Wednesday, June 11, 2008

The Sixteen Who Stood Up to the Children's Museum corrupt land grab - Deja Vu all over again?

When you look at the list of the sixteen courageous votes cast in the Chicago City Council against the Chicago Children's Museum land grab in Grant Park, you can't help but think you've entered a time warp, that you're looking at the council in the 1970's when anti-Daley independents began upsetting long-incumbent machine aldermen across the city's lakefront. The 43rd ward was Bill Singer; the 44th Dick Simpson, the 49th David Orr, the 5th Leon Depres and Ross Lathrop.

Today, only the 49th ward's Joe Moore qualifies as an independent in the old sense. But others, like the 44th's Tom Tunney, the 5th's Leslie Hairston and the 44th's Vi Daley, who barely beat back a runoff challenger last year - though all elected with Daley support - are beginning to reflect constituencies with a revivified independent streak.

History never repeats itself, exactly, but there's a good chance that we've entered the sour, extended downward trajectory of Richard M. Daley's long reign as mayor, following the pattern set by his father.

Richard J. Daley won election with the support of progressive elements in the city, and his early terms were marked by optimism and achievement. As the 1960's rolled on, however, his administration was marked by corrosive and costly imperial fiats such as the destruction, at a time when huge swaths of unused railroad yards were opening up for development, of much of the city's Little Italy neighborhood for the construction of the UIC Circle Campus, which played a major role in destabilizing the near west side for the next three decades. After the debacle of the 1968 Democratic convention, opposition from former supporters Daley had cast aside spread from liberal to working class areas of the city.

While his massive reservoir of power ensured his continual re-election, his later schemes like an airport in Lake Michigan, or a crosstown expressway that would have torn up neighborhoods all along the western spine of Chicago, went nowhere and, in the later case, was a decisive factor in opening the way for the machine's choice for governor, Michael Howlett, to be trounced by anti-machine renegade Democrat Dan Walker.

Now we face the same endgame with his son. Like his father, Richard M. Daley will in all probability be re-elected as mayor as many more times has he desires, but the Children's Museum battle is a waystation marking his increasing isolation, as his sense of invulnerability leads him to discard and demonize anyone rash enough to offer a strong dissent to his policies.

Do you think that the residents in the buildings around the CCM's proposed Grant Park site, many of whom pioneered the back-to-downtown movement and, I'm betting, delivered large majorities for Daley in past elections, will soon forget how quickly and viciously he turned on them, branding them a band of ugly racists for daring to oppose his pet project? In the 2007 elections, for the first time in decades, a large number of Daley-backed aldermanic candidates went down to defeat, a trend that should continue in 2011 and beyond, even in the face of still more smashing Daley re-election victories.

To Daley, the nuts and bolts of running a large city are yesterday's news. His energies are increasingly drawn to grand baubles like the 2016 Olympics, his great white whale. Because he believes himself both infallible and invincible, his actions grow incrementally outrageous. Those outrageous actions will create more and more dissent, and the mayor will respond to that dissent with outrage and an escalating reckless vehemence, finally retreating into an inner circle largely reduced to a small cadre of the most shameless sycophants and flatterers.

I'd like to be wrong about this. No hee-haw.

As for the museum battle, it's on to the courts.

9 comments:

Robert Salm said...

My god, Lynn, that was an excellent summation of all things Mayors Daley--both of them.

There are a couple of things I'd like to throw in: first being that, while I'd like to think the past aldermanic elections had more to do with anti-Daley sentiment, it was really an issue of the "big box" laws the council tried to pass but failed. The results of a "big box" ordinance might have a different result should it come to a future vote. The second: Daley has won elections, not because he is more intelligent than his opponents (although that might be true), but that he's never faced an articulate and focused African-American or Latino candidate that can undo the racial/ethnic coalitions Mayor Daley's forged so excellently.

It takes a lot of chutzpah to rant hyperbole and destructive accusations at the very electorate that's supported Daley through many elections, but he's really soured a lot of New Eastsiders and Gold Coast residents to consider their options should someone create similar coalitions and become a viable candidate in a future election.

Play your cards right, Alderman Reilly, and you'll have my vote.

Eric Allix Rogers said...

Dick Simpson has been all over this trend from his perch at UIC for the past couple of years. His research and reports are increasingly optimistic that an opposition bloc is forming. And this list of 16 generally includes those we'd expect to see in such a bloc, although with a few somewhat surprising additions (thinking particularly Daley and Tunney).

Perhaps in this case, the lakefront aldermen are banding together because they realize that the land they control is most likely to be the next target for a Daley-backed land grab if aldermanic prerogative goes out the window, as it seemingly has. This sets a scary precedent for what might happen if Chicago gets the 2016 games; the aldermen may have zero control over what gets built in their wards.

I don't think Richard M. is quite as cranky and out-of-touch as I've heard his father got towards the end, though. From the research I've done, one of the big factors driving a wedge between the mayor and the aldermen is the rise of media-based campaigning at the mayoral level. Daley can get himself reelected, by large margins, without the patronage army (or at least without much of one). But the aldermen can't really run costly media campaigns, so they actually have a bit more pressure now than they did before to give their constituents what they want. So that may explain this rise in opposition, too.

Anonymous said...

Donate to the Save Grant Park Legal Defense Fund!

The Paypal option should be up on the website today www.savegrantpark.org or checks can be sent to :

5th/3rd Bank
400 E. South Water St.
Chgo, IL 60601
Attn: Save Grant Park

Anonymous said...

down with the chairman!

Andrew Patner said...

Excellent post as ever, Lynn!

A few amendments:

1. Don't discount 47th Ward Gene Schulter's also following his changing constituency on this. He was/is as pure a Machine creation as exists.

2. Tom (He's a Cullerton) Allen (38th) certainly wanted his opposition to the Mayor known for one reason or another.

3. And let's look at some of those who did Daley's bidding:

Helen Shiller (46th), phony "radical" and Daley's longtime political concubine;

Bob Fioretti (2nd), for a while seen as Reilly's southern new-to-the-Loop counterpart -- bought off with some TIFs?;

and, most disappointingly, Ricky Munoz (22): There's got to be a story there.

Anonymous said...

Last month, I hid behind a couch on the fifth floor of City Hall and overheard this conversation involving one of the Alderman who surprisingly voted AGAINST the Children's Museum plan.

ALD. VI DALEY: Can I meet with the Mayor?

DALEY STAFFER: Beat it.

ALD. VI DALEY: I will wash your car and pick up your dry cleaning if you give the Mayor this message.

DALEY STAFFER: I'll think about it. What's the message?

ALD. VI DALEY: Well, um, I am really going to get the crap beat out of me in the next election over this Latin School land grab in Lincoln Park.

DALEY STAFFER: Who give a f--k about your problems?

ALD. VI DALEY: Well, since I rolled over about the Latin School thing, I need to show my independence. Could you please find out if I could vote against the Mayor on the Children's Museum plan? You guys don't even need my vote. He's got this thing locked up no matter what I do. Please ask him, will you?

DALEY STAFFER: I'll think about it. And make sure they don't put no starch in my shirts. I don't need no f--king starch.

Anonymous said...

Fioretti show his true colors with his "Yes" vote in support of the Children's Museum land grab.

He had strung everybody along, promising a "No" vote. Now, he claims that the lastest rendering swayed him.

Baloney. There was no reason for Fioretti to switch after the latest rendering. Why, then, did he NOT do what he said he would do? Backroom deal? Promises of future donations or future political support? We'll never know. What we do know, as of this vote, is that Fioretti feels free to ignore the will of the people who voted him into office. As a separate issue, he has shown that he is not a man of his word.

Residents in the second ward should remember this "Yes" vote when Fioretti comes up for reelection.

Mr Downtown said...

I agree with you on the basic premise of the article. I'm curious about a detail, though. You suggest that UIC could have been located on railyards, presumably in the South Loop. In 1961, though, when the decision had to be made, those railyards were far from abandoned and no one could foresee Amtrak's consolidation only 10 years later. What makes you think otherwise?

Lynn Becker said...

Actually, it's interesting. After Walter Netsch died, I was looking through the oral history he did for the Art Institute, and I found his discussion on the UIC campus. It appears that the first mayor Daley's initial choice was the South Loop, where the Dearborn Park development eventually went, but the railroads fought him. According to the AIA Guide to Chicago, after JFK was elected with the mayor's support playing a crucial role, the new President helped grease the skids for the condemnation of the west side properties for the current campus. So it was a case of not following through on the original superior idea, and using the power of the federal government to push through condemnation, not against the railroads, who had clout, but against neighborhood property owners, who didn't. Netsch's original plan also called for integrating the university into the neighborhood rather than simply replacing it, but it was another case where clout won out over good sense.