Next Chicago mayor faces weight of Daley's legacy

By Tammy Webber

Associated Press

Published: Monday, Feb. 21 2011 12:00 a.m. MST

In this photo taken Feb. 11, 2011, Tim King, founder of Urban Prep Tim King, head of Urban Prep Academies, a private network of all-boys schools where for two straight years every senior has been accepted to 4-year colleges and universities, is seen during an interview in Chicago with The Associated Press on the challenges that will face Chicago's next mayor. The election is Feb. 22, 2011.

M. Spencer Green, Associated Press

CHICAGO — They call this "The City that Works" — a metropolis anchoring middle America with thriving neighborhoods, prosperous business and a skyline unmatched.

It's a city that avoided the decline that befell Rust Belt casualties Detroit and Cleveland, steered through decades of turmoil by an old-school political boss. It's a city guided into a new century by the boss' son, a second Mayor Richard Daley who kept it vibrant through passionate promotion, a sometimes absurd focus on random details of city problems, and, yes, the family tradition of arm-twisting and spreading around the spoils.

That is the vast inheritance left to the winner of Tuesday's mayoral election in Chicago, the first in more than 20 years in which Richard M. Daley won't be on the ballot as a candidate for mayor. It's a legacy that also comes paired with a legion of challenges the Daley era leaves unresolved, some which he helped foster.

There is the corruption that still makes the front page: Just this month, a top Daley lieutenant headed off to federal prison. The scars of racial segregation linger: Cement scabs on the city's West Side mark places where buildings burned in the riots that followed Martin Luther King Jr.'s assassination. Daley's administration has torn through cash reserves that were supposed to last decades and the city may soon be as much as $1 billion in the red. Students in Chicago's public high schools are as likely to drop out as they are to graduate.

Daley hasn't publicly endorsed any of the candidates running for mayor, commenting only indirectly on the choice of who will take his place at City Hall. But, in the weeks leading up to Election Day, The Associated Press asked some of city's top creators, thinkers and doers for advice on how the next mayor will keep Chicago "The City that Works," and how to do it without the often uncontested clout that came with the Daley name.

"What I think will be different is the new mayor will be required and expected to more specifically explain to the citizens of the city the nature of the problem and why a recommended solution is necessary," said airline chief Glenn Tilton, the chairman of Chicago-based United Continental Holdings Inc. "Less will be taken for granted and the new mayor is going to have to be very, very explicit with respect to the definition of the problem and his or her view of the solution."

"Incidentally," Tilton said, "that is probably a good thing."

The first challenge for the new mayor might just be to match how Daley turned his pride in the city into action. Chicago Blackhawks owner Rocky Wirtz recalls how Daley beamed last year while riding atop a double-decker bus with the Stanley Cup, as proud of the team's championship as the clean, safe streets the team traveled on their way into the sparkling heart of the city's famous downtown Loop for a rally with 2 million fans.

"He kept saying to me, 'Look at this, Rocky,'" Wirtz said. "He was excited. He was amazed that you had this outpouring of people ... and it was a great way to show off the city."

It's not an understatement to say that no U.S. mayor in recent memory has changed the look and feel of a city more than Daley. He lined the city's historic boulevards with trees and pushed for the construction of Millennium Park, blithely ignoring hundreds of millions of cost overruns to build one of the nation's most widely acclaimed city parks.

Renowned architect Stanley Tigerman said Daley succeeded by obsessing over tiniest of details, something city department heads discovered when they got a call from the boss about overflowing trash cans or, heaven forbid, a rat the mayor saw scurry across an alley. Upset with seagulls fouling a spit of land along Lake Michigan, Tigerman recalls, Daley asked the city parks department to plant something "spiky and unfriendly to birds."

"He said if that didn't work, he would round up every feral cat in the city," Tigerman said. "He was going to get rid of those damned seagulls no matter how he had to do it."

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