His Family Ran Chicago for 43 Years. Could Bill Daley Be Next?
By Bill Ruthhart
Five years ago, Bill Daley spent four months running for governor.
He quickly raised more than $1 million while promising to fix the state's dire finances. Then the D.C. political insider who had served other politicians but never run for office himself abruptly pulled the plug, deciding he wasn't up for the "enormity" of the job after all. He vowed never to seek public office again.
On Monday, Daley is launching a bid for one of the nation's most enormous political jobs, one his brother and father held for a combined 43 years: mayor of Chicago.
So why is the 70-year-old Daley now up for a job that arguably is just as, if not more, demanding than being governor?
"The state of Illinois is great. They had a lot of problems, and I thought I might be able to bring something there, but this is home. This is where I live, this is where I've lived and this is where I'll die," Daley said. "That's the difference. I've seen my father and brother try to lead this city, the difficulties of it, but the joy they got of trying to make a difference and help people. And the people of Chicago have been extremely good and kind to our family.
"We all have tried in many ways to give something back," Daley said, "and this may be the ultimate way I can try to give something back."
Daley's challenge, however, is to make the case that his candidacy is more back to the future than simply going back in time.
His brother, former Mayor Richard M. Daley, departed City Hall in 2011 after overseeing a long run of economic growth and political stability -- but also leaving the city's finances in shambles. Bill Daley's surname alone will open him up to attacks from opponents, who could try to tag him with some of his kin's least-popular legacies, like his father's old-school machine politics and his brother's much-loathed deal to privatize the city's parking meters.
Daley also will face criticism for his strong ties in the financial sector, from New York's Wall Street to Chicago's LaSalle Street. His political party is moving to the left nationally, with many centrist establishment Democrats like him struggling to gain a foothold with an increasingly more liberal electorate. And after three flirtations with running for governor, Daley will have to convince Chicagoans that he's for real this time.
Those obstacles aside, Daley brings private sector and government experience to the race, including top posts with major corporations like JPMorgan Chase and stints in Washington as special counsel and U.S. Commerce Secretary under former President Bill Clinton and White House chief of staff under former President Barack Obama. That background positions Daley to contend he's best fit to oversee the city's continued economic growth.
With strong ties to corporate donors and personal wealth he can tap, Daley should have the financial resources to get his campaign message out in the expensive Chicago media market, an area where the field's existing candidates have struggled so far. And perhaps most advantageous of all, the Daley name gives his candidacy instant credibility as someone voters will closely consider before heading to the polls Feb. 26.
"I love this city. I've spent my entire life in this city. My kids are all in the city. My grandkids are in the city. All my siblings are in the city. So, I hope at this stage in my life I can add something to future of the city," Daley said in an interview with the Chicago Tribune when asked to explain why he's running. "We've got a lot of issues like every city does. My goal is to try to help make Chicago safer, stronger and more affordable for all the people in Chicago."
Daley said he will make the city's recent struggle with crime and policing under Mayor Rahm Emanuel his No. 1 issue at a time when gang conflicts and gun violence have led to a spike in shooting deaths on the South and West sides and historically safer, predominantly wealthy white neighborhoods have had bouts with carjackings and robberies. Daley said he'll also run on a platform of strengthening neighborhoods and making the city more affordable, a complicated case for him to make given that his brother's financial stewardship of the city in part necessitated Emanuel's run of record tax and fee increases.
Perhaps recognizing how his budding candidacy may be cast given his corporate background and most recent job as a hedge fund managing partner, Daley is pitching himself as a candidate of the neighborhoods from a family that knows them all too well.
"I can't win the election by being the business candidate. Business and the private sector is vital to the future of this city, and they have to be supported. ... But I know where the votes are, and I know where people live," said Daley, whose brother John Daley is a Cook County commissioner and Democratic committeeman of the family's ancestral 11th Ward centered in the Southwest Side's Bridgeport. "Most of the people of Chicago live in neighborhoods that are outside of the core of the city. That's where I hope to go and get my votes."
The Daley name
The last time Daley surfaced in Chicago politics was in April when he called a Sun-Times reporter to complain about Emanuel's blaming of former Mayor Richard M. Daley for the city's financial problems. Although Emanuel never mentions his predecessor by name, Daley said the implication had been clear and it was "unseemly" for the mayor to continue to blame his brother. By contrast, Daley said his brother had shown "class" by not commenting on Emanuel's moves at City Hall.
"I love my brother, and we're very close. I can tell you I criticize him better than anyone, because I know him better than anyone. And I have to his face, told him where I think he's wrong. That's what I do," Daley said in a 20-minute interview at the Loop high-rise office of a political consultant. "He's made mistakes, and he's not perfect by any stretch. I'll defend him to the day I die -- not everything he did -- but for what he's tried to do to make this a better city and what he gave and his wife gave to the city."
When Emanuel took office in 2011, he walked into a $636 million budget deficit and pension funds that were billions of dollars in the hole after years of skipped contributions under Daley that were exacerbated by the Great Recession.
Daley signaled he intends to distance himself from -- and publicly disagree with -- some of his brother's decisions as mayor, though he didn't specify which ones. Asked how he'll respond when political opponents try to make him answer for his brother's financial shortcomings, Daley shot back: "I wasn't there. I didn't do it."
"People will want to try to say all things and everything Rich Daley did positive or negative, you should either get the credit or get the blame for. Well, that's not me," he said. "My name is Bill Daley. It is not Richard M. or Richard J. It is Bill Daley, and I will try to stand on my record and what I've done and what I've been involved in and what I hope to bring to the city of Chicago for the leadership over the next four years."
Daley's decision to run comes after Emanuel shook Chicago's political landscape earlier this month by announcing he'd drop his bid for a third term to spend more time with his wife, Amy, and to write an unspecified "next chapter" of his life. Emanuel left a race that already included a dozen challengers, including former Chicago Public Schools CEO Paul Vallas, former Chicago police Superintendent Garry McCarthy, Cook County Circuit Court Clerk Dorothy Brown, businessman Willie Wilson and onetime federal prosecutor and former Police Board President Lori Lightfoot.
Daley becomes the first candidate to formally join the race since Emanuel's departure, and he'll use the campaign slogan "Chicago Together." Several other high-profile politicians are weighing a bid, including Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, Cook County Commissioner Jesus "Chuy" Garcia, state Comptroller Susana Mendoza, U.S. Rep. Mike Quigley and 2011 candidate and City Hall veteran Gery Chico.
Whoever runs, Daley will have the most recognizable name. His father, Richard J. Daley, served as mayor for 21 years before dying in office in 1976 and is considered Chicago's most powerful political boss. Richard M. Daley presided over City Hall for 22 years, declining to seek re-election in 2011.
Richard M. Daley's era was punctuated by financial woes and included corruption scandals that took down top aides and allies. But his tenure also is remembered as a stabilizing time when racial chasms in the city's politics were narrowed. The downtown boomed with development at a time when other Rust Belt cities struggled, and Chicago was beautified in many ways, most notably with the construction of Millennium Park.
As Daley seeks to become the clan's third mayor, he ticked off key objectives: drive down crime, keep the city's economy growing and make living in Chicago more affordable. All speak to a desire to steer Chicago onto a stable path.
"Obviously safety is the No. 1 issue in Chicago, and I don't care what community you're in, whether it's from West Garfield or Edgebrook or Englewood or Streeterville or Beverly, that's the No. 1 issue," Daley said. "So, we've got to try to do something about that. We need to not only reduce crime, but we need to make people feel that they're safer."
Emanuel's administration has struggled with a spike in shootings and homicides in the last two-plus years that has come as the Chicago Police Department has been placed under increased scrutiny after the Laquan McDonald police shooting scandal. White Officer Jason Van Dyke's murder trial for the death of the black teenager, whom he shot 16 times on a Southwest Side street, continues this week.
The fallout also included a federal civil rights investigation into the Police Department that found widespread misconduct and excessive force and recommended a consent decree, in which a federal court enforces reforms to the department. Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan sued Emanuel to force a consent decree, and the two submitted a proposed agreement in court last week.
Daley said that the consent decree is necessary, but that it "is not something that is going to change the culture or change the Police Department overnight."
"They didn't get into losing the trust of the people of Chicago over a short period, so it will take a while," Daley said of the Police Department. "But while that's going on, and the professionalism of the Police Department increases, we have got to be supportive of the men and women of the Police Department putting their lives on the line for us every day. ... The last thing we need is the police officers feeling not supported and feeling less anxious and less willing to do the job to keep us safe."
Daley said he would focus on continuing to grow the city's economy while trying to bridge the gap between the financial success of downtown and the lack of it in Chicago's most struggling neighborhoods. He alluded to a common complaint that raising property taxes and other taxes and fees have made many areas of the city less affordable.
"With the taxes, can people afford to live in the city unless you're extremely wealthy?" said Daley, who lives on the Near North Side. "We can't have a vibrant city if our neighborhoods aren't getting stronger."
Chicago's next mayor will face a steep increase in required payments to Chicago's four public employee pensions, which currently are $28 billion in debt. Emanuel has floated the idea of borrowing as much as $10 billion to ease the immediate burden. Daley said he'd wait to see if details of such a proposal emerge before commenting on whether it's a good idea.
He said if Democrat J.B. Pritzker is elected governor, there would be a chance to overhaul the state and city's entire financial picture, a nod to the billionaire's hope to institute a graduated income tax and ease the reliance on property taxes.
"You can't just raise taxes. If that's people's answer, you will kill this city," Daley said of the pension problem. "If that's what people think is the answer, then you can build a highway that is one way going out of the city, because this city has to be more affordable."
A deep resume
Daley enters the race with extensive business experience and as a veteran of the national political scene.
His business resume includes: partner at the law firm Mayer Brown; president and CEO of Amalgamated Bank of Chicago; president of SBC Communications (now AT&T); and Midwest chairman of JPMorgan Chase. He previously served on the corporate boards of the Boeing Co., Boston Properties, EDS and Merck & Co. and recently joined the board of American Financial Exchange, according to his campaign. Daley stepped down as managing partner of the Swiss hedge fund Argentiere Capital to run for mayor but remains an investor, his campaign said.
On Daley's political resume: Special counsel and three years as commerce secretary under Clinton, chairman of Al Gore's 2000 presidential campaign and about a year as Obama's chief of staff.
As special counsel for Clinton, Daley helped pass the North American Free Trade Agreement, which could complicate his relationship with unions with whom the deal remains deeply unpopular. As Obama's chief of staff, Daley was in the Situation Room with other senior White House officials as the president monitored a U.S. Navy Seals raid in Pakistan that resulted in the death of Osama bin Laden, a famous photo that could make its way into a campaign ad.
Like Emanuel, Daley's politics are that of a centrist, business-friendly Democrat. During his tenure as mayor, Emanuel has been derided by his critics as "Mayor 1 percent" for his close ties to wealthy business executives, and the progressive wing of the party including U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders has openly campaigned against him.
Daley, though, said he doesn't think the populist and more progressive headwinds that exist nationally play as much in Chicago -- at least at City Hall.
"There is no left or right or middle way to fill a pothole or pick up the garbage or try to keep our community growing," Daley said. "They want government to respond to them. It's got to be efficient, more effective bringing services to people and then trying to solve some of these problems in neighborhoods that are struggling mightily right now."
Daley said he's proudest of his efforts to bring people together in politics. He pointed to his work as commerce secretary when Republicans held the majorities in Congress, contending he still got things done with the likes of the late Republican U.S. Sen. John McCain. He said he tried to do the same as Obama's top aide but that Republicans weren't interested in compromise.
In fact, those efforts were at the center of a rare staff shake-up in the Obama White House, as some Democrats complained that Daley's efforts at helping Obama strike a "grand bargain" with then-Republican House Speaker John Boehner weakened the president's political standing in Washington. Despite the turmoil, Daley had pledged to stay on as chief of staff through the 2012 November election.
But much like his aborted bid for governor, Daley surprised Obama and others when he offered his resignation in January 2012 after spending the holidays with family.
"In the end, the pull of the hometown we both love, a city that's been synonymous with the Daley family for generations, was too great," Obama said in the State Dining Room then with Daley by his side.
Now, the pull is to the ultimate home for a Daley -- the fifth floor mayor's office at City Hall.
"I'm not going to change my name. That's not going to happen. Look, some people like us, some people don't. Some people like my brother, he got elected six times," Daley said. "So, for his tenure, people were positive, obviously, based upon the results. I've got to go out and earn that. I don't take anything for granted."
(c)2018 the Chicago Tribune