Obama and Daley in 2004
Tim Boyle / Getty Images
Daley Doesnt Need Him
Why a vote for Obama is not a vote for the mayor
September 18, 2008
Political activist Jay Stone recently sent out a press release seeking recruits for his latest crusade against Mayor Daley. In it he blasted city officials for awarding a $40 million, five-year “pinstripe patronage” contract to Aon Corporation to help the city make sure hiring is free from patronage and political favoritism. It seems fair to wonder about that deal, as Aon’s founder and retired chairman, Patrick Ryan, is heading up the mayor’s efforts to bring the Olympics to Chicago. But Stone lost me at the end of the release, when he took a shot at Barack Obama for not having “the courage and conviction to stand up to Mayor Daley”—and then essentially endorsed Senator John McCain for president.
Yet Stone was only putting into writing what I’ve been hearing from quite a few Daley haters who claim a vote for Obama is a vote for mayoral tyranny. It’s time to set them straight.
This year’s presidential election is about a lot of things, but it’s most certainly not a referendum on Daley. He’d consolidated his power long before Obama came on the scene, and he’ll hold on to it no matter who wins.
Lord knows Daley has no long-standing allegiance to Obama—he hasn’t significantly helped Obama at any stage of his career. He didn’t endorse him during his successful bid for the state senate or his unsuccessful attempt to unseat Congressman Bobby Rush. He didn’t even back him in the 2004 Senate primary. Daley only endorsed Obama in the presidential campaign because he didn’t really have a choice—he had to look enthusiastic about the hometown guy, especially since he didn’t want to alienate black voters in last year’s mayoral election.
What’s more, Daley has no problem getting cozy with Republicans. In fact, Patrick Ryan is a major Republican donor: he’s given more than $200,000 to the Illinois GOP over the last few years and hosted a fund-raiser for President Bush at his house in Winnetka. In the last year Ryan and his wife have donated thousands of dollars to the campaigns of McCain, Rudolph Giuliani, and Mitt Romney—and nothing to Obama. In 2006, though, he gave Daley $100,000.
Daley himself all but endorsed Bush in 2004: he stayed out of the campaign until it was over, at which point he promptly blamed John Kerry and the national Democrats for losing. On the day after the election, Daley told reporters that the Republicans had become “the party of the people” while the Democrats had been taken over by “Washington elitists” who “don’t like faith-based organizations” or people “who maybe read the Bible or read the Koran.” His comments would have fit in comfortably with the speeches by Giuliani, Romney, and Sarah Palin at this year’s Republican convention.
Mayor Daley doesn’t need a Chicago Democrat in the White House to retain his grip on power. His machine is truly a bipartisan affair. If you don’t believe me, ask the folks in northwest suburban Bensenville. One of their Republican state reps, Skip Saviano, and their Republican chairman of the DuPage County Board, Robert Schillerstrom, teamed up with legislators from both parties in the General Assembly to pass a law giving Daley the authority to snatch 15 percent of their town for the O’Hare expansion. That’s what I call reaching across the aisle.
And none other than the Bush administration financed this land grab with hundreds of millions of federal dollars. No wonder Mayor Daley took the president out for such a nice dinner in 2006, when he came to town to celebrate his 60th birthday.
When it comes to approving Daley’s boondoggles, the Bush administration has been nearly as accommodating as the Chicago Plan Commission, the Community Development Commission, or any of the other local oversight boards Daley controls. And Republicans in Washington have handed over hundreds of millions of dollars for the Brown Line reconstruction and the never-finished underground station at Block 37.
Am I disappointed that Obama is not as passionately antimachine as, say, I am? Absolutely. But then I’m just as disappointed in the 70-plus percent of my fellow Chicago voters who keep on electing our mayor no matter what he does. And I’m even more disappointed in our local Republicans, who have deserted their core free-market principals on issue after issue as they fall into line with the mayor. Our Republicans are tough as nails when it comes to entitlements for the poor—got to pull yourself up by your bootstraps and all that—but when it’s time to feed big businesses and developers from Daley’s TIF trough, man, they can’t get enough.
Like every other liberal Democrat in this state, Obama had to make a monumental decision when he started his career. He could fight the machine, join it, or pretend it didn’t exist. He chose the third option, which put him in the company of most of the other liberals around here.
But I’ve cut Obama some slack, just as I did Dick Durbin, Paul Simon, Sidney Yates, Paul Douglas, and all the other liberals we’ve sent to Washington. Agreeing to look the other way while the machine does its dirty deeds is part of the deal they make to win a seat in Congress and start working on important national issues. Lots of Democratic superstars—like Harry Truman and John Kennedy—got their start with the backing of local political machines and went on to bigger and better things.
Put it this way: There are plenty of other reasons you might want to vote for McCain. You may want to cut federal funding for public schools and cities, eliminate the distribution of birth control devices to teenagers, or, if Palin gets her way, force women to carry their pregnancies to birth, even if they’re raped. You may regard homosexuality as a degenerate sin that can be cured by prayer, or you may want to promote creationism alongside evolution in public schools. Maybe you oppose laws that guarantee women equal pay or compel businesses to follow environmental regulations. Or you might just be terrified at the thought of a black man getting elected president.
You want to vote Republican, go ahead. But don’t justify your vote for McCain as a vote against Daley. You’ll be fooling yourself.
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