I still remember the surprise that then-Gov. Jim Edgar created back in 1997 when he invited reporter-types to the Executive Mansion in Springfield, then announced that he was retiring from electoral politics.
The speculation back then was between people who thought Edgar would try to move up to the U.S. Senate seat from Illinois (the one that Peter Fitzgerald, Barack Obama and Roland Burris have held since) and those who thought he would seek re-election to a third-term as governor.
CHICAGO-ORIENTED OBSERVERS who never understood why Edgar was willing to devote an entire political career to the Springfield scene were convinced he was headed for Washington. I wrote a news analysis piece for United Press International arguing that he was such a part of the scene that he wouldn’t want to do D.C. He’d go for re-election.
We were all wrong. Edgar retired, took a position with the University of Illinois that allows him to think deep thoughts about the public policy questions of our society, and he remains there to this day.
It is that same feeling of all of us being wrong that I feel Tuesday upon learning that Richard M. Daley is not going to seek re-election, meaning his time on the Fifth Floor of City Hall will end in May of next year.
In fact, I think the idea of Daley voluntarily relinquishing the post is an even bigger surprise. At least with Edgar, there was the sense he might try to move on to something else. Nobody has a clue what Daley will do with himself now that he is willing to step down – although it should be noted that he will surpass his father in terms of length of time in office, assuming that nothing surprising or tragic causes him to depart before next year.
INSOFAR AS THE official announcement, it was low-key. Daley made a brief comment, took no questions, and merely gave us the feeling that he’s tired and ready to move on with his life – which likely will consist of him getting himself onto some sort of corporate board that enables him to have some sort of income while no longer having to work regular office hours.
In short, he will get the fate that Rod Blagojevich was trying to plot out for himself and wife Patti, only to get hung up on the fact that prosecutors think he went about it in illegal ways.
I’ll be honest. My initial reaction is shock. I didn’t think Daley would be able to let go. Then again, I didn’t think Edgar would be able to let go. He did, although we occasionally hear from him as an elder statesman-type who makes grand pronouncements about the Republican Party (which usually provoke the GOP’s conservative ideologue types to make their own statements about how Edgar should shut his trap).
That probably is the Daley fate.
HE WILL BE the elder statesman whom commentators will turn to when they need a reaction from a “municipal expert” or a “political insider” about future actions. Only he won’t have the “taint” that Dan Rostenkowski had in that role caused by his time in prison.
Insofar as who will replace Daley at City Hall, I don’t know. I honestly can say that none of the names of people who have been willing to express interest in the position strikes me as being in any way qualified to hold it. I honestly don’t see the concept of “Mayor Fioretti” or “Mayor Jackson” (as in Sandi) coming true.
I know how much the idea of Mayor Emanuel would nauseate certain people in our society (some of whom deserve to have their sensibilities offended by the idea of Rahm in City Hall). But I’m not even sure that will happen.
Just a random guess on my part is the idea of Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart being somebody worth paying attention to. He has said he would only think about mayor if the post were open. But the Dart I remember from my days a decade ago of covering the Illinois Legislature had the big enough ego and sense of self-importance to think he was worthy of being a candidate.
MAYOR DART? WE’LL have to wait and see.
One final thought.
It’s almost too bad that the Institute of Government and Public Affairs couldn’t find a spot for Daley, perhaps working out of the Chicago campus.
Because then it literally would make Daley and Edgar (who travels the state, but tends to work out of the Urbana campus) equals of sorts.
ANY OF US who remember how feisty the two would engage in political battles between City Hall and the Statehouse Scene back in the 1990s could easily envision the two going at it again over policy questions in political retirement.
Perhaps the two could sit on their political rocking chairs and spend the rest of their days debating the merits of that airport near Peotone, casinos within the Chicago city limits, and how Daley was ultimately the one whose viewpoint prevailed on the fate of Meigs Field.