No Olympics in Chicago: How big a blow to Mayor Daley?

Daley devoted much of the past 2-1/2 years to Chicago’s Olympic bid, and many see its failure as having a considerable effect on his legacy.

By MARK GUARINO | Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor

CHICAGO — Most Chicagoans couldn’t help but view their city’s bid for the 2016 Olympics with their mayor hogging the frame. Even though other public figures lobbied hard, from megastar Oprah Winfrey to President Obama, it was Richard M. Daley who became enshrined as the bid’s public face.

But Mayor Daley’s push to bring the Games to Chicago ended Friday, when the International Olympic Committee (IOC) eliminated the city from contention and instead awarded the 2016 Games to Rio de Janeiro.

Following the defeat, Daley tried to make one thing clear to reporters in Copenhagen, where the IOC met: “This was never about Rich Daley. It was about [past Olympic greats] Jesse Owens and Ralph Metcalfe. Not me.”

Still, with Daley having devoted much of the past 2-1/2 years to Chicago’s Olympic bid, many see its failure as having a considerable effect on his legacy.

“It’s a huge blow to the mayor. [The Games] would have been the lead to his story,” says Andy Shaw, executive director of the Better Government Association, a government watchdog group in Chicago. “Now he’s facing a legacy as Chicago’s longest-standing mayor who suffered through multiple corruption scandals. [Winning the Games] would have been spectacular.”

On Friday, dark skies and a light rain accented the grim mood at Daley Plaza, the block-long open space in downtown Chicago named after Daley’s father, Richard J. Daley, who was also mayor of Chicago and was a force in Democratic politics. Plans for a noontime rally – complete with the plaza’s signature Picasso sculpture decked out with an Olympics medal – dissipated once news broke that Chicago was eliminated.

Isaac, who declined to give his last name for fear of appearing too critical of the mayor, voiced what many people in this city feel about Daley’s desire to win the Olympics: “This was his Pyramids, his way of stepping out of his father’s shadows. [Not winning] is going to hurt him. The world is going to see he doesn’t have the pull that he thought he had.”

Daley’s past endeavors to seal a legacy through large-scale projects – a casino in downtown Chicago and a third airport southwest of the city – failed. Mr. Shaw ticks off those endeavors and other concerns: fallout over the privatization of the city’s parking meters, this year’s estimated $300 million deficit, and regular corruption scandals. These issues have Daley “on the ropes politically” if he chooses to run for a seventh term in 2011, Shaw says. He cites trouble on the horizon already: Daley’s public approval rating is at 35 percent in a recent Chicago Tribune poll.

Daley will be remembered as a “builder mayor,” who shored up the city’s infrastructure by creating new schools, parks, and police stations, as well as Millennium Park, says Dick Simpson, a former Chicago alderman who teaches political science at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

The Olympics, says Professor Simpson, “would have been the crowning glory … but it’s not essential to that story.”

Just participating in the bid competition is evidence of Chicago’s strength in the global marketplace, says Chicago-based civil rights leader Jesse Jackson. “We were right to bid,” he says. The city’s loss, says Mr. Jackson, is evidence “that in globalization, there are no predictable winners – the same in the trade war, the Iraq war, and the Olympics war. It says something about the integrity of the process.”

Chicago’s defeat in Copenhagen Friday followed a disturbing event – the beating death of an honors student after school Sept. 24. The incident has prompted President Obama to send Education Secretary Arne Duncan and Attorney General Eric Holder to Chicago next week to discuss school violence.

Residents like Anke Karewicz say the city needs to get its priorities straight before it thinks about bidding for the Games again. Standing in Daley Plaza, Ms. Karewicz said, “What kids need is education, not this type of entertainment.”

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