Monday, February 26, 2007

John Kass Chicago Tribune
Daley has canary-yellow constituency Published February 23, 2007

Chicago politics is bossed by the politically ruthless who understand the obligations of their craft.Because without ruthlessness, a boss is considered weak, unable to hammer the squabbling, greedy and competing interests into line.Without ruthlessness, there can be no Chicago political version of the Stockholm Syndrome--fear transforming into frantic, desperate adoration.Without ruthlessness, a boss couldn't pound the living face of the city into something resembling his own and allow others to call it legacy.Chicago Mayor Richard Daley has held that hammer for a long time. As the city trudges toward Tuesday's election, with his weak challengers splitting the opposition vote as if by design, he's likely to hold that hammer for years.Daley isn't the first mayor to understand the obligations of ruthlessness. They all learn it. His late father knew, as did the late Harold Washington. Their behinds were also smooched publicly, tentatively at first, then quite completely, the frequency of the smooching commensurate with their increasing power.The campaign limps on quietly. The media politely declined to demand that Daley debate his challengers. Ex-con aldermen ran for their old jobs. The comic antics at the Cook County Board, with the media punching bag named President Todd Stroger, reinforced City Hall's subliminal message: Without Daley, all is lost.It is a lie, artfully told. Yet it encourages Chicago to close its eyes to corruption, and to the suburban power elite funneling millions to the Daley campaign to protect their real estate interests.So I've been considering this fascinating fellow who runs things, even though his trains don't run on time; the frightened little guy I once admired and defended when he was weak; the bully who grew more powerful than his father, without opposition, without much dissent.And of the cronyism that rules City Hall, addressed by those who wag their fingers at deals for his friends, but who eventually recover and come down on the side of what the establishment calls stability. Yet how would we treat him if he were black?Harold Washington was slammed by critics for nickel-and-dime corruption--and I was one of them--but since Daley was elected in 1989, hundreds of millions of dollars have been shoveled out of City Hall, the cycle of excuses made and accepted and made again, continuing.Yet both major papers have endorsed the mayor for re-election. Even the saintly Barack Obama--promising to change our nation's politics if elected president--has endorsed Daley. That Obama is content to change Washington but not Chicago, and is not called out for this by his national media camp followers, speaks to their childish yearning for Camelot. But Chicago politics is no fairy tale. I think of Daley in the back of his car, reading the papers, smiling and smirking, his driver Silent Sam Roti wheeling through the South Loop toward City Hall, the mayor bruised by criticism and federal inquests, but still in control. I've been in that car, with Sam driving, the mayor reading the papers, joking, wisecracking about his critics, heaping even more contempt on those who try to curry favor by genuflecting in prose.He has that same laugh, that same defiance, today, the mayor for life wearing his heart on the sleeve of that snazzy canary-yellow sports coat in his TV campaign commercials. The coat has been nicknamed the "Freddy Barbara Jacket" after his friend, the Bridgeport trucking boss/recycling consultant who wears stylish sportswear and is now a wealthy man courtesy of City Hall.Daley campaigns without interference, talking of selling off invaluable city assets like the airports for short-term cash, offering Olympic dreams to his cheerleaders, bedazzling middle-class homeowners. They're the ones who subsidize the real estate cliques protected by tax increment financing districts. They don't quite get it, but they feel the squeeze. I'm reminded of a line used by Ald. Edward Burke (14th), quoting another Irishman, Edmund Burke, no relation, but a bright fellow nevertheless, who had a career long ago across the sea. "In politics there are no permanent enemies, no permanent friends, only permanent interests," said Burke quoting Burke years ago.Burke still uses it, and I'd pay him to say it in his heavily accented South Side Irish Spanish, as the 14th Ward becomes Latino and the old ward organizations fade away.Still, the interests remain constant. The first traders gave whiskey to the Indians for pelts. Now it's contracts and construction permits benefiting lawyers and real estate investors contributing to Rich "The Builder."The Burkean line about interests accounts for human appetites and ambition in forming policy. But it is considered cynical by those who want Camelot and fairy tales.There are no unicorns here. The politicians love it when we spin stories about them--full of mist and the sound of pipes hidden in the rhythm of the words--yet at bottom, political Chicago is a realistic place.The mayor is the mayor is the mayor.He holds the city, quite still, in his

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