Share this story
Close X
Switch to Desktop Site

Daley Coasts Toward Primary

Mayor's accomplishments, lack of credible opponents expected to earn him nomination. CHICAGO POLITICS

`I'M a volunteer campaign worker with the Daley-for-mayor campaign office. And I'm calling to ask, if the election were held tomorrow, would you vote for Mayor Daley? ... Oh, you're sort of undecided right now, huh? You are a good Democrat, though, aren't you? ... OK, I just want you to remember one thing, that the mayor is the Democratic candidate for mayor of Chicago, OK?'' Well, not yet. Since the primary is tomorrow, the comment (which departed from the campaign telephone script) was premature. But few Chicagoans doubt that Richard M. Daley will indeed be the choice of the party that once obeyed his father, the late six-term mayor Richard J. Daley. That old political machine is no more. Rather, lack of credible opponents and Daley's own accomplishments are expected easily to earn him the party nomination. ``What race?'' Chicagoans often reply when asked about the election. And in a city that hasn't elected a Republican mayor since 1931, the Democratic primary is the contest that counts. `We're at a high point' Battered rental furniture and deluxe electronics furnish the bustling Daley campaign headquarters. In a tiny, cluttered office David Wilhelm, the manager of this and the 1989 campaign that first made Daley mayor, politely shakes off a caller. ``That's a ward issue. Talk to your alderman,'' he says, hanging up. Chicago's fast-growing Indian community, he explains, wants a street in its neighborhood renamed Gandhi. The problem is, the intermingled Pakistani residents object. ``You can never take anything for granted in politics,'' says Mr. Wilhelm, turning to the mayor's race. ``That's probably doubly the case here in Chicago. But things look very good at this point.'' ``The fact of the matter is that we're probably at a high point,'' he adds. ``Most people who are undecided at this point presumably are going to break against the incumbent. So the race will gradually draw closer. I think we'll be very, very hard pressed to exceed 60 percent on election day.'' Three weeks ago, polls showed 57 percent of voters favoring Daley to 16 percent for Cook County Commissioner Danny Davis to 4 percent for former mayor Jane Byrne, with the remainder undecided. Since then the race has progressed as Mr. Wilhelm foresaw. Mr. Davis and Ms. Byrne have shaved Daley's lead by a few points, while the size of the undecided block remains unchanged. But Daley's millions of dollars in campaign contributions have allowed him to launch a final television blitz that his two opponents, with their mere tens of thousands of dollars, can't begin to match. Neither Byrne nor Davis has a chance, in the opinion of Don Rose, an ultraliberal reformer and political consultant who vehemently opposes all things Daley. Mr. Rose orchestrated Byrne's successful 1979 bid for the post, but soon quit her camp when she made alliances with machine pols at city hall. Rose joined forces with black politician Harold Washington and helped him defeat Byrne in 1983 and win reelection in 1987. ``There is no political logic to her being in the race,'' Rose says. ``There is only her own personal logic, which is composed of many things. One can assume she misses the limelight. One can assume she hates Richie [Daley who, by entering the 1983 contest, took away Byrne voters]. One can assume she thinks she might be able to at least spoil it for Richie....'' Byrne argues that Chicago was a better place during her administration than in Daley's two years in office, citing as one example the lower number of homicides contrasted with the current surge. Voters are yawning. ``It's really very hard to persuade people that the murder rate is up because of Daley,'' Rose says. As to Davis, Rose says, he's simply not the black politician to reunite the black community after the death of the charismatic Washington in 1987 rent it asunder. Daley won the special election to fill the remainder of Washington's term. According to Rose, the inadequacies of Davis are legion: He lacks citywide voter appeal. He's a ``singularly poor organizer'' who can't raise money or make a campaign function beyond his own ward. His connection with followers such as the controversial Rev. Louis Farrakhan turns off blacks and whites alike. Farrakhan supporters are necessary to the black coalition, Rose says, but Davis has let them be on display more than they should. ``People say, `Danny is a nice guy, but ...' or `Danny is a smart guy, but ...''' Rose was invited to join the Davis campaign but ``I felt it was so hopeless I just didn't want to occupy my time with it.'' Daley's record is enough on its own to make many voters wish him a four-year term. He brought peace to a bitterly divided city council and made high-quality appointments to key positions, making sure that many went to minorities. ``I would have to say his performance has been better than I expected,'' Rose admits. ``Like father, a little less like son. There are many characteristics of the old Daley there, but ... he advocates a number of reforms that would have placed him substantially at odds with his father,'' Rose says. Mayor Daley, forehead smudged black for Ash Wednesday, enters his paneled office on the fifth floor of City Hall. Genial and approachable, Daley is nonetheless said to prefer the managerial side of his job to the political one. Aides say that while driving around town, he jots down the locations of potholes and broken streetlights needing repair. ``I don't get into a position just to argue and fight with somebody for the sake of politics,'' Daley says. ``I just want to get the job done. I don't care if they're Democrats, Republicans, Independents. Example, dealing with the City Council. We compromise. Try to get things done in each community.'' Unlike his father's generation, Daley says, ``the political system is less important to the younger generation, and they don't identify to an elephant or a donkey. They identify to an individual. They identify to someone's performance.'' Daley advocates better jobs Daley's top priorities in a new term as mayor would be better jobs for Chicago and a better-educated work force to fill the jobs. ``No one can raise a family on [a job at] Wendy's and McDonalds, unless you own it.'' He advocates building a new international airport on the city's southeast side, an area that was devastated when the steel industry moved away. Daley says the project would create 200,000 jobs and that construction would last 50 years. ``I'm pro-business and pro-development. Those words are important to me, because you need a business community to work with you.'' With everything to lose, Daley has campaigned conservatively. He refuses to debate his opponents and, by shrugging off issues they attempt to raise, deprive them of the oxygen needed to ignite public interest. His volunteer phone bank, the largest in the country, will call every registered voter in Chicago by election day. Much of the feedback is encouraging - but not all: ``OK, did you know there was a hot line to the mayor, to the city, so you can call and have that repaired? ... Well, have you contacted your alderman? ... Maybe it takes more than just one from the neighborhood to make a call, to get faster results. ...'' -PATHNAME- /usr/local/etc/httpd/plweb/DBGROUPS/paper/database/tape/91/mar/week10/achi.

Follow Stories Like This
Get the Monitor stories you care about delivered to your inbox.