Tuesday, December 28, 2010

From family ties to old grudges, some things never change about our politics

It really seems to be the Chicago Way, even for those political people who – strictly speaking – aren’t from Chicago.
DALEY: Deferring to Dad/

I’m speaking of the fact that the offspring of political people tending to get themselves elected to public office much more often than the children of business executives or academics, or just poor schlubs with no real skills.

IT IS AN old trend that famed columnist Mike Royko mocked in his biography of Richard J. Daley (Remember all the “begats” from “Boss?”), which was written some four decades ago. It is a trend continuing today, as I notice many of the people my age who are getting elected to office are the kids of the political people I covered as a reporter-type when I started in the news business some two decades ago.

And it is a trend that will continue.

What caught my attention were pieces of reporting that have appeared in recent days, giving us the views of the “younger” generation of our elected officials. Specifically, I’m talking about Richard M. Daley, Sheila Simon and Roderick Sawyer.

In the case of Daley, the younger, it was all timed for the first day of Kwanzaa – which was the day upon which “M.” officially surpassed “J.” in terms of the length of time spent in office. Yet the current Daley went out of his way to defer to his father as the man who had the more significant mayoral stint – largely because of the times during which he oversaw Chicago city government.

WHETHER ONE THINKS Richard J. was “evil” or “heroic” (Are you one of those people who quietly cheers for the police whenever old footage of the anti-war protesters at the ’68 Democratic National Convention turns up?), his unwillingness to adapt fully to the times set the character of Chicago for decades to come – and which in some ways still remains.

Now I can appreciate the fact that Richard M. gets credit for “beautification” efforts in Chicago, helping to enhance the city’s image at a time when some urban areas are in decay. It was Daley who overcame the hostility and hesitancy of many to give us Millenium Park, which is a point in his favor.
SIMON: What will be her trademark?

Yet when I think of the two, I can’t help but think of this analogy – Richard J. built O’Hare International Airport, while Richard M. tore down Meigs Field.

I’m sure there are some people who are wondering if Patrick Daley is destined to run for mayor someday, and trying to figure what his “accomplishments” would be. I’m also sure that if Patrick were to decide that he wants to hold elective office when his military career is complete, the voters of Chicago would be completely sympathetic to the idea.

YET JUST AS a younger Daley is leaving office, we’re also getting a younger Simon moving into office.

Literally. Lt. Gov-elect Sheila Simon was at the Statehouse in Springfield recently, checking out the suite of offices that her staff will use beginning Jan. 10 and she becomes the woman-in-waiting – becoming Illinois governor on the off-chance that something should happen to Gov. Pat Quinn between now and January 2015.

Paul Simon is remembered by most people for his time in Washington – being the Representative from Southern Illinois, then later the Senator from all of Illinois, who wore those old-fashioned bow-ties and horn-rimmed glasses, while also being one of the most honest political people I have ever encountered.

That is the legacy she is going to have to live up to. It is one that I doubt any newly elected official could fulfill.

YET SHEILA SIMON, who until now had an electoral office resume consisting of one term as an alderman in Carbondale, is now like Daley in that she, too, is filling an office once held by her father. Paul Simon’s first statewide office was a term from 1969 to 1973 as lieutenant governor.

At least she will have a more significant role in that post than her father did. He was the Democrat who got elected along with a Republican governor – meaning that he was given next to nothing to do by deliberate design. If Sheila winds up doing equally little, it will be because she didn’t show enough initiative, which is something I doubt will happen.

SAWYER: How long can grudges last?
Then, there is Roderick Sawyer, who used to be a DJ at campaign events held by his father, Eugene, the one-time alderman from the sixth ward who became mayor between Harold Washington and Daley, the younger.

He told the Chicago News Cooperative how he plans to run for his father’s old aldermanic post – even though the incumbent, Freddrena Lyle, is in good standing with the political establishment and isn’t particularly vulnerable in this coming election cycle.

HE SEEMS TO think that memories of his father among the old-timers of the ward will get him some votes, and he’s also turning to former Sen. Roland Burris for advice – and possibly even a campaign contribution.

His potential campaign at a time when Daley the younger is on his way out is intriguing because it brings to mind memories of the circumstances under which Washington was replaced by an African-American official acceptable to the white establishment that treated Washington similar to how the GOP establishment in Washington treats Barack Obama.

Sawyer’s 16-month stint as mayor set the stage for Richard M.’s election. Now that he’s leaving, perhaps it is time for a Sawyer to return to the Chicago political scene. Unless the kind of rhetoric being spewed by Rev./state Sen. James Meeks, D-Chicago, these days  (“No African-American makes the runoff, that would be the worst thing that we could possibly do for our city”) stirs up enough resentment among the black voter bloc that they take down the son for the alleged sins of his father.

Which may well be the ultimate evidence that some things about our political scene just never change.



Anonymous said...

You spend an awful lot of time worrying about what is going on in the African American community.

Why dont you worry about on an equal basis, the happenings in the Latino/Illegal Immigrant community ?

Gregory Tejeda said...

I "worry" about what is going on across Chicago, and the African-American population is a significant part of the city overall. It would be foolish to ignore it.