Richard M. Daley name endures on Chicago signage

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Richard M. Daley is no longer mayor of Chicago — just don’t look too closely at the hundreds of park benches, sidewalks, bridges and buildings adorned with his name.

CHICAGO (AP) — Richard M. Daley is no longer mayor of Chicago — just don’t look too closely at the hundreds of park benches, sidewalks, bridges and buildings adorned with his name.

Perhaps more than any other major American metropolis, Chicago bears the imprint of its longtime leader, who spent 22 years building up a city where he won’t soon be forgotten.

"It’s a way to stay in power, remind people, ‘This was done for you. It’s a favor, and you should remember,’" said historian Dominic Pacyga, author of "Chicago: A Biography," who added that he hasn’t seen such pervasive mayoral name-dropping elsewhere.

It’s a good thing new mayor Rahm Emanuel, facing a projected city budget deficit of between $500 million and $700 million, said that he’s in no rush to swap it all out.

"I actually did send a message out, I don’t want time wasted changing a bunch of signs and wasting taxpayers’ dollars," Emanuel said.

About the only prominent places where Emanuel’s name already appears, besides his City Hall office, are Chicago’s two major airports and above major roadway that welcomes motorists from the south. Elsewhere, Daley endures, including the city’s fleet management office where the front wall may as well be a theater marquee bearing his moniker in big block letters.

Some say it’s just the Chicago Way.

In New York, nobody would accuse Mayor Michael Bloomberg of being publicity shy, but he hasn’t bothered staking his claim on public buildings. He already has his media company headquarters and philanthropic organization after all.

"The name ‘Bloomberg’ is everywhere," said Suzanne Wasserman, director of the Gotham Center for New York City History at the City University of New York. "I don’t know if he needs to put his name on everything."

Detroit Mayor Dave Bing, already revered for his Hall of Fame basketball career with the Pistons, has made clear he won’t be plastering his name on everything, either — though he has been erasing reminders of former Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, who’s now in prison after pleading guilty to obstruction of justice when he admitted to lying during a trial to cover up an affair with his top aide.

"From the water tower at the zoo to most development projects, his name has been taken down," said Karen Dumas, Bing’s spokeswoman.

In Chicago, mayoral tagging is a family tradition. Daley’s father, Richard J. Daley, may not have invented the practice, but the mayor whose two decades in power also featured massive construction also made sure everyone knew who was behind it all.

Look at photographs of the 1968 Democratic National Convention, said Peter Alter, a Chicago History Museum archivist. Through the haze of tear gas and behind the clashes between police and protesters, "You’ll see his name everywhere," Alter said.

Still, tradition may soon give way fiscal caution in Chicago and beyond.

After former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich — who some said would have put his name on moving cars if he could pull it off — was impeached and kicked out of office on corruption charges, new Gov. Pat Quinn dispatched crews to pull down or cover up Blagojevich’s name on nearly three dozen signs. Each effort cost about $15,000.

But Quinn hasn’t replaced them with his own name.

"He believes the state’s financial resources are best spent in other areas, and his preference is that his name not be promoted on state signage," his office said in a prepared statement.

Emanuel agrees, but could soon see his name in huge letters on Chicago’s South Side whether he pushes for it or not.

A sign near the top of a 41-story grain elevator at the state’s International Port District that still proclaims Blagojevich the governor — and Daley the mayor — has long bothered officials there. But they haven’t done anything because it costs thousands of dollars to repaint.

"If it were up to me, we’d go up there with spray paint and spray paint his (Blagojevich’s) name out," said Susan Kiley, assistant to the district’s executive director.

Now that two names must be changed, Kiley said there’s no need to wait any longer.

"We are trying to get bids from painters," she said.

Associated Press writers Deanna Bellandi in Chicago and Samantha Gross in New York contributed to this report.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press.

(AP Photo/M. Spencer Green)

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