months that of his father, whose legacy as the last of the old-fashioned, iron-willed political bosses still hovers over the city.
That is hardly the only way that Richard M. has managed to do Richard J. one better. He has spearheaded campaigns to not just beautify downtown but the neighborhoods as well, while launching community policing efforts and attempting massive but politically perilous overhauls of the city's long-neglected schools and public housing.
Over his 21 years as mayor, the younger Daley has muscled through a multibillion-dollar expansion of one Chicago airport while deliberately sabotaging another under cover of darkness.
In the name of reform and at considerable political risk, he tightened city control over schools and public housing even while shedding direct involvement in an array of services through privatization and controversial lease deals for assets like the Chicago Skyway and parking meters.
A Democrat who often sounds like a Republican, Daley has earned a national reputation as an innovative and dynamic municipal leader. Yet the city's finances are bleak, corruption has grazed the upper reaches of his administration and the mayor can seem socially awkward, a sometimes walking, talking malapropism.
Daley, a former Illinois state senator and Cook County state's attorney, was first elected mayor in 1989. But it wasn't the first time he ran. He is even the answer to a trivia question about who was the third Democrat in the bitter 1983 primary between incumbent Mayor Jane Byrne and challenger Harold Washington, Chicago's first African-American mayor.
Two years after Washington's 1987 death in office, Daley benefited from a rift between Washington's former political allies to defeat two African-American opponents, interim Mayor Eugene Sawyer and then-Ald. Timothy Evans.