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Chicago's Mayor Daley Won't Run For Re-Election

Richard Daley

Chicago Mayor Richard Daley, October 2009. John Smierciak/AP hide caption

itoggle caption John Smierciak/AP

Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley dropped something of a political bombshell Tuesday announcing he won't run for re-election next year for personal reasons.

Daley has been mayor since 1989 and could probably have been mayor for life like his father, the legendary Richard J. Daley who died in the job.

Daley the younger obviously decided he wanted a different ending for himself.

The Chicago Tribune reports the mayor made the announcement at a City Hall press conference.

"The truth is I have been thinking about this for the past several months," Daley said at a City Hall news conference. "In the end this is a personal decision, no more, no less."

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The announcement opens the door to Rahm Emanuel, President Barack Obama's White House chief of staff who has openly said he would like to occupy the Fifth Floor in Chicago which is how Chicagoans refer to the mayor's office.

Obama had to really lobby Emanuel to take the chief of staff's job because the former congressman, who has children, was reluctant to take on the kind of hours required by the White House job.

Being mayor would be a lot less taxing especially since Chicago as a city under Daley has maintained the reputation for efficiency it gained when Daley the elder managed it.

It was, after all, known as the City That Works and that moniker still seemed to fit under the son.

Of course, some of the reason why the city worked was because Daley had virtually no opposition. Any opposition that rose up, he stomped on it.

The City Council under Daley the Younger was essentially a rubber stamp, as it was under his father.

The younger Daley consolidated power in a way that would have made his father proud, co-opting many of those who could have been part of the political opposition against him by hiring them.

He maintained the backing of many black ministers, for instance, by making sure they knew they had friends in City Hall who could help their churches get projects requiring permits or other assistance through the local bureaucracy.

Of course, Chicago being a place where historically, political corruption was raised to high art, Daley's administration had its issues with scandal.

There was the Hired Truck program in which the city contracted private trucks to do government work. Problem was, an investigation by the Chicago Sun Times indicated that some of the trucks weren't doing any work and that taxpayer money was going to some with mob ties. That Daley didn't initially seem as scandalized as the public by some of what was revealed didn't help matters.

Daley was also capable of some moves that would have seemed more typical of democracy in the Middle East than the Midwest.

For instance, when he decided to close Meigs Field, the small downtown airport which he wanted to turn it into a park, he decided to present his opposition with a fait accompli. He sent bulldozers out at night to destroy the runways. End of debate.

But Daley will also be known for accomplishments other big-city mayors have since patterned themselves on. For instance, he took over the public school system to force changes in an institution that had long failed its students.

While the school system still has many troubles linked to the poverty of neighborhoods, it improved enough so that Arne Duncan, its former head, could be a credible choice by the president to be his Education Secretary.

Chicago's downtown, one of the most beautiful in the nation, has become even more so under Daley, who will likely be remembered long after he leaves office, for Millenium Park, a new treasure in a city full of them.

Daley will also be remembered for his earthy, unusual and sometimes disjointed way he had of getting his ideas across.

Under tough questioning by reporters once, Daley said to members of the Fourth Estate "What else do you want me to do? Take my pants off?"

And then there was this doozy from May 2010 told from the perspective of Mike Dumke, a reporter for the Chicago Reader who had the temerity to question the effectiveness of the city's strict gun ban. After all, it wasn't like people still weren't  getting shot to death in Chicago.

He grabbed a rifle, held it up, and looked right at me. He was chuckling but there was no smile.

“If I put this up your—ha!—your butt—ha ha!—you’ll find out how effective this is!”

For a moment the room was very, very quiet. I took a good look at the weapon. It had a long bayonet. (Was it seized during the Civil War?)

“If I put a round up your—ha ha!”

The photographers snapped away. Suddenly everybody started cracking up.

That might have caused some other mayor problems. But not Daley in Chicago.

He will be a tough act to follow. But Emanuel is definitely among the select group of politicians who could give Daley the Younger a run for the money in terms of colorfulness.