Saturday, May 28, 2005

 

Daley Popular in Canada

I have frequently mentioned that I am a supporter of embattled Mayor Richard Daley.

I disagree with his stance on gun control, and I am well aware of the shenanigans that goes on in City Hall.

But people who criticize him should try living somewhere like London where there is no strong leadership.

There's almost no corruption, but more an institutionalised incompetence. Taxes rise constantly, the public transport is the most expensive and least reliable in the civilised world, there is virtual 24 hour gridlock in the streets, they bring in fees and charges for bringing your car downtown, crime is spiralling out of control, everything is broken and filthy.

So as an outsider I see the benefits of an autocrat like Daley. You have to be tough to make things happen in a city like Chicago.

I'm not the only outsider to share this view. Check out this article from the Tribune ( registration may be required). Excerpted below:

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TORONTO -- Five hundred miles from the brewing federal investigation of City Hall, Mayor Richard Daley was basking in the praise of Canadian politicians and media who hailed him as their kind of boss.


Far from the unpleasant news about patronage hiring and minority contracting, Daley largely was free to expound at great length about rooftop gardens, public-housing reform, lakefront parks and his assertion that mayors should be unafraid of criticism.


"He makes things happen," said Toronto Mayor David Miller, who since his election in 2003 has eagerly built ties with Daley. "He's a terrific example for any mayor."


Newspapers in Canada's largest city called on Daley to show Miller how to be a powerful big-city leader with the muscle to build controversial projects such as Millennium Park and demolish a downtown airport for a waterfront park.


"Voters want a Daley," columnist John Barber wrote in the Globe and Mail.


"One can only hope Daley's take-charge attitude will rub off on Miller," said the Toronto Sun. The newspaper described how "a phalanx of Toronto bureaucrats sat hanging on every word" from Daley on Wednesday.


It may be less fun to be mayor of Chicago than at any point in Daley's 16-year reign. Federal agents seized personnel records from the mayor's office recently, Daley's public approval rating is at an all-time low, and the sales tax is rising because of the city's budget crunch.


But the mayor can leave Chicago and be assured of a warm reception in almost any place where the hosts have heard little or nothing about the Hired Truck scandal or minority fronts getting city contracts.


Despite rocky times at home, the mayor continues to draw accolades from across the country and abroad. Time magazine recently called Daley the best mayor in the nation while blasting other mayors whose administrations are facing corruption probes.


"If you took a poll of [urban experts], they would say Daley is the best American mayor of the last 25 years," said Alan Ehrenhalt, a Hyde Park native and executive editor of Governing magazine.


"Yeah, there's a cronyism to Daley's administration and even to the Daley family, but that seems small compared to what he has accomplished."


Although there are critics in Chicago who say Daley merely rode the strong economy of the 1990s to urban renewal, his admirers from afar give him much credit for the real-estate boom in previously declining neighborhoods.


"Chicago could have become a Detroit or a St. Louis, and it didn't," Ehrenhalt said. "Outside of Chicago, people look at what Chicago was 25 years ago and what it is now."


The adoration of Daley also comes as urban experts increasingly trumpet the merits of enlightened dictatorships in city government.


Civic leaders in towns paralyzed by constant division say they are looking for leaders who can rule with an iron fist. They enviously watch Daley run his big and diverse city with little real opposition.


"Ideally, there should be more debate about important issues, but cities are like corporations in that they need a strong executive, which Chicago has," said Joel Kotkin, author of "The City."


"Chicago has stability and continuity. That's what international capital and local businesses want. They will put up with higher costs and even corruption."


Continuity of rule at City Hall, Kotkin said, has given Chicago an advantage over cities such as Los Angeles and New York. He noted the protracted fighting over the future of the World Trade Center site in Manhattan.


"In Chicago, Ground Zero would probably be rebuilt already or at least construction would have begun by now," Kotkin said.

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