CHICAGO – Ahead of Tuesday’s hotly-contested mayoral election here, Bill Daley dropped by Sunday services at one of the city’s largest African-American congregations with Rep. Bobby Rush to make the case that Chicagoans should give yet another Daley the opportunity to lead.
Daley, 70, spoke briefly to the congregants at New Beginnings Church about a need for Chicago to “move forward” together. He left it to Rush, the former Black Panther-turned-longtime Democratic congressman, to do the heavy lifting.
Rush said voters should look at the Daley name as a trusted brand akin to Cadillac or Nike.
Bill’s father, Mayor Richard J. Daley led the city for 21 years, and his older brother, Mayor Richard M. Daley, for 22.
Rush noted that President Bill Clinton picked Bill Daley to serve as U.S. Commerce secretary and President Barack Obama recruited him to as his White House chief of staff.
The congressman, however, made no mention of his own complicated history with the Daleys.
The first Mayor Daley, Bill’s father, eyed the Illinois chapter of Black Panthers Party that Rush helped found with suspicion – a cloud that hovered when Chicago Police raided a West Side apartment in December 1969 and killed Rush’s fellow Black Panthers Fred Hampton and Mark Clark.
Rush made no reference to his unsuccessful bid in 1999 to unseat Bill’s old brother. At the time, he accused Richard M. Daley of leading with “exclusion and cronyism.”
“I hear some rumblings – some nonsense in the neighborhoods,” Rush told the congregation. “We’re not tired of the Daleys. We’re not Daley-fatigued. You don’t have fatigue for something or somebody you know. Somebody who will work for you. Somebody who has been tried and true. It’s absurd when I hear something like that.”
In an era when Americans appear to be increasingly averse to political dynasties (see: Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton) and the Democratic party is shifting to the left (see: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Beto O’Rourke, Bernie Sanders), it might seem a stretch for the moderate Democratic scion of one of America’s most famous political families to have a shot at winning office in one of the nation’s bluest cities.
Yet, ahead of Election Day here, polls suggest that Daley is in good position to finish among the top of the field of 14 candidates vying to succeed Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who opted not to run for a third term.
If no candidate wins a majority of the vote Tuesday – a scenario that polls show is highly likely – the top two vote-getters will face off in an April 2 runoff.
Daley, former federal prosecutor Lori Lightfoot, and Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle lead the crowded field with 14 percent each, according to a poll published Sunday by 270 Strategies. They are trailed closely by three other candidates: Illinois Comptroller Susana Mendoza (10 percent), former Chicago School Board President Gery Chico (9 percent) and businessman Willie Wilson (9 percent).
“All I’ve asked from the beginning is to give me a break,” Daley told USA TODAY Saturday. “Give me a chance to be out there as Bill Daley. Rich has been gone – last time he ran was 12 years ago. Rahm’s been a pretty big force for eight years and a lot of stuff has happened.
“In some people’s minds, Rich Daley maybe did a great job. Others say he didn’t do a good job. From day one, I just said give me a fair shot, and I think the people of Chicago have gave me that.”
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The race has been shaped by a bombshell political scandal. Federal authorities last month charged Democratic Alderman Ed Burke, a 50-year veteran of the City Council and chairman of its powerful finance committee, with attempted extortion for allegedly trying to shake down officials of a company that operates dozens of Burger King franchises in Illinois.
Four candidates with ties to Burke – Daley, Preckwinkle, Mendoza and Chico – have been dubbed by their rivals the “Burke 4.” But Daley, whose brother received political donations from Burke over the years, has been seen as the least closely tied among them, and so has suffered the least tarnish.
Burke hosted a fundraiser for Preckwinkle last year that raised more than $100,000, and her administration hired Burke’s son to a high-level position in the country. Mendoza was married at Burke’s home. Chico got his start in Chicago politics as an aide to Burke.
But more than political corruption, voters say the city’s financial stability is their top concern, according to the 270 Strategies poll.
Chicago faces more than $28 billion in unmet municipal worker pension obligations, a challenge exacerbated by residents leaving the city in droves. Chicago has one of the highest big-city homicide rates in the nation, at a time when killings nationwide are near a historic low.
At the heart of Daley’s pitch, he says he’s the only candidate who has the mix of high-level political and executive experience to lead a city in dire straits.
Daley has never held elective office. In addition to serving as Clinton’s commerce secretary and Obama’s chief of staff, he chaired Al Gore’s losing 2000 presidential campaign and has held senior executive roles at J.P. Morgan and SBC Communications.
Obama, the former Illinois senator who launched his political career from Chicago, has not endorsed a candidate in the race. Neither has Clinton. Gore and former Democratic National Chairman Howard Dean have endorsed Daley.
Daley has vowed to build up the city’s 77 neighborhoods. He says he would freeze property taxes, but would consider implementing a commuter tax and cutting waste to address the city’s fiscal crisis.
“The biggest thing we’ve lost over the last 40 some years is the black middle class,” Daley said. “We had an enormous black middle class and Chicago was the envy of the country. That changed.”
Daley has been helped by his huge campaign war chest, which allowed him to establish an early and consistent presence on television.
He’s raised more than $8.7 million, including $2 million from Ken Griffin, the billionaire head of the venture capital firm Citadel.
Griffin also donated $36 million to the campaigns of former Republican Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner, whose business-friendly “turnaround agenda” was unpopular in Democratic Chicago.
Daley co-chaired Rauner’s transition team in 2014.
A dark money group, Fight Back for a Better Tomorrow, has spent about $1.2 million on advertising highlighting Daley’s ties to Griffin and Rauner. Surrogates for other candidates have pointed to the Griffin donation and Daley’s time on Rauner’s transition team as reason for voters to be suspicious.
Karen Lewis, a former president of the Chicago Teachers Union, has endorsed Preckwinkle.
“This billionaire’s double donation to Bill Daley is all the proof you need to understand that he wants things to continue as they are, with the wealthy on top and the rest of us stuck at the bottom,” she said.“The office of mayor is nobody’s inheritance.”
Daley said he felt compelled for the good of the state to assist Rauner during his transition, just as Republicans did with Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker.
He pushed back against criticism for taking money from Griffin, who he noted is one of the city’s most generous philanthropists.
“I don’t agree with all his politics, and he doesn’t agree with mine,” Daley said. “But if we’re going to say to people like Ken Griffin, who have a business in this city and give enormous sums to the city, that you know what? We don’t want you here – you say that to people—good luck. (It’s like) you’re in New York with Amazon, chasing everybody out of here.”
Early in the campaign, University of Illinois at Chicago political scientist Dick Simpson predicted Chicagoans weren’t ready to put another Daley in office.
Simpson, a former Chicago alderman, said Daley has managed to beat expectations by outspending his opponents. He’s outraised his closest competitor, Preckwinkle, by more than $4 million.
Still, Simpson said, with the amount Daley has spent, he should be in a stronger position going into Election Day.
“Even Richie Daley never raised more than $7 million in any of his mayoral election campaigns,” Simpson said. “Usually it was less than $3 million that he spent. And yet he got reelected five times.
“With the money Bill has, if he were going to catch fire, that would have already happened by now.”
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