Illinois Governor Picks a Serious Fight with Mayor Daley Print
Commentary/Politics - Illinois Politics
Tuesday, 18 May 2004 18:00
Part of me cheered when Governor Rod Blagojevich took a shot at Chicago Mayor Richard Daley last week. In case you haven’t heard, last Monday, Daley announced that he wanted a huge, land-based, city-owned casino. Twenty-four hours later, Blagojevich said, “No way.”

I live in Chicago, and I’ve come to believe that it’s a little bit like living in Mussolini’s Rome. The streets are clean, the flowers are beautiful, the trains run on-time, but it ain’t no democracy.

Nobody even so much as says “Boo” to the mayor. It’s his town, and everyone knows it. Daley’s last re-election campaign was a joke, with his unknown opponent saying he was running only because no one else would. Daley controls just about every aspect of city and county government, and he can replace just about any elected official who doesn’t toe the line.

So when Blagojevich refused to even consult with the mayor about the casino plan before he made his decision to kill it, most insiders gasped. Just who does he think he is? Doesn’t he know about the awesome powers of the Great Leader? And didn’t he learn the lesson from the last Democratic governor who crossed a Daley? Dan Walker got into fight after fight with the first Mayor Daley, which resulted in the Chicago machine pulling out all the stops to defeat the incumbent in the Democratic primary. Walker ended up a pathetic one-termer, and the battle opened the path for 26 years of uninterrupted Republican rule.

The mayor was furious that Blagojevich had the temerity to say “no.” His anger was compounded when the governor refused to return his phone call a few hours before Daley announced his casino plan. The gall.

After the initial shock wore off, I said a couple of quiet “hooray”s. At first, I have to admit, the governor’s announcement was a little like watching someone deliberately smash his car into a brick wall. It seemed to be an act of utter stupidity.

But Daley had this one coming. The mayor and the governor flew to Washington, D.C., together the week before, and Daley uttered not a single peep about his casino plans. Daley most likely figured that if he asked, Blagojevich would not approve, so it was better just to dummy up and spring it on the governor at the last minute and hope he’d have the brains to stay out of the way.

Blagojevich is not a well-liked governor among political insiders. I don’t care much for his leadership style, either, which has more in common with campaigning than actual governance. He is supremely self-centered. He constantly preaches reform, but spends most of his time hanging out with a few chosen lobbyists and other hacks who made their fortunes off the public trough.

Blagojevich also hasn’t grown much in the 14 years he’s been in public office. He’s still the details-averse, devil-may-care goof that he was when he first arrived at the Illinois House, courtesy of his powerful father-in-law, Alderman Dick Mell.

Even so, he is the governor. And if you don’t respect the man, you have to respect the office. Daley didn’t, and Blagojevich made him pay.

And now we have a huge fight in Springfield that could have been avoided. Despite a Blagojevich veto threat, Daley has decided to avenge his honor and show the governor who’s boss by pushing ahead with his casino plan. Senate President Emil Jones is backing the mayor, and even a handful of Republicans, who rarely support gaming expansion, have signed on. Because so many people are irritated about the governor these days, anything Blagojevich opposes automatically draws a crowd of supporters, so the gambling bill has a decent chance of passing.

The battle could also have some long-term consequences.

Blagojevich is from Chicago’s Northwest Side. Up there, politicians from both parties usually try to get along and accommodate each other. Occasionally, the Paleface Truce will collapse and they’ll fight like crazy, but when it’s over, they end up friends again, eating dinner at each other’s homes and taking vacations together.

Daley is a South Sider. Down there, strict discipline is enforced from the top and forgiveness is rare. Step out of line and you’re gone. And you can forget about dinner.

So Blagojevich naturally assumes that people eventually get over their political spats. Daley assumes that nothing is ever forgotten. They’re from completely different worlds, and we may soon witness a great clash of civilizations.

Rich Miller also publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter. He can be reached at (http://www.capitolfax.com).
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