The sound you heard in the dark was chickens coming home to roost.

The recent spate of power outages, including the series last week that disabled parts of downtown for up to 11 hours, has Mayor-for-Life Richard M. Daley sputtering and fuming at Com Ed and its chairman, John Rowe. But who’s really responsible? Daleymissed his chance eight summers ago, when Com Ed’s old 1948 f ranchise agreement expired. Back then the mayor blew a rare opportunity to force an ounce of prevention on the arrogant and politically powerful utility. He could have made reliability a conerstone of the deal, instead of an afterthought.

In those negotiations, Daley’s people opted not to deploy their most powerful weapons-the threat of acquiring the utility outright and a Chicago public well educated about the alternatives. Instead, in return for an exclusive franchise to use city streets that doesn’t expire till 2020, the mayor asked little of Com Ed in terms of energy conservation, required no increase over already-planned system upgrading, and left little leverage to enforce the terms of the agreement.

At the time, Scott Bernstein of the Center for Neighborhood Technology wished the mayor “a lot of luck,” predicting that the city’s do-nothing energy policy would “come back to haunt him, and we will pay.” -Harold Henderson

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): illustration/Kurt Mitchell.