For anyone who has lived or worked in Chicago in the last 21 years, this has been quite the week. The news that long-time Mayor Richard M. Daley will not seek re-election has been a jolting surprise for nearly everyone. For most Chicagoans like myself, the thought that we would hear the following words this week, “Today, I’m announcing that I will not seek a seventh term as mayor of the City of Chicago,” was completely unexpected. Some felt Mayor Daley would serve this role until he died, others hoped he would be ousted during an election and still others assumed he was simply waiting for his son to be experienced enough to take the reins. Either way, most people felt that Richard Daley would continue to be an ever-present, consistent force in Chicago politics. The story has even gone beyond the city limits of Chicago and has been reported on in the Washington Post, LA Times, Wall Street Journal and the New York Times. We might be as bold to go ahead and say that the whole nation was taken by surprise this past week.
As the shock has begun to wear off, the process of looking back on Mayor Daley’s 21 years of service to Chicago is inevitable. Most articles in the papers this week center on a few key themes: his common, but rarely spoken about verbal gaffes, the raging deficit in Chicago and the observation that whenever Mayor Daley wanted to get something done, it got done (example: Meigs Field). As we move forward as a city there is no doubt that Mayor Daley’s impact on our everyday lives will go on. Whenever we stride through Millennium Park, admire the beautiful Michigan Avenue Tulips or celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, many will fondly remember his service to Chicago. And yes, many will also remember the grave financial position the city was in when he left office and his sometimes dictator-like style of getting things done. Mayor Daley’s legacy today is one of mixed feelings and the future view of that legacy will likely be determined by the strides or shortfalls of our next Mayor.