MICHELE NORRIS, Host:
And what would an election in the city of Chicago be without the name Daley on the ballot? It's widely predicted that Mayor Richard M. Daley will win a fifth full term tomorrow, setting him up to become the longest-serving mayor in the city's history. He would take that title from his father, the late Richard J. Daley. But there's more at stake than records. As Chicago Public Radio's Ben Calhoun reports, Chicago's mayoral race has become an example of the city's unique political culture.
BEN CALHOUN: Say you've got a mayor campaigning for reelection. Add to that a sprawling federal investigation of city hall, more than 40 people charged, and prison sentences totaling more than four decades. You probably would not imagine this mayor doing any interviews that sound like this.
Unidentified Woman #1: You say you're (unintelligible) make it harder. The truth is...
RICHARD M: No, you could something (unintelligible).
Woman #1: You really haven't had to.
DALEY: You never take anything for granted.
CALHOUN: That's Chicago mayor Richard Daley on Saturday, trying somewhat in vain to convince a reporter that he's not overconfident. But not only did he take Sunday off, Daley's campaign exudes confidence - no debates and just a few TV ads.
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Unidentified Woman #2: In Chicago today, test scores...
CALHOUN: In one commercial, Daley actually rides in the back of a black luxury car, taking notes before literally riding into the sunset.
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Woman #2: Mayor Daley. He keeps Chicago moving forward.
CALHOUN: Daley's finishing the most scandalous term of his career, but his popularity's held steady. Chicago politics is known to turn its back on logic from time to time, but given the scope of the corruption scandals, it's only fair to wonder...
BOB CRAWFORD: Why doesn't he get hurt politically from that?
CALHOUN: Retired radio newsman Bob Crawford covered city hall for more than three decades and reported on both Mayor Daleys. He says Daley benefits from a hardened Chicago electorate.
CRAWFORD: Well, people just sort of shrug off the dad because they say, well, that's the way Chicago politics has been from day one.
CALHOUN: Crawford says beyond that, Daley's earned a reputation for delivering services on time and keeping the city clean. At the same time, Daley's also known for his big, ambitious initiatives, including long-term projects like revamping public schools and public housing, the expansion of O'Hare Airport and the city's current Olympic bid.
CRAWFORD: He's done enough good things where he can get people to say, well, probably there isn't anybody else around we see who could do it any better, even with all of his faults.
CALHOUN: Laura Washington's a columnist, and teaches journalism at DePaul University. She says there's another piece to this. That's how Daley reworked Chicago's political machine to cater more to the business community.
LAURA WASHINGTON: Richard M. Daley is a new kind of boss - a more corporate, business-oriented, global kind of boss.
CALHOUN: That makes for an incumbent that can take up all the oxygen before a race even gets started. This election, Daley's garnered 90 percent of the contributions for city-wide races. With Daley's tenacious popularity, that's a combination that can scare off challengers. The mayor's two current opponents are Cook County Circuit Court Clerk Dorothy Brown and former mayoral aide Bill Walls. They're reluctant to admit it's hard to compete, but Brown is finishing her campaign with a 24-hour prayer vigil.
WASHINGTON: No one wants to be the sacrificial lamb. It looks like an impossible task right now.
CALHOUN: Washington says unless Daley's charged with a crime, he can probably stay mayor as long as he wants. But she says even if the scandals are not enough to shake Daley's grip on power, they raise serious questions about his legacy.
WASHINGTON: If he's so powerful and so controlling, how could he not know that his government was corrupt?
CALHOUN: She says questions like that will probably be around for years to come, just like Mayor Richard M. Daley. For NPR News, I'm Ben Calhoun in Chicago.