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.