Former Chicago mayor tells what it will take to be the new ‘boss’

27 Sep

By Lisa Klein

Cook County Clerk David Orr knows a thing or two about Chicago politics. Not only has he overseen elections in his current office since 1991, he was an alderman in the Rogers Park neighborhood as well as the Vice Mayor to Harold Washington as a city council member.

But he also occupied another position that gives him a unique perspective on the upcoming city runoffs: He was Chicago’s mayor himself for seven days after Washington’s death in 1987, taking over in his role as vice mayor until an official, interim replacement could be selected.

“You’ll never see another big-city mayor who never raised taxes!” he joked, during a recent classroom visit in the College of Communications at DePaul.

In fact, he sees Chicago’s current financial situation as the biggest challenge facing mayoral candidates. The 2011 budget is expected to have a $655 million deficit. “Where would you cut or where would you raise money?” he asked.

It’s not just coming up with the funds, but how those funds will be spent, he added. The TIF program (Tax Increment Financing), which takes extra property tax money and funnels it into a ‘fund’, is supposed to be used to better Chicago neighborhoods.

So far, the money seems to have been concentrated more on downtown areas that attract visitors and make the city look good. The candidates will need to pay better attention to the needs of the average resident, Orr added, and about schools, public transportation and decaying buildings on their streets.

“The state has always been flexible to let Daley do what he wanted with it,” Orr pointed out. But it begs the question: Has Daley “spent all the kids’ and grandkids’ inheritance?”

Orr also thinks race will also play a big role in the election.

Chicago’s Hispanic population has been growing steadily, and currently holds about a third of the residents (a 2007 U.S. Census survey put the black population at 35%, white at 31% and Hispanic at 29%).

There should be a few serious candidates from all three of these races, and Orr knows that voters can be swayed by race in elections. “There will be coalition politics,” he said, candidates trying to win over the many different racial groups. “You need to be building some unity.”

There are going to be plenty of people for the Mayoral candidates to please. From big business to poor families, from machine supporters to reformers the election depends on them all. As Orr puts it, “politics is the art of managing conflict.”

The successful candidate will inherit all kinds of conflict, and they will have to show voters that they can handle it.

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