I was four years old when Richard M. Daley was elected to his first of six terms as Mayor of Chicago.
I was twenty-one, a mere fledgling in Chicago, when I befriended him, if only for a fleeting photo op.
Now I am twenty-five, a resident of Chicago for seven years, facing the end of an era, or an eon. On September 7, Mayor Daley announced he would not seek re-election for a seventh term. As I gaze at my warped reflection in the great curve of the bean in Millennium Park, Daley’s crowing achievement (because a Chicagoan’s best soul searching is always done there), I try to imagine life without him. The Dynasty has remained intact for forty-two of the past fifty-five years, minus a thirteen-year hiccup in which Harold Washington and four other mayors, while managing to get elected without blood ties, still struggled against the Daleys’ clout over city council. In those forty-two years, Daleys have presided over the erection of the Sears Tower and the languishing demolition of Cabrini Green. They’ve waged Council War, rejected and embraced Affirmative Action, facilitated and combated race riots. They’ve hired trucks, fired and convicted cronies, and cut bus routes while increasing Segway ridership by 1000%. So what’s next?
I remember sitting unremarkably in my little wooden cubicle at work when I got the news. Scarcely had Melissa Block announced Daley’s decision before Robert Siegel cut in, giddy with speculative reports of Rahm running for mayor. This is not really news, though, as Rahm’s made it abundantly clear that he would love to reign over his former city, if only Daley would “stop FUCKING running!” And, after Daley’s announcement, Emanuel’s imminent departure from his position as Chief of Staff seems to signify the obvious.
The forty-odd hometown heroes scrambling to fill the seat—aldermen, congressmen, teamsters, molecular gastronomists—are abuzz, angry that their “I live in or around Chicago” nativist cards might be trumped by Rahm’s “I was Obama’s Chief of Staff” card. Unlike them, I don’t find it problematic or alienating that he left Chicago for D.C. to begin and end every day conferring with President Obama. I don’t fear that Rahm, born and raised in the suburbs of Chicago, has lost touch with the city. In fact, he’s nothing if not eternally embedded in Chicago politics, having served as policy chief and fundraiser for the 1989 campaign that started it all for Richard M.
So, more of the same, it seems; and for me, like many Chicagoans who, despite his many shortfalls, hold some vague allegiance to Daley, the ease of familiarity is tempting. After all, conservatives call Emanuel “Rahmbo”—you’d never know he was missing a middle finger, filled with piss and vinegar as he is. Daley couldn’t have found a better successor himself (except, maybe, at the family Christmas party). And anyway, at this point, no other potential candidate stands out. While Alderman Fioretti’s Ken doll tan and blonde hairpiece planted atop a Daleyesque physique are compelling (or, let’s face it, disturbing), he and the rest of the mob of potential candidates have some work to do to enter the consciousness of Chicagoans if they want to present themselves as serious competition. And until they do, as long as Rahm promises to make up for Daley’s last major shortfall and get us the 2078 Olympics, he’s in.