Yesterday, Mayor Richard M. Daley--the son of infamous Chicago Machine mayor Richard J Daley--announced he would not seek a second term, allowing his dad to keep the title of longest-serving Chicago mayor (by a smidge).
I can't tell you how quickly my cell phone's battery died after yesterday's announcement. Not exactly what I was expecting. Democrats around the State see this as a seismic shift in state politics. The effects will be felt not only around Chicago, not even just around the state--but across the nation as we will surely see high profile officials in the Obama Administration weigh in on the race. Maybe someone will even return to Chicago from DC to run. We'll see.
Mayor Daley's announcement is significant for many queer reasons as well, however. In fact, this is possibly one of the most significant queer moments in the state in the past ten years.
Daley's legacy: America's first officially recognized gayborhood, America's worst gentrification
Early in Daley's tenure--after a rocky start with AIDS activists--mayor Daley became a leader on LGBT issues, not only in Chicago but among leaders world-wide.
The mayor's office was instrumental in late 1990s efforts to turn the gay district, known as "Boystown" into a colorful pedestrian and shopping paradise called "Northalsted." Flanked for a mile with art deco rainbow pylons on each side of the street, Boystown became the first 'gayborhood' in America to get official recognition from the city, and cold hard cash to improve and renew. City leaders, including the mayor, realized that a booming, vibrant LGBT-branded shopping district may contribute much to the city. The move was such a success that cities around the United States and Canada began to copy Chicago's lead and give their gayborhoods an official boost.
In 2004, Mayor Daley came out strongly in favor of same-sex marriages when Gavin Newsom began to perform them in the city of San Francisco--an act that would eventually lead to a successful California Supreme Court challenge of the state law barring marriage equality (later overturned by Proposition 8). Daley stopped short of ever offering the marriage certificates, but has always supported efforts to pass marriage equality laws in Illinois.
In 2006 Daley even served as honorary co-chair of the Gay Games VII held in Chicago. In 2007, after serving as honorary chair of the Capital Campaign to open a permanent LGBT center in Chicago, Daley helped the city's queer community realize the dream with the Center on Halsted, for which he is considered to have done much work to secure land and resources.
However, even though Mayor Daley's office paved the way toward turning Boystown into the DisneyWorld of gayborhoods, and the opening of the incredible Center on Halsted, the mayor's decisions haven't always been lauded by progressives and gay leaders--especially those in public health. Mayor Daley was at the helm of controversial deals privatizing important city infrastructure, and has made enemies in the Public Housing community closing high density public housing and replacing these spaces with single family homes or renovated luxury condos.
Most also blame the mayor for allowing Wal-Mart into the city four years ago.
According to veteran gay journalist Rex Wockner who covered Mayor Daley in the early days of his tenure as mayor at the height of the AIDS crisis, In the early 1990s, Mayor Daley clashed often with ACT UP and other AIDS/HIV activists over budgeting, research, treatment, AIDS education, and staffing for AIDS/HIV programs. "There were oodles of issues," Wockner told me over the phone, "it was always something."
When Rex was covering ACT UP's biggest clashes with the mayor in 1992, the city's AIDS budget had remained stuck at $1 million for the first three years of the mayor's administration. As thousands lay dying without proper care and assistance, the activists bared their teeth to the mayor. Wockner's March 1992 article from Outlines monthly captures the frustration.
" ...ACT UP: What about the AIDS budget?
Daley: And the AIDS budget each year goes up in the city of Chicago.
ACT UP: That's a lie (drowning out mayor)! ...That's a lie! It hasn't gone up in three years! It's a million dollars. It's the same as it was!
Daley: It does too go up! It keeps going up each year in the city of Chicago.
ACT UP: You're lying! You're lying! How come in this city we spend $241 per AIDS case and in New York they're spending almost $5,000, and they're almost bankrupt! This is a lie!
Daley: It's because the city of New York owns the hospitals in New York.
ACT UP: This is a lie!
Daley: Cook County Hospital is owned by the county.
(Inaudible due to shouting.)
ACT UP: ...We're not counting the money that the hospitals in New York pay! It's not included in those figures!
Daley: Can I carry on my speech now?
ACT UP: No! Maybe you can do something about some AIDS education! What about AIDS education for the youth of this city?
Daley: I'm just as concerned as anybody else. Don't make me one who's insincere and not concerned about the AIDS issue...
ACT UP (drowning out mayor): Then do something about it! People are dying! 5,000 people! (Inaudible--ACT UP, several CPNA members and Daley are all shouting.)..."
He's also had a scandal-plagued tenure--not unusual for this state by any means. Despite all of this, however, the mayor has been until very recently one of America's most beloved mayors, and especially dear to the gay community. Though there were battles early on, the mayor was far ahead of the curve in the championing of LGBT rights in his city. "Daley was pro-gay before it was cool," Wockner related to me in an email. "He was for gay marriage years ago."
Queer eyes on the city's future
Mayor Daley has opened the doors for the next mayor of Chicago to be radically pro-queer with absolutely no political repercussion. In the late 1980s and early 1990s Mayor Daley raised eyebrows hiring and appointing openly gay people to important positions in the city of Chicago. Today, many of those appointees hold powerful positions in the statewide Democratic party. Perhaps he's even opened the doors to allowing Chicago to elect its first openly-gay mayor. This would be a big win for our community!
Greg Harris, an openly gay Illinois state Representative, knows the mayor well, having worked for Mary Ann Smith for the 14 years prior to his being elected to his state house seat. "[Mayor Daley] has shown how one of the most powerful politicians in the country has become a trailblazer in providing rights to LGBT people. He has stood up for trans people, against discrimination based on sexual orientation and has been the single most outspoken straight political leader that I know of on passing full marriage equality," Harris said Tuesday night. "He is not a new convert to pushing for equality but that he has stood for these values for decades now."
Harris is one of many powerful openly queer Illinois politicians whose political careers have been peppered with encounters with the Mayor. Mayor Daley appointed Tom Tunney as the first openly gay alderman to City Council in 2002, and over the past two decades has appointed a cavelcade of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and HIV+ folks to high positions around Chicago.
The mayor's retirement will create a power vacuum in the city that may allow some of these folks to take more prominent roles in the government. One openly gay political figure hoping that some of the shake-ups could mean a victory in his future is Dane Tidwell. Tidwell is the former Director of the Stonewall Democrats of Illinois, having moved here two years ago to resuscitate the beleaguered organization. He has since worked on the campaign of the first serious openly gay US Senate candidate in Illinois, Jacob Meister, and served in a position in the statewide LGBT organization, The Civil Rights Agenda.
Now Tidwell wants to be an alderman.
Dane could have a shot if Bob Fioretti drops out of the alderman race for 2nd Ward and runs for mayor.
"Fioretti is the sitting alderman," Tidwell told me over the phone. "There would be no incumbent. No one has come forward so far, but everyone will be on a level playing field if he doesn't run."
Tidwell is a classic idealist who wants to do good for his adopted community. "I'm running because Chicago's political system has not allowed the city to be as progressive as it could be, he says as he begins to gush over his town. "Chicago has a very progressive population. I want to see that reflected. Its policies and programs should reflect that."
Tidwell wants to see the city invest more in green jobs and become a Progressive paradise. he sees its people as being just as forward thinking as folks from San Francisco, but thinks the city Government is always too cautious to truly become innovators like California cities--cities that have spurred the creation of a budding "green economy" because of those innovations.
"This creates an opportunity for Chicago to rival other progressive meccas--the people will be a supportive. we just need a political establishment that supports this."
Tidwell is a big fan of Mayor Daley's. "The man has been mayor for a quarter of a century and if he's made three mistakes in his time, that's a pretty good record."
He also sees the mayor's announcement as an opportunity for folks to rise the political ladder, and hopes that lots of gay and lesbian candidates will hop on the ballot with him.
"Half of the city council was up for grabs before this announcement. A lot of aldermen might see this as a chance to move up which might open up even more seats."
Dane won't be alone. Openly gay community leader James Cappleman is already on the ballot for the 46th Ward against incumbent Helen Schiller, after having been defeated by the alderman in 2007. However, if Schiller makes a run for the mayor's office, James will have a good chance of taking the election, after having been handpicked by local business and community leaders the first time around. There are plenty others where they come from.
Though most in the LGBT community will miss Mayor Daley, his retirement could become a huge opportunity to raise the visibility and influence of members of our community.