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How Rahm Emanuel might reinvent Chicago politics

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Green, who co-wrote "The Mayors: The Chicago Political Tradition," believes the only time the city progresses is when it has a strong leader in city hall. Throughout history, when the city council was in control, Chicago "went down the tubes."

Traditionally, it has been all but impossible to weld the city's 50 wards – whose aldermen make up one of the largest city councils in the country – into a single identity because they remain as ethnic and unique today as they did during the Great Depression, when Mayor Anton Cermak created the first genuine Democratic machine.

"You could never have a real vision for the city, or a real reformer, because the people's idea of reform stopped at the boundary line of their own ward or parish," Green says. "But once Cermak got in and that machine got rolling, it was a democracy – but they played with a different card. They showed that machines could provide services as part of the machine, just as long as it was your guys providing the services."

Then and now, fear has a lot to do with it.

Both Daleys became forces of nature. This was very effective over the four decades father and son held the mayor's office, interrupted for just a while after the old man's death during a frenzied interregnum that included Chicago's first woman mayor, Jane Byrne, and its first black mayor, Harold Washington.

"The mayor has to crack the whip," Green says. "That used to be Emanuel. But now he's acting like Mother Teresa. I don't know how long that is going to last."

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