A few days ago, I got a question from Mick Dumke—my old pal and collaborator—that left me virtually speechless.
It came during one of our First Tuesdays shows at the Hideout. C’mon, Ben, Mick challenged me, give it to us straight: Who was better—Mayor Rahm or Richard M. Daley?
Wow. I mean, wow. What a choice!
Of course, as the guy who’s spent the last three decades lambasting both mayors, I flipped the question—which one was worse?
I won’t lie—this is tough. Like trying to decide which recent Bulls draft decision was worse—trading Jusuf Nurkic and Gary Harris for Doug McDermott, or passing up Draymond Green to select Marquis Teague.
Any way you look at it, you lose. But back to politics.
Daley versus Rahm. Rahm versus Daley. I’ve been pondering this puzzle for days—taking a break the other night to watch The Shining for like the 300th time. (Say what you will about Rahm and Daley—at least they never went after Shelley Duvall with an axe.)
Substantively, there’s not much difference between the two. It’s like everything Rahm did he learned from Daley, even as he tried to blame his predecessor for everything that was wrong, without actually mentioning him by name, of course.
On matters of police brutality, they both looked the other way and pretended it didn’t exist. As state’s attorney, Daley largely ignored evidence that police were torturing suspects. And Rahm only belatedly took action after a Cook County judge forced him to release the video of Jason Van Dyke shooting Laquan McDonald.
Then he was like Captain Renault in Casablanca—oh, my God, police brutality in Chicago? I’m shocked! Quick, fire Garry McCarthy!
Economic Development? They followed the precepts laid down by Daley’s daddy, Mayor Richard J. Daley. The Chicago 21 plan, to be exact (published in 1973).
Basically, that means gentrifying the city by showering the Loop and neighboring areas with subsidies for developers to raise both property taxes and housing costs. Make Chicago less affordable and it’s only a matter of time before wealthier people move in and poorer and middle-class people get forced out. It’s no wonder that Chicago’s middle class continues to dwindle.
The chief culprit for this is the Tax Increment Financing program. On this front, I suppose Daley’s worse as he took a perfectly reasonable tool for financing development and turned it into the scandal-ridden abomination it is today.
Of course, Rahm doubled down by arm-twisting the City Council into passing the Lincoln Yards and 78 TIF deals, which will haunt taxpayers for the next 23 years.
Consider it a tie for badness on TIFs.
On the ethical front? They both wimped out rather than challenge Alderman Ed Burke‘s reign as chairman of the finance committee. I’d say Rahm’s wimpiness was less excusable in that he has this reputation as Mr. F-Bomb Dropping Tough Guy. Plus, he tried to justify his capitulation by saying selling out to Burke was what he had to do to get stuff through the council.
Of course, the first thing Rahm did was get the council to pass a budget that closed mental health clinics. So you might say he signed a deal with the devil in order to make life miserable for low-income people in high-crime areas.
Daley never did that.
On schools? About the same. Under Daley and Rahm, the schools were chronically underfunded. Teachers and principals did all the work as mayoral flacks tried to give the mayor all the credit.
In matters of race relations, Daley was better. Think of it this way—in his first election, Daley didn’t win any Black wards. By his last election in 2007, he won all of them. So, either Black voters grew to like him or they just gave up on resistance.
Rahm took things in the opposite direction. Thanks largely to President Obama’s endorsement, he got elected and re-elected with a majority of votes in the Black community.
But after the Laquan McDonald video, he probably couldn’t get elected dog catcher in the Black wards. Leave it to Rahm to take race relations in Chicago—America’s most segregated city—and make them worse.
On the surface Daley was better on the environment. At least he talked a good game about how much he loved trees and flowers and green roofs.
In contrast, Rahm closed the city’s Department of Environment. In general, he barely feigned any interest in the matter—like it was an issue for losers.
Then again, his recycling program was better than Daley’s Blue Bags.
Call it another tie.
On privatization schemes? No one can be worse than Daley—with his wretched parking meter deal. On the other hand, Rahm had the City Council reaffirm that deal.
So you might say he took a sad song and made it worse, to paraphrase the Beatles.
On the bright side, Daley built Millennium Park. So, we got something for his reign, other than higher taxes. On the other hand, his patronage chief, Robert Sorich, went to federal prison on a job rigging scheme.
Under Rahm, no patronage chief went to prison. As always, the bar’s low—when it comes to corruption in Chicago.
The tiebreaker comes down to their post-mayoralty behavior.
For the most part, Daley’s been a pretty decent ex-mayor. He just sort of faded away, as though he recognized we’d had enough of him.
But Rahm. Man, Mayor Rahm’s been insufferable from the moment he announced he wasn’t running for re-election with his shameless efforts to rewrite history.
His latest attempt was an essay in the New York Times in which he had the gall to give Baltimore advice on how to foster better relations between the police department and the Black community.
One more time . . .
Rahm only addressed the issue, kicking and screaming, after a Cook County judge forced him to release the Laquan McDonald video.
I’d say the only thing that members of Black Lives Matter and the Fraternal Order of Police agree on is that they both despise Rahm.
Anyway, add it up and I guess Rahm wins the worst-mayor-ever race—in a photo finish.
Look on the bright side, Chicago—Lori Lightfoot’s got to be better than what came before her. Right? v