Influenced by his connection to former Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert, Chicago Mayor Richard Daley was on the Wheaton College campus today for a lecture and fundraiser. Daley gave the kind of speech you might expect at the end of a politician’s career: he highlighted his successes and how much he enjoyed being a public servant. Here are a few things that he said:
1. Chicago is a world class city. He cited a few recent publications (Standard and Poors, Foreign Policy) that have called Chicago a top ten world city.
2. Chicago has been successful because it was “never afraid of changing” and “never lived in the past.”
3. About government spending: the federal government doesn’t have to balance its budget while other forms of government (state, counties, municipalities) do. Government spending has to level off. To help America move forward: we “need confidence,” we need to move away from being “a country of whiners,” and we can compete if we all sacrifice a bit for the common good.
4. Daley said his biggest issue to face was the education system and he hopes the improvement of this system is his enduring legacy. When he first became mayor, he helped stop social promotion. The Chicago schools today teach Chinese, Russian, and Arabic to compete on the world stage. Teacher’s unions have a responsibility to give more (he cited their 6 hour contractual work day while also saying he knows lots of good teachers and he is not blaming them). He said, “education is the cure of all the social ills we have.”
5. The success of Chicago has always been a public-private partnership. He cited Millennium Park as an example. This is what is behind his efforts to make connections with China so that Chinese businesses will see Chicago as the friendliest American city to them.
6. He said he had worked with mayors in the Chicago region, throughout the state, and around the world to discuss common issues. He said numerous times that the common issues they face are not partisan issues.
7. When asked what advice he would give to Rahm Emanuel, he said something to the effect of don’t give advice to people if they don’t ask for it.
Seeing him in person, I was reminded that he can be quite funny, personable, and can connect with a crowd as an “everyman.” He consistently illustrated his larger points with personal stories and interactions he had. His policy recommendations seemed fairly centrist: better education, government has to add value or other contract out or privatize certain services, working together across the region is necessary, government has to work with business leaders to get things done, elected officials and all government workers (teachers, police/fire, etc.) have to work for the people. He told a number of jokes and also several times mentioned advice he had received from his father.
Some other issues were not addressed: the population loss in Chicago in the 2000s, the perception that the city has a crime problem (even though crime has been down – I thought he might highlight this as a success), budget problems in Chicago and where the money from privatization has gone (parking meter deal, the Skyway), corruption in city government, persistent segregation and inequality, the limited number of public housing and affordable housing units (even with the notorious projects, such as Cabrini-Green, being closed), Daley’s legacy of building (outside of mention of Millennium Park and Chicago as a world leader in “green roofs”), whether Chicago’s educationally system has improved dramatically or significantly, and regional issues that need attention such as congestion and expanding O’Hare.