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Richard M. Daley, Chicago mayor, boss and Obama mentor, calls it quits next year

September 7, 2010 |  3:20 pm

Illinois Democrats impeached Governor Rod Blagojevich president Barack Obama and retiring Chicago mayor Richard m Daley

Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley, the Windy City political boss who oversaw the local political rise of President Barack Obama as well as the affairs of the nation's No. 3 city, announced today he will retire at the end of his term next spring.

This Daley and his rotund, tough-talking father, Richard J. Daley, have run Chicago and the Cook County Democratic machine for 42 of the last 55 years, including the tumultuous Democratic National Convention of 1968. Then, the senior Daley gained national notoriety by making threatening gestures as speakers criticized his city for its rough treatment of protesters outside the International Amphitheatre on Daley's beloved South Side. Daley I died at the age of 74 in 1976 -- in office, of course.

Today's Daley, who is 68, set off a surprise succession scramble with his announcement:

"I have always known that people want you to work hard for them. Clearly, they won't always agree with you. Obviously, they don't like it when you make a mistake. But at all times, they expect.... to lead, to make difficult decisions, rooted in what's right for them. For 21 years, that's what I've tried to do. But today, I am announcing that I will not seek a 7th term as mayor of the city of Chicago.

"Simply put, it's time. Time for me, it's time for Chicago to move on."

In the tradition of the city's ruling pols, he did not take questions.

Daley, whose wife, Maggie, is battling cancer, said his voluntary retirement was a personal decision. However, the political facts are that like many Democrats in this season of national economic and political discontent, even this powerful boss faced mounting headwinds.

A Chicago Tribune poll this summer showed more than half the city did not want him to seek reelection, only 37% approved of his job and 47% disapproved. Only 31% wanted him to preside over City Hall again.

Chicago Democrat mayor Richard M Daley on a good day Like many elected officials, Daley faces severe budget deficits -- currently $655 million. He has already sharply raised city property taxes, chasing many young couples out to the surrounding suburbs.

There is also the city's widespread crime problem, which corrodes the trademark Chicago claim as the city that works. Daley has even sold off some city services like parking meters to help make ends meet.

And, this being a city named by Indians for a smelly wild onion, corruption often rears its lucrative head in municipal affairs, albeit corruption that only federal prosecutors seem able to spot.

In what might be seen as an unusual act of homage from a White House run by anyone but a Chicagoan, Obama issued a special statement on Daley's special statement:

"No mayor in America has loved a city more or served a community with greater passion than Rich Daley. He helped build Chicago’s image as a world class city,  and leaves a legacy of progress that will be appreciated for generations to come."

That progress will not, however, include the 2016 Summer Olympics. As an example of how virtually everything political is connected in the city by the lake, top Obama aide Valerie Jarrett, who used to be a top Daley aide, enlisted as the head of the city's Olympic campaign First Lady Michelle Obama, who used to be an aide to Valerie Jarrett.

A perturbed Chicago Democrat Mayor Richard J Daley at the 1968 Democratic National ConventionMrs. Obama then enlisted her husband, the president, to join her in Copenhagen to make the city's sales pitch last year. The IOC unceremoniously dumped Chicago's bid on its very first ballot, even as the most powerful man in the free world was flying over the Atlantic Ocean enroute home.

As one result, said chief executive found his impossible schedule did not permit travel 20 miles north of the United States to attend the Winter Olympics last winter in Vancouver. What's-his-name from Delaware was dispatched instead.

Daley's announcement will set off a seemly internal scramble for succession among six or seven wannabes, mainly among the city's 50 aldermen but this time including Obama chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel. That Democrat learned politics as a go-fer for the Daley operations before joining Bill Clinton's presidential campaign and later succeeding now-impeached Gov. Rod Blagojevich in the House of Representatives from the North Side's Fifth District.

Seeing the handwriting on Dearborn Street, Emanuel last April publicly allowed as how he had always wanted to be mayor of Chicago but never, of course, by challenging the incumbent. Who's now removed himself. Returning to Chicagoland to seek that office could be Emanuel's graceful White House exit especially if, as polls now indicate, many of the moderate Democrats he recruited for the House in 2006-08 bite the ballot biscuit come Nov. 2.

The fact of the matter is, however, the anointed mayoral successor will be chosen in coming months through intricate negotiations among the machine's neighborhood tribal chieftains (including Blagojevich's father-in-law) whose urban motto, in the inimitable words of the late Chicago columnist Mike Royko, is "Ubi est mea." ("Where's mine?")

-- Andrew Malcolm

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Photo: Associated Press; Chicago Tribune (Mayor Daley II on a good day); Associated Press (Mayor Daley I on a bad day at the 1968 convention).