Year end roundup

Daley's rough year

The warm glow of Olympic gold and a landslide victory that sealed a place in Chicago history. The cold reality of entrenched problems that can be ignored no longer.

Mayor Richard Daley faced both in 2007 - sandwiched around the 65th birthday that made him a senior citizen. He shook off three years of corruption scandals to earn the right to become Chicago's longest-serving mayor. And only after his re-election did he clean out his city hall cabinet, hammer out costly contracts that guaranteed 10 years of labor peace and tackle the city's long-festering financial, transportation, police brutality and police corruption problems.

• Year started with a bang for mayor
The year began with a Bears march to the Super Bowl that provided Daley a timely diversion from a ho-hum mayoral campaign. As underfunded mayoral challengers Dorothy Brown and Bill "Dock" Walls struggled for attention, a smiling Daley was photographed in a Bears cap before a Taste of Chicago spread wagered in bets with the mayors of Seattle and Indianapolis.

Between photo-ops and fundraisers that brought in $7 million in less than three months, Daley nailed down a prized endorsement from U.S. Senator and presidential challenger Barack Obama, who said the city hall corruption that once gave him "huge pause" about Daley was being cleaned up.

U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Chicago) also climbed aboard the Daley bandwagon - nine months after a blistering critique of Daley that appeared to lay the groundwork for a mayoral campaign. The big-name endorsements softened the blow of Daley's strained relationship with organized labor.

Four city unions took a pass on the mayor's race - payback for the 28-month wait for new contracts and the mayor's 2006 veto of the big box-minimum wage ordinance. The Chicago Firefighters Union Local 2 endorsed Brown. The Chicago Building Trades Council was the only union to endorse Daley.

All 50 wards agree

The cold shoulder from organized labor wasn't the only hiccup in the campaign. A federal report suggested first responders in Chicago and Cook County were ill-prepared to communicate with one another in the event of a natural disaster or terrorist attack.

A racketeering lawsuit accused political operatives with ties to Daley of shaking down a developer. Chief Emergency Officer Cortez Trotter responded to the federal critique by lashing out at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, then resigned five months later. The lawsuit, filed by developer Thomas Snitzer, was dismissed by Daley as election-year politics.

On Feb. 27, Daley captured all 50 wards and nearly 72 percent of the vote, setting him up to break the 21-year record for longevity set by his father, former Mayor Richard J. Daley, assuming he is in office on Dec. 26, 2010.

Never mind that only one-third of the city's 1.4 million registered voters bothered to go to the polls or that aldermanic challengers bankrolled by organized labor defeated the mayor's candidates or forced them into run-offs in battleground wards.

No sooner were the ballots counted than, in March, the U.S. Olympic Committee demanded Daley put "skin in the game" if he wanted Chicago to become the U.S. bid city for the 2016 Summer Olympic Games. The demand forced a $500 million guarantee from Chicago taxpayers.

So much for Daley's oft-repeated promise to host the games without a penny of local that saw organizers run out of water and one competitor die of a heart ailment.

March also saw former Streets and Sanitation Commissioner Al Sanchez indicted on charges he traded jobs, promotions, overtime and transfers for political work and personal favors.

Sanchez was a chief lieutenant of the Daley-created Hispanic Democratic Organization.
The indictment made clear a federal investigation of city hiring that forced the city to create a $12 million fund to compensate victims of city hall's rigged hiring was far from over - and that HDO chieftain Victor Reyes remains in investigators' cross hairs.

One month later, Daley returned from a two-week trip overseas to the furor of a videotape played around the world - the footage of burly off-duty Chicago Police Officer Anthony Abbate pummeling a diminutive female bartender.

In a woodshed meeting held on the mayor's first day back at work, Daley forced the resignation of Police Supt. Phil Cline, who'd been contemplating retirement but wanted to leave on his own terms. Cline walked the plank for mishandling the incidents, including his decision to leave six off-duty officers accused of beating four businessmen at the Jefferson Tap and Grille on the job for months.

"That's why everybody was outraged," Daley said on the day he accepted Cline's resignation. "You can't wait that long in regard to an incident like this, because, if there's a videotape, it's going to get out."

In the wake of those and other allegations of excessive force by police, Daley severed the Office of Professional Standards from the police department and hired a Los Angeles attorney to restore public confidence in investigations of police wrongdoing. He also agreed to a $19.8 million settlement with four torture victims of former Chicago Police Lt. Jon Burge that, despite a legal snag, is expected to be approved by the city council after the new year.

In April, Chicago Transit Authority President Frank Kruesi, the mayor's longest-serving government adviser, abruptly resigned the job he had held for a decade.

Convinced Kruesi had made too many enemies in Springfield, Daley took that issue off the table in the quest for long-term funding for mass transit. Ron Huberman, the mayor's chief of staff, was installed as Kruesi's replacement.

By year's end, Kruesi had resurfaced as the city's chief lobbyist in Washington. When a blistering federal report blamed shoddy CTA maintenance and missing and falsified records for a 2006 Blue Line derailment, the management shake-up allowed Daley to claim the problems he called "a disgrace" had been "corrected."

The same can't be said for CTA funding. Despite a landmark agreement with CTA unions that includes health care and pension concessions, the General Assembly remains stalemated over demands for a capital program bankrolled by casino gambling. Doomsday fare hikes and service cuts loom.

The CTA wasn't alone in its financial crisis. The city budget also was mired in red ink, thanks to personnel costs tied to new labor contracts, sky-high overtime spending and lower-than-expected revenues tied to the housing crunch.

Daley ordered three rounds of mid-year budget cuts - then socked it to Chicago taxpayers by proposing $293 million in higher taxes, fines and fees.

When aldermen balked at the mayor's proposal for a $108 million property tax increase to build and maintain libraries, Daley initially called the criticism an "insult to me," then backed off and reduced the property tax increase to $83.4 million.

Family matters

As if the mayor didn't have enough battles, he picked a few new ones. He created a new Office of Compliance to oversee city hiring, infuriating corruption-fighting Inspector General David Hoffman, who felt undermined again. Daley became more open in his criticism of Gov. Rod Blagojevich - and walked out of a mass transit summit meeting called by the governor.

He also ridiculed 28 aldermen who signed a petition demanding the city release the names of Chicago police officers most frequently accused of excessive force. At the top of the list were officers assigned to the now-disbanded Special Operations Section, which is at the center of a cops-as-robbers scandal.

The mayor's roller-coaster year ended with a pair of bombshells - one dropped by the mayor, the other by the Chicago Sun-Times. The newspaper disclosed Daley's soldier son Patrick, now deployed overseas, and the mayor's nephew Robert Vanecko had a hidden interest in a sewer inspection company whose city business rose sharply while they were owners.

An emotional Daley called his son's investment a "lapse in judgment" and declared: "I wish he hadn't done it."

But Daley said he didn't know about the deal until the Sun-Times started asking questions. Hoffman now is investigating.

The mayor's shocker was his choice of career FBI agent Jody Weis to become the first outsider to serve as Chicago police superintendent in nearly 50 years.

Daley was so enamored of Weis and his ability to deliver the Police Department from the abyss of corruption and brutality allegations that he agreed to pay the new superintendent $310,000 a year and lock him in to a three-year term that ends after the 2011 mayoral election. Weis' salary is $93,790 higher than the mayor's.

The move was controversial on several fronts. Daley's stunning choice circumvented a pair of nationwide searches by the Chicago Police Board. He chose an FBI agent who never has been a police officer and never run a law enforcement agency, ignoring longstanding tensions between the police department and the FBI.

And the mayor angered some black ministers and community leaders, who questioned whether a white superintendent could bridge a widening gap between citizens and police in the African-American community. But Daley is convinced his G-man is the right man for the pressure-cooker job. Chicagoans will have to wait until next year to find out if their mayor was right.

Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart estimated the search cost taxpayers $250,000


  1. SP Biloxi said...
    Yup, bad year for Daley as well as G-Rod and Urkel. It is a shame that G-Rod hasn't passed the bdget this year. Me thinks G-Rod is next on the indictment list.
    Third Generation Chicago Native said...
    Yes Blago should be getting nervous. Most of the letters of the Alphabet have be identified.
    KittyBowTie1 said...
    If the city and county didn't overpay certain workers, allow a super-high disabilities claim rate in which former city workers collect payments without working, the friends & family hiring plan, and patronage jobs, there would be PLENTY of money left over for necessary things like the CTA.
    Third Generation Chicago Native said...
    Totally agree kitty!
    KittyBowTie1 said...
    Well, at least the Bears beat the Cheeseheads, and made them lose their home field advantage for the playoffs.

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