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The Two Mayors Daley


Chicago. -- The hereditary principle has no place in American politics, so pay no mind to the enormous bust of Mayor Richard J. Daley that sits outside the office of Mayor Richard M. Daley. The former was mayor from 1955 until he died in 1976. The latter was elected in 1989, re-elected in 1991 and as he entered the homestretch toward the February 28 Democratic primary -- the election that decides things here -- he had a war chest of $2 million. That is $l,996,000 more than his opponent.

Although the nation's two largest cities, New York and Los Angeles, have Republican mayors, the third-largest, Chicago, is not about to try anything so quirky. But that does not mean that urban liberalism is chugging along unchanged here.

It was in the late 1960s, Mr. Daley opines, that things began to go badly wrong. In Chicago the crumbling of liberalism's hopes and confidence began in projects emblematic of the first Mayor Daley's regime, the miles of high-rise public housing that today are concentrations of pathologies, drug abuse, crime, welfare dependency, illegitimacy.

Shirt-sleeved, gesticulating with an unlit cigar, the mayor allows filial piety to color his judgment when he says public housing "was a great idea." It was supposed to be "transitional." It was, until the late 1960s, when the public-housing population began to become permanent.

Mayor Daley is too good a Democrat to speculate that public policies associated with his party, particularly welfare policies, made matters worse. Instead, he sounds like millions of middle-aged, middle-class Americans when he exclaims, referring to movies, music, television and the rest of popular culture, that "we have such a fast society." As he says this, the timbre of his voice expresses a bewilderment akin to that his father experienced in 1968 when encountering the incomprehensible otherness of the radicals who wrecked that year's Democratic National Convention in Chicago.

The Democratic Party that will convene here again next year has changed much since 1968, but it is not as different as this Mayor Daley is from the one back then. "We are," he says of local Democratic officials across the nation, "way ahead of the Democratic Party nationally." And although this unideological son of an exemplar of urban liberalism would be loath to admit it, "ahead of" means "to the right of."

He says " 'business' is a bad word with Democrats" and says of ZTC Washington bureaucrats that "once they set something in motion they can't change." He feelingly complains that in addition to spending $27 million just filling out the paperwork involved in applying for federal grants -- nine people work a month a year on the l,200-page Head Start application -- the city also spends approximately $130 million annually complying with unfunded federal mandates, including the one cited by every mayor east of Hawaii, the provision of the Safe Drinking Water Act requiring local water supplies to be tested for, among other ++ things, a herbicide used exclusively by pineapple growers.

And don't get Mr. Daley started on the federal regulators who decided that housing for the elderly had to be open to the "disabled," understood to include young emotionally disturbed drug addicts. Here is how the Chicago Tribune begins a report on the results of that exercise in the compassionate refinement of rights:

"Thanks to a bit of well-intentioned federal housing policy, 71-year-old Bette Hildebrand never leaves her apartment without her canister of pepper spray. She almost always has an escort. And she backs her wheelchair into the elevator of her building to make sure no one comes in behind her."

The father headed America's last great Democratic machine. The son must relish the Republican Congress attacking unfunded mandates and preferring block grants to federal micromanagement of local affairs. The foundation of the father's power was patronage -- about 50,000 jobs. Since then judges and other busybodies have sharply limited patronage, and the son, making a virtue of semi-necessity, has become a privatizer -- of airport parking garages, abandoned-car removal, window washing, janitorial services, tree-stump removal and some other service and maintenance jobs.

The purpose of Mr. Daley's privatizations is to save money so that the city's tax bills will stop driving business and individual taxpayers to suburban jurisdictions. American federalism -- the mere existence of 50 states -- exerts a conservatizing force on public policy as businesses become more mobile in search of hospitable tax and regulatory environments. Similarly, the existence of suburbs may now be making urban conservatism compulsory.

Which is one reason why Chicago is still "the city that works:" The son doesn't work the way the father did.

George F. Will is a syndicated columnist.

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