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NPR's Scott Simon Shares His Take On Events Large And Small

Chicago's Recommended Daley Allowance

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We were packing up from an interview with Mayor Richard Daley of Chicago a few years ago when I asked if his father would have rolled over in his grave to see his son attend a gay rights rally. Mayor Daley shook his head sharply.

"People who say that never really knew my father," he said. "I never heard a bigoted word from him. Anyway, my father’s been dead a long time. Who knows what he would’ve done? All these people who say they know, I wanna ask, ‘Really? When did you talk to him?’"

The mayor said this week he’ll retire after six terms and 22 years — serving five months longer than his father, Richard J. Daley.

Of course, if his name had been Richard M. Schultz, he might have wound up a neighborhood lawyer. But there are Kennedys and Bushes to attest that people don’t last in politics on name alone.

Richard J. Daley was a boss, a builder and a White Sox fan. Richard M. Daley has been a planter. He planted millions of trees, spectacular new parks, and, of course, put a garden on the roof of City Hall. He cultivated the city to grow, with spectacular quickness, from America’s rusty industrial heart into a cultural and commercial center that the Global Cities Index calls the sixth most global city in the world, alongside New York, London and Hong Kong.

Richard M. Daley, Maggie Daley

Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley and his wife Maggie (left). Ted S. Warren/Associated Press hide caption

itoggle caption Ted S. Warren/Associated Press

But he’s still a White Sox fan.

He did a great many things that you wouldn’t think reflected his father. He banned guns. He favored same-sex marriage. He helped recruit a young state senator named Barack Obama to run for Congress. He took responsibility for and poured resources into improved public schools when most mayors thought schools were political booby traps.

He earned the right to be judged as a mayor, not just as his father’s son.

He was not so ambitious about abolishing corruption. During Richard M. Daley’s time as mayor, at least 100 Chicago public servants, from aldermen and sanitation workers to street cops, plumbing inspectors and police commanders, were convicted of corruption.

Every few years, the mayor would declare a new clean-up at City Hall, and bring in smart people who are now in the White House and the Obama Cabinet.

But Andy Shaw of the Illinois Better Government Association believes Mayor Daley couldn’t bear to crack down on old friends, or the old Chicago system that rewarded them.

"He only went through the motions," says Mr. Shaw, "and that is his one Achilles' heel on a record that is otherwise relatively exemplary."

As other great old industrial cities shrank, Chicago blossomed, and when someone gets re-elected with 70 percent of the vote, you might fairly figure that a lot of reformers laughed at the mayor’s syntax, and abhorred corruption, but wound up voting for Richard M. Daley.

He was blunt, funny, far-sighted, cranky, shrewd and devoutly not slick. He was his father’s son, but became his own man.

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Simon Says

Simon SaysSimon Says

NPR's Scott Simon Shares His Take On Events Large And Small