Wednesday, May 25, 2011

A Daley at Chicago (as in the U. of)?

DALEY: He's now a Maroon
When Milton Rakove wrote his reknowned book about Chicago politics entitled, “We Don’t Want Nobody Nobody Sent,” the title was a direct takeoff on the attitude that political Chicago had toward the University of Chicago.

It referred to the way his attempt to volunteer his time to work on behalf of local government was rebuffed because he was from the Hyde Park neighborhood, the University of Chicago AND had no political sponsor.

MEANING, HE OWED nothing to nobody, and therefore wouldn’t be inclined to follow orders because he’d have nothing to lose.

In many senses, the Hyde Park-based university has always been an island on the South Side, and from the city. The Maroons may tout our city’s name. But many a Chicagoan considers it an alien land.

So it is in that context that the appointment of Richard M. Daley to a part-time position on the faculty at the University of Chicago may well be the ultimate sign that the “old” ways of doing things politically are dead.

The last thing that any old-school Chicago machine politico would ever want to do is have a tie to the University of Chicago. A part of me envisions cemeteries all across the city feeling the rumblings of politicos of the past turning over in their graves at the thought of a mayor, let alone one named “Daley,” taking on a role.

OF COURSE, THERE always was a sense that the university itself wanted little to do with the city proper, other than use it for a home address.

This was a place that, throughout the years, has rebuffed my own reporter-type requests for information on various issues related to the city, usually on some variation of the grounds that the issues I was bringing up were “too parochial” for the university’s academics.

You want to know about Chicago? Call DePaul or Loyola, or maybe Northwestern.

My point being that I’m not sure which thought is more unusual. Daley going to the University of Chicago? Or the university wanting him around to begin with?

MAYBE THE SIGNIFICANCE of this appointment is that it means the University of Chicago plans to take a greater interest in its home city – and not just in making sure that urban grime from the rest of the South Side doesn’t spill over into Hyde Park (which at times really feels like a nice place to visit, but a land alien from the rest of Chicago).

Not that Daley is going to be a real professor – as in teaching courses and putting together a syllabus and lecturing on a regular basis and being someone who maintains office hours and is accessible to students.

Anybody who thinks the university is about to offer a course entitled “Political Science 380: Machine politics” needs to get a grip on themselves. Either that, or come up with a more original punch line for their joke.

Officially, he’s getting the title of “distinguished senior fellow.” He’s going to be a part of the university’s Harris School of Public Policy Studies. For the next five years, he will be expected to organize up to 10 guest lectures to be held on campus, or at locations where the university can take credit for sponsoring the events.

IN SHORT, DALEY being on the faculty of the University of Chicago is the university’s attempt to feed off his political connections – hoping that he can help them put on more interesting programs that relate to politics and urban affairs. Considering that Daley’s connections extended to several White Houses, that’s a lot of clout they’re hoping to get.
EDGAR: Reviving a rivalry?

But it also means in many ways that Daley’s post-mayoral outcome will be similar to that of his one-time political rival – Jim Edgar. The former Illinois governor became a “distinguished fellow” at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign upon leaving office early in 1999.

Perhaps the two men can revive their competitive streak, as we see which university puts on the more prestigious programs about public policy issues. In short, which man has the better connections?

Unlike Edgar, Daley isn’t relying solely on this. He’s rumored to be seeking spots on the speaking circuit – offering up his opinions to any group that will pay him for his time. He may even give us a book. There’s even the speculation that President Barack Obama (now a fellow politico with U. of C. ties) will give him some sort of appointment to a federal post.

A NICE TITLE. But it likely will be the Hyde Park campus that will provide Daley with a place to set up an office.

With the Chicago Police Department continuing to provide him something resembling a security detail, Hizzoner, Jr., isn’t about to lose the trappings of being a prominent person anytime soon.

All he has to do is arrange for a car service, and he may be able to delude himself into thinking he’s still a public official – only one without the pressure of having to make decisions about government issues.

Let Rahm-bo have those headaches!


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