Mayor Rahm could learn a lesson from former Mayor Daley.
  • Jean Lachat/Sun-Times
  • Mayor Rahm could learn a thing or two from Mayor Daley.

As we head into the thick of the city’s budget season—Mayor Emanuel should release it any day—I’m getting weepy with nostalgia for the good old days of Mayor Daley.

Which is happening more and more as the Age of Rahm unfolds.

In particular, some of my fondest Mayor Daley memories were the three annual budget hearings he held in late summer or early fall.

Oh, the joy . . .

It was a command performance for the top brass in City Hall—fire, police, library, Streets and San, you name it.

Mayor Daley schlepped his chieftains to some public center on the south, west, or northwest side and made them sit alongside him at a long table, while the little people of Chicago stepped to the microphone to say what was on their minds.

As the hearings wore on well past their third hour, I almost felt sorry for the honchos, straining to stifle yawns and look interested in the face of yet another pothole complaint.

The point is, Mayor Daley made an effort to at least look like he—and his appointees—gave a damn about ordinary Chicagoans. Which helps explain why they kept reelecting him.

Well, that and Donald Tomczak’s patronage army.

Anyway, Mayor Emanuel sort of kept this legacy alive in his first budget season in 2011, with a slight change in format.

Instead of sitting with his cabinet at a long table, Mayor Emanuel stood at the center of the stage and took questions from the audience.

I think he was sort of going for that Sun King look.

I caught the show at Kennedy-King college. The questions were hostile. Recently laid-off workers testified to their plight. One Englewood resident, Charles Brown, asked about TIFs.

The drama was seeing if he could get through the evening without dropping an F-bomb or two.

He clearly didn’t appreciate democracy, Chicago style. And he dropped the public-budget-hearing format after that year.

Instead, what we get is a budget hearing by press release.

Like the one I received this morning from the mayor’s office telling me that Emanuel “hosted a budget roundtable with local business leaders” to “discuss efforts” to “help small businesses get started and grow.”

The press release didn’t quote or name any of the business leaders. But it did quote the mayor saying “from day one City Hall has sought to serve as a partner to Chicago’s job creators.”

In short, the mayor holds a meeting with a group of people specially selected to weed out anyone who might tell him anything he wouldn’t want to hear.

As opposed to the 50,000 people who resoundingly booed him at Saturday’s Northwestern football game.

Then he issues a press release telling us what a wonderful mayor he’s been.

I think it’s safe to say that if Mayor Emanuel can keep everyone else from voting, he’ll win reelection in a landslide.