May 15, 2011 / 5:07 PM / in 7 years

Rahm Emanuel becomes Chicago mayor Monday as Daley era ends

CHICAGO (Reuters) - For 43 of the last 56 years, Chicago has been run by someone named Daley.

From 1955 until he died in office in 1976, it was Richard J. Daley, thought by urban historians to be the last of the big city bosses.

From 1989 until now, the nation’s third largest city has been run by his son Richard M. Daley, 69. The longest-serving mayor in the city’s history, Daley is credited with helping to save Chicago from the declines suffered by other rust-belt centers.

On Monday, former White House chief of staff and U.S. Congressman Rahm Emanuel will be sworn in as mayor of Chicago.

Richard M. Daley, a former state legislator and county prosecutor, leaves a long legacy -- though he has also had his share of detractors.

“He’ll be remembered positively for shepherding Chicago through the transformation from a manufacturing and service economy to becoming a global city,” said political analyst Dick Simpson of the University of Illinois at Chicago, a former alderman.

Daley called being mayor of Chicago “the greatest job in America.” He viewed himself as an urban planner, intent on beautifying a city linked to a grimy industrial past featuring steel mills and slaughterhouses.

He ordered tree and flower plantings, developed an old pier as a major tourist attraction and helped developers repopulate the downtown area. He took over Chicago’s troubled schools and tore down crime-plagued public housing projects.

In a city long known for segregated neighborhoods and divisive racial politics, the Irish-American mayor developed alliances with African-American, Latino and gay leaders. He also traveled widely, bringing back ideas for improvements from cities around the world.

Daley pushed hard for Chicago’s bid to host the 2016 Olympic Games, but the effort fell short despite strong backing by President Barack Obama, a fellow Chicagoan.

Daley’s best known and biggest project was Millennium Park, which transformed 24 acres of rail yards, parking lots and underutilized park space between downtown and Lake Michigan into a stunning public space that has become a favorite arts and recreation spot for residents and tourists.

The park wound up costing $500 million, three times more than expected, a reflection of what some critics say is Daley’s dubious fiscal stewardship of the city.


Emanuel faces a 2011 budget deficit of more than $500 million. Daley has pointed to the down economy, with accompanying lower tax revenues, as a cause for the city’s budget problems.

“The usual gap, when we’ve gone from one mayor or another, has been a deficit of $100 million or so,” Simpson said. “This time the gap is much bigger, and it will be very difficult to handle.”

Daley has come under increasing criticism for some of his decisions, including leasing the city’s parking meter system for what some said was a bargain price. He also came under fire for using millions of dollars in proceeds from the privatization of the Chicago Skyway, a highway linking the city with Indiana, and city parking garages to shore up budget shortfalls.

Simpson faults Daley for not doing more in office to change the city’s culture of patronage and corruption. While Daley has never been implicated, officials in his administration were convicted of schemes involving nepotism in hiring and illegally using city workers to perform campaign work.

Daley announced in September that he would not seek reelection. In his personal life, his wife, Maggie Daley has been battling cancer, though the mayor has said this was not a factor in his decision not to run again.

Emanuel, who won by more than 50 percent of the vote against five other candidates in February, has already named many of his key positions, including chief of staff and police superintendent.

On Saturday, Daley was still working, giving an address to graduates at North Park University and shaking hands. He said in a recent interview on WLS-TV that meeting and listening to people was what he liked best about the job he loved.

“It’s a wonderful 22 years,” said Daley, who predicts the coming decades will be “tremendous” for Chicago.

“It’s going to be a better and better city every year,” Daley said.

Additional reporting by James Kelleher; Editing by Tim Gaynor and Ellen Wulfhorst

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