After Daley’s departure, establishing legacy will take time

By Samuel Charles

Aside from a 13-year intermission headlined by Jane Byrne and Harold Washington, the Daley family has starred in Chicago’s

show since 1955.

Richard M. Daley, like his father Richard J., is a native of Bridgeport. The Chicago neighborhood is a blue-collar enclave on the South Side that has managed to retain its identity while surrounding areas have changed. There is a mentality one picks up from being a lifelong South Sider. There is a feeling of having to stick to your guns and not be intimidated by others. Those characteristics Daley grew up with have shown during his time in office.

Daley’s legacy will be debated long after he leaves office, but there are a few policies and decisions that have come to define him, not only as the mayor, but as a man.

Millennium Park has quickly become one of the biggest symbols of the entire city. During its construction, it was criticized as unnecessary and too costly. However, since its completion, it has helped bolster Chicago’s tourism industry and bring in money the city desperately needs.

The park was Mayor Daley’s vision. In the plan’s embryonic stages, he knew it had potential to be something great, something that every Chicagoan could look to and be proud of. He was right.

Typically, I find tourists beyond frustrating. Walking down Michigan Avenue on a nice day feels like rush-hour gridlock. But when I go to Millennium Park and see people from all over the world who have come to marvel at what Daley fought so hard for, it’s difficult to be angry about how slow tourists walk.

But the desire to draw international visitors went too far in the time leading up to the decision about which city would host the 2016 Summer Olympics.

Daley campaigned for the Olympics with more vigor and conviction than he did for his own job in most election years. But once budget details were revealed, it came to light that Daley agreed to have taxpayers pick up the tab on any cost overruns—something he said would never happen. Daley, in effect, wrote the International Olympic Committee a blank check.

The bigger issue is Daley’s fixation on making Chicago a global city, which it already has been for years. Chicago is one of the 30 largest cities in the world. Before trying to build the city’s international reputation, it’s necessary to focus on its problems. There are several issues that would have been great things to address before the Olympics or any other kind of global attention-grabber.

One of the problems that should have been given more attention is the city’s issue with gun violence.

Daley was dealt a heavy blow when the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the city’s ordinance on banned handguns, which had been in place since 1982. Chicago has long been a violent crime city, often statistically in the top five for murder.

Though the ban was lifted, Daley and city officials quickly put new restrictions in place that, while not completely effective, sent the message. Higher-ups in Chicago government are doing what they can to stop the flow of illegal handguns within the city.

Another area that desperately needs attention is the state of Chicago schools. While seen as a good thing by many within city government, Daley’s overhaul of Chicago Public Schools made a bad problem worse.

The education secretary in 1995 gave him control of the entire public schools system. He appointed new leaders instead of allowing the public to vote for a superintendent and board members.

Public education has always been an issue that confuses people.

It is completely counterproductive to appoint outside people to run Chicago Public Schools instead of voting for experienced educators who have children’s best interests in mind. Look at the job Ron Huberman is doing as the current CEO of CPS. He’s proposing all kinds of budget cuts but still finds enough money to give himself a raise.

But these are only a few examples of the ripple effect Daley has had and will continue to have on Chicago.

It’s nearly impossible to dissect every aspect of his time in office. While not everyone will agree with the job he’s done, everyone can agree Daley’s impact on the city will be felt for decades.