Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain

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For the past eight months, the man behind the curtain has been Richard M. Daley. He has been in plain sight, carrying out his mayoral duties, visiting neighborhoods, cutting ceremonial ribbons and shaking hands.

For the past eight months, the man behind the curtain has been Richard M. Daley. He has been in plain sight, carrying out his mayoral duties, visiting neighborhoods, cutting ceremonial ribbons and shaking hands.

But, during the recent mayoral campaign, and even through the pomp and circumstance of the inauguration of Rahm Emanuel as Chicago’s 55th mayor, Daley has become a mythical creature, a jabberwock, rather than the lame duck mayor.

When Emanuel stood up at the Pritzker Pavilion Monday and announced that the city had a lot of work to do –– with a $700 million budget deficit and a crisis in confidence regarding crime, and schools that plague Black and Hispanic families with poor educations and that HHHhwhite families avoid –– he promised Chicagoans that the change they were seeking had come.

But at no time, not Monday and never during the campaign, did Emanuel consider that some of those failings could be laid at the feet of the man who had been in charge of the city, responsible for the budget, and public safety, and the schools, for 22 years.

At no time did Emanuel, or, for the most part, any of the aspirants to the office, say during the campaign, “Daley did it.”

Oh, they gush about how he beautified the downtown area and made it a “world class city.” They talk about his vision and his love for the city.

But the Chicago Public Schools were a joke in 1996 when Daley pushed to get mayoral control. With a dropout rate near 50 percent and a graduation rate below that, the schools are no longer a laughing matter, they are a critical failure.

As his first act as mayor, Emanuel signed several executive orders dealing with government ethics. That he felt the need to do so only highlights how ethics were an afterthought during Daley’s 22 years, with the Hired Truck Scandal and fake minority contractors and patronage run amok.

As Daley ambles off into the sunset (taking a phalanx of city cops as bodyguards), there are many who see through rose-colored glasses and want to point out all of his successes. Some of those people were rewarded with jobs or contracts or some other favors. Others, like the residents in Black neighborhoods, point out that Daley simply forgot those neighborhoods, choosing to rip down houses and leave fallow, vacant lots overrun with trash. They point out tax increment financing money going downtown and to the affluent South Loop and to the Chicago Board of Trade instead of to blighted neighborhoods. Black residents – at least some of them – note that as state’s attorney, Daley turned a blind eye to Lt. Jon Burge’s torture chambers.

On the last day of his tenure, a federal court ruled that the city fire department discriminated against Black applicants and ordered the city to hire 111 Black applicants and pay out more than $30 million for that discrimination.

Is that Daley’s fault? You bet. Does Emanuel think so? Who knows? What we do know is that Emanuel ran for office announcing himself as a “change,” but never enunciated that he represented a change from 22 years of Richard M. Daley. If you don’t acknowledge the man behind the curtain, perhaps all you can expect from the new mayor is a different curtain.

Copyright 2011 Chicago Defender

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