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If Daley's The Best, What Happens When We Get The Worst?

By vouchey in News on Apr 18, 2005 5:32PM

Mayor Daley on Roof of City HallYou can be sure that every pol in Illinois is talking about Time Magazine naming Mayor Richard M. Daley as one of the top five mayors in the nation. Much like a Wall Street Journal Op-Ed about Daley a couple of months ago, Time Magazine brushes aside the numerous recent city government scandals and entirely focuses on how good Daley is at the mechanics of providing city services. Naturally the Tribune and Sun Times grouse about this coverage, not surprisingly the Sun Times more than the Trib.

The four other "Best Big City Mayors" are Shirley Franklin of Atlanta, John Hickenlooper of Denver, Martin O'Malley of Baltimore and Michael Bloomberg of New York.

Time also highlights (lowlights?) four not-so-great mayors too, Gavin Newsom of San Francisco, Dick Murphy of San Diego, Kwame Kilpatrick of Detroit, and John Street of Philadelpha.

Rather than moan about all the things Time missed, or didn't talk about, Chicagoist would rather talk about how Time unintentially provides some clues to what Chicago can expect in a post-Daley city government.

Time Magazine's madness of selection does have a method: The five "best" all excel at providing basic city services while keeping a lid on budgets, but all lack any major policy advancement. The four not-so-great are all second acts to long-serving towering mayoral personalities. Wille Brown in San Francisco, Susan Golding of San Diego, Dennis Archer of Detroit and Ed Rendell of Philadelphia. While there isn't enough space on Chicagoist to dissect each of the not-so-greats' personas, there is certainly something to be said about trying to follow up a strong, successful mayor.

Keeping a city's budget, employees, social services and council in line is a difficult task requiring brains, political skill, and a lot of finesse. Typically, when the hand keeping everything in line gives up the reins, all hell breaks loose. Often cities go through a new mayor or two until someone capable enough comes along to take control. In Chicago we went through Bilandic and Byrne between Richard J. Daley and Harold Washington. Then after Washington's fatal heart attack, we had (the very Interim) David Orr and then Mayor Eugene Sawyer before Richard M. Daley. Bilandic, Byrne and Sawyer's administrations were all marked by mediocre governance, unnecessary fights with City Council, and often a disaster or two.

If Mayor Daley decides not to run in 2007, as so many whispering voices in City Hall say, you can be sure Chicago will in for a rough ride for a couple of years. The sudden power vacuum will cause massive jockeying for power for one, but Chicagoist thinks fiscal controls will go nuts too. The example "not-so-good" mayors Time Magazine chose seem to bear out that prediction.

Image via Time Magazine.