Daley mentored, learned from others as he helped reshape Chicago’s image worldwide

By Tammy Webber, AP
Sunday, September 19, 2010

Daley mentored others as he reshaped Chicago

CHICAGO — When Boeing Co. relocated its headquarters to Chicago from Seattle in 2001, delegations from Las Vegas to Boston came calling to ask how Mayor Richard M. Daley’s city pulled it off. One former Miami mayor says adopting Daley’s school reform ideas helped get him elected. A New Jersey mayor has sought Daley’s advice on assisting ex-convicts.

“He really is sort of like an uncle for mayors, a godfather around the country,” said Cory Booker, the mayor of Newark, N.J. “Whatever the issue … you can count on Daley to have created a record on the issue and tried new ideas.”

Daley has been called the best mayor in America, even when criticized by constituents. He has forged strong alliances with the business community, then traveled to promote his city as a global business and tourism destination. He’s mentored leaders from cities large and small.

When Daley steps aside as Chicago’s leader after 22 years, he’ll be remembered as a big dreamer and a bigger doer, someone who used equal parts muscle, finesse and charm to polish a once-gritty city and its image — even if he’ll leave behind some big problems.

And he’ll remain a role model for others seeking the right mix of creativity and stability a modern mayor needs to address grueling urban challenges.

“He reinvented the city of Chicago. It’s pretty hard to say that about any leader of any major city in the world,” said Marshall M. Bouton, president of the Chicago Council on Global Affairs. “That took vision, creativity, smart policies, energy and courage, because it involved lot of changes not necessarily easy, politically or otherwise.”

On Friday, 10 days after stunning Chicago by announcing he will not seek re-election in February, Daley flew to Asia, where he’ll attend a green-cities conference in Shanghai and discuss education and economic development with leaders there and in South Korea.

Daley’s admirers cite numerous examples of how he embraced a new future for his city, even if other times he was associated with the gruff, old-style “Chicago machine” politics of his father, Richard J. Daley, who ran the city in the 1960s and 1970s.

Boeing Co.’s announcement came out of the blue nine years ago: It was looking for a new headquarters, and would choose between Chicago, Dallas and Denver. But what could a recovering Rust Belt city with flat terrain and cold winters offer hundreds of white-collar workers that the others could not?

Daley set out to show them. He put together a “dream team” — 100 business leaders who spoke the language of CEOs and engineers — then seated them among Boeing executives during a dinner at the renowned Art Institute of Chicago, in an iconic park along the shores of Lake Michigan.

“I think it was the dinner that put things over the top,” said Jerry Roper, president of the Chicagoland Area Chamber of Commerce. “Boeing wouldn’t be in the city as far as I’m concerned if Daley hadn’t stepped up.”

Booker said that when he wanted to see what Daley was doing with ex-offenders, the Chicago mayor had people show him how to analyze data to identify problems. Newark began a program to provide free legal support to ex-offenders — not directly modeled on Chicago but made possible because of Daley’s help, Booker said.

“He has dealt with things on a scale that few other mayors have had to deal with,” Booker said. “He’s sort of like one of those bluechip, benchmark mayors.”

Former Miami Mayor Manny Diaz said he never succeeded in gaining control of his city’s schools, as Daley did in Chicago, closing dozens and adopting reforms that raised test scores. But Diaz said introducing the ideas helped get him elected in 2001 to his first term, and afterward he helped select a new superintendent and draft a compact requiring the district and city to cooperate on dozens of issues.

Diaz said Miami even adopted the idea of a lakefront park similar to Chicago’s dazzling Millennium Park, which draws hundreds of thousands of visitors a year with its gardens, sculptures and Frank Gehry-designed pavilion.

“(Daley) said that people expect you to get things done,” Diaz said. “You’re not always going to be exactly right and you could make mistakes, but that doesn’t matter. It matters that you tried, and try again.”

Bouton said that philosophy was exemplified in Chicago’s bid to host the 2016 Summer Olympic Games. Daley last October helped lead a delegation to Copenhagen, Denmark, where the city was eliminated in the first round of voting.

Nevertheless, “it was another brilliant and courageous move on his part,” because it was a chance to enhance Chicago’s global reputation, which had improved, but still was skewed, Bouton said.

“Ten years ago, you would be in another country and people would say ‘Al Capone. Bang, bang!’” Bouton said. “Getting the Olympics would have totally bridged the gap between reality and reputation.”

Daley, who has traveled to dozens of countries and hosts an annual forum for world mayors, still counts successes in bringing international recognition to Chicago, and is on a first-name basis with leaders from China to Saudi Arabia, said Rita R. Athas, president of World Business Chicago.

“He says mayors should be talking to mayors because we all have the same problems,” Athas said.

Daley has pushed the expansion of Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport, now the second-busiest in the country, and leased the city’s tollway to a private company. He built parks, planted miles of flowers and built rooftop gardens in a quest to become the greenest U.S. city.

He freely adopted ideas from other countries — like bus kiosks from Paris — and inspired leaders from elsewhere.

“The Shanghai mayor came here five or six years back and was absolutely stunned by the beauty of the city,” Bouton said. “He spent a lot of time in Millennium Park and wanted to go back and provide those kinds of commons.”

Future mayors may complain about some of Daley’s legacy, such as controversial, decades-long leases held by private companies running the tollway and parking meters, said Christopher Berry, an assistant professor of public policy at the University of Chicago. It also remains unclear what will happen to all the people displaced when Daley tore down crime-infested public housing high-rises built by his father.

“I think he will be judged on that,” Berry said.

But he’s still “absolutely the best mayor in the country,” Berry said. “Nationally there’s no question he’s been probably one of the most successful and important big-city mayors in the last couple decades.”

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