Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley is probably the closest thing this country has to an elected monarch, and he gets testy when the peasants have the temerity to question his judgement.
On Moday, in one of his patented incoherent angry rants he followed the lead of St. Sabina's Father Michael Pfleger in branding opponents of the move of the Chicago Children's Museum to Grant Park as not only child-haters, but racists.
A year ago, the residents of the New East Side were pillars of the community, pioneers in bringing back downtown living. Now that they've stepped out of line and refused to swallow the lies and evasions coming out of his administration, they've become, almost overnight, the scum of the earth: senile oldsters, enemies to progress, serial haters of blacks, Latinos and children.
If the Mayor actually believed this, he'd be a fool. Richard M. Daley is no fool. He rules from atop a machine built from equal parts sweet inducements and gutter politics. Play the sycophant, don't get in the way, and your minor indiscretions will be humored. Show a backbone, however, and you'll be instantly surrounded by hoards of flunkies competing to break it - and you. In the words that David Mamet wrote for Sean Connery's character in The Untouchables, "that's . . . the Chicago way."
When, along with the museum's supporters, he keeps repeating the mantra that "Grant Park belongs to the people of the city of Chicago," what he really means is let's dilute the strength of the large majority of people in the immediate area who passionately oppose the new building by claiming the support of the residents in outlying areas who, not having a strong opinion one way or the other, are unlikely to contradict us.
It follows the pattern of the community meeting last Monday hijacked by museum supporters. The museum's Jim Law responded to the 85% disapproval rate of the museum building by the residents attending the community meetings by sneering that they represented only 6% of the total resident population. Mayor Daley won re-election last February in a landslide that saw only 11% of the city's residents voting for him. Would Law say that Daley's election was invalid, as well?
No one has surveyed the people of Chicago about the best uses for Grant Park, and the Daley administration, of course, is not interested in doing so in any even-handed fashion. When the Mayor says Grant Park belongs to all the people, what he's really saying is that it's his personal possession, to do with what he pleases, and he's getting very annoyed by the people who aren't falling into line.
The battle has turned ugly because the Mayor has seen the possibility of losing. He's like a cornered porcupine, shooting off quills in desperate abandon. It's worked for him up until now, but there's always a first time.