Mayor Daley's Campaign to Rework The Image of 'City That Works'
Chicago: From Tool Belts to Laptops
"What are we, cops or concierges?" a Chicago policeman exclaimed recently after hours of "sensitivity" training aimed at undoing the city's reputation for police brutality at the 1968 Democratic convention.
The entire city seems in the midst of a mild identity crisis as Chicago opens another four-day gathering of Democrats today - its first major political pow-wow in nearly three decades with more than 5,000 delegates, 15,000 journalists, and 15,000 other visitors expected.
Mayor Richard M. Daley seeks to use the public-relations opportunity to reshape the world's view of Chicago. He hopes to revise deep impressions left not only by clashes in '68 but also by the 1950s to '70s tenure of his powerful father, five-term mayor, Richard J. Daley, and even the 1920s gangland era of Al Capone.
"They are exorcising old demons, laying old ghosts to rest, revising what Chicago is all about, and projecting a new image of 21st century Chicago," says John Schultz, a professor at Chicago's Columbia College and author of two books on the 1968 convention and its fallout.
The Windy City is trying to recast its image in several ways.
First, it hopes to replace old footage of police brutality and political intolerance with sympathetic officers and back-patting bureaucrats.
"We have a force today that's a lot more sensitive," says Cmdr. Ettore DiVito, who was with the riot police who clashed for four days with anti-Vietnam War protesters during the last convention. "We have a more relaxed type of control rather than a military type of control," he says. "Things can be done with a velvet glove rather than an iron one."
To mend old wounds and forestall protests, Mayor Daley has met with 1960s activists - including a high-profile hug with California State Senator Tom Hayden. He has also held talks with groups of potential demonstrators, something his father would never have done.
"The mayor is making a public display of reaching out to protesters. He is not out to dishonor his dad, but he is doing everything the opposite of 1968," Mr. Schultz says.
Still, groups planning protests are not happy. Several have sued the city, charging that its restricted demonstration sites - allocated by lottery - violate free speech.
City officials want to bury their reputation for corrupt, old-fashioned machine politics, patronage, and red tape while presenting an image of corporate-style efficiency.
"Historically, Chicago has been synonymous with big-style machine politics, but we've moved beyond that. It's a new day," says Tim Ryan, executive director of Chicago's International Press Club.
Jerry Roper, chairman of Chicago's Chamber of Commerce, agrees: "The direction the administration is going is very business-friendly," he says, citing tax cuts and a streamlining of business licensing.
Daley's latest, top-down reform of the school system, including privatizing more than 1,000 union jobs, has been welcomed by businesses as a break in a long tradition of labor patronage, Mr. Roper says.
Nevertheless, political scandals persist, ranging from "ghost" payrolls and voters to a recent federal sting called Operation Silver Shovel that has exposed systematic bribe-taking by aldermen and lower city officials. And as most Chicagoans say, patronage is alive and well.
"This is a very political town," says Phil Harris, a doorman at the Essex Inn on Michigan Avenue. "If you want a city job, it's not what you know but who you know," he says.
City officials are attempting to play up Chicago's image as a modern, cosmopolitan, and economically vibrant melting pot while glossing over divisions of race, ethnicity, and income.
To be sure, the broad shouldered "city that works" has made strides in technology, finance, services, and international trade in recent decades. With a population of nearly 3 million, Chicago is the third-largest city in the country and remains a major manufacturing center. It is home to more than 1,600 foreign firms.
A transportation hub, it boasts the world's busiest airport, serving more than 60 million passengers a year. As a leading center for conventions and trade shows, it attracts more than 30,000 meetings that bring in $3 billion a year. The Democratic convention alone is expected to generate direct business activity of $123 million, according to Federal Reserve Bank estimates.
But symbols of the city's history of racial segregation and inner-city poverty - its decaying public housing projects - stand virtually in the shadow of the United Center where the Democrats will convene.
Finally, Chicago boosters are eager to reassure jittery tourists by downplaying the city's "big bad" reputation as a bastion of gangsterism, vice, and violence.
"Chicago is just a plain nice place," says Alderman Burton Natarus, a city councilman who has served under both Daleys.