Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Reacting to the Daley News: Mayor Will Leave a Rich Legacy

Photo Credit: Antonio Dickey, Mayor's Press Office
Although I have lived in the Chicago area for nearly my entire life, I have never lived within the city limits of Chicago. As such I've never paid Chicago taxes, gone to Chicago schools or directly utilized many Chicago services. Therefore I've never felt the financial or otherwise acute personal impact of many of Mayor Richard M. Daley's decisions.

But as a suburbanite who loves Chicago, has worked at times within the city and has spent countless hours going to events, restaurants and attractions there, I think Daley--who yesterday announced that he will not seek re-election in 2011, ending his reign after 22 years--has largely been a great mayor.

Not perfect, not without numerous missteps, not without considerable arrogance, not without suspicions of corruption, but in sum a mayor who has had a much more positive impact on the city than negative (again, at least to someone not affected in every way).

Yes, there are still far too many murders, although the rate has dropped significantly during Daley's tenure. Yes, there seems to be much disenchantment on--and probably always with--the police force. Yes, coupled with the recession, the Daley administration left the city's finances in dire straits. Yes, I think the parking meter boxes are far too ubiquitous. Yes, I think Daley misread the likelihood of Chicago ever landing the Olympics. And yes, at times the mayor has butchered the English language beyond recognition.

Photo Credit: Brian Cassella, Chicago Tribune
But while the Chicago Tribune's editorial staff, news department and columnist John Kass have been lambasting Daley for years, it's telling to me that theater critic Chris Jones and architecture critic Blair Kamin are today singing his praises for his impact on Chicago's cultural life and appearance.

During Daley's reign--which will end up being just briefly longer than his father's--city streets and parks have been beautified, the theater district has been revitalized, three major stadiums have been built, McCormick Place (and the city's convention business) have been vastly expanded, Navy Pier was renovated and became the city's top tourist attraction (although I don't quite understand why), numerous festivals have been amplified, many arts groups have thrived, new skyscrapers have risen and Millennium Park--Chicago's newest crown jewel--was created, albeit four years late.

For these reasons and others, Time magazine named Daley the best "big city mayor" in 2005, and seemingly as a result, Chicago was recently ranked the 6th best global city by Foreign Policy magazine.

I understand that Daley has numerous detractors and respect the opinions of those who face snow removal, pothole, neighborhood safety, local parking, school quality and property tax issues/hardships that I haven't had to deal with.

But as an outsider looking in, judging him by the following: 1) Will Daley leave Chicago better than he found it?, 2) Did he raise the city's stature around the world? and 3) Will he be easy to replace?, I feel that Richard M. Daley did a pretty damn good job overall, despite whatever foibles and failures.

And I'm being sincere when I say, "Thanks Richie."

No comments: