All praise for Mayor Daley in final council meeting

May 5, 2011

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(AP/M. Spencer Green)
Mayor Richard M. Daley laughs as he presides over his final City Council meeting, Wednesday, May 4, 2011 in Chicago.

Chicago aldermen have said goodbye to their longtime leader. Retiring Mayor Richard Daley Wednesday presided over his final city council meeting.

Nearly all the aldermen gave speeches. And, as if they were signing Daley's high school yearbook, they remembered the good times and ignored the rough.

DALEY: Council, come to order. Clerk, call the roll, please.

When the meeting started Wednesday morning, some of the aldermen were certainly more stuffed that usual. They'd been hanging out in the back room of the chamber with Mayor Daley, and a long buffet of sausages, quiche, bagels and fruit.

The shout-outs to the mayor began quickly, with the invocation by Monsignor Daniel Mayall of Holy Name Cathedral.

MAYALL: In a special way, Great God in Heaven, bless Mayor Richard M. Daley. I'm certain he believes in you. And although he may have governed from that chair behind me longer than anyone else, he knows that never was he alone. You were with him.

The mayor crossed himself, and the council moved on, to honor police officers who shot a man who had a semiautomatic gun, and firefighters who saved a hundred-year-old woman from a burning building.

Then, a resolution.

MIGUEL DEL VALLE, CITY CLERK: Be it resolved, that we, the members of the city council of the city of Chicago, do hereby extend to Mayor Richard M. Daley, our deepest thanks and appreciation for his many years of exemplary service to the residents of Chicago.

BURKE: We were talking this morning, the mayor and I, about the fact that history reveals that very few occupants of the fifth floor of this century-old building leave voluntarily.

Ald. Ed Burke, who's been in the council nearly twice as long as Daley's been mayor, noted that when past mayors left, their final meetings weren't so festive.

BURKE: As Jane Byrne sat through her last city council meeting, stoically and silently, it was the outgoing alderman, Richard Clewis, who summed things up when he said, 'This sounds like a wake to me.'

Crediting Daley with Millennium Park, education reform and even championships in recent years by the White Sox and the Blackhawks, Burke said Daley has made Chicago...

BURKE: ...the most livable city in the nation.

The two are not close - a political rivalry dating back decades. Daley walloped Burke in the 1980 Democratic primary for Cook County State's Attorney. But this was a day for a certain saccharine rhetoric, as alderman after alderman thanked Daley for his leadership, advice - and even for giving them a job.

AUSTIN: I'm not going to stay here long, because I can feel myself going to cry.

Ald. Carrie Austin was appointed by Daley to fill the seat left vacant by her deceased husband. The mayor later picked her to lead the budget committee.

AUSTIN: That will always be the greatest and the dearest thing to my heart.

Similar sentiments from recently appointed Ald. Joe Moreno:

MORENO: Your wisdom. Your fine wisdom when this seat opened. You appointed me. I thank you for that.
DALEY: Great decision. That one's one of the best.

Austin and Moreno are two of more than 20 sitting aldermen who were first appointed by Daley. It's the mayor's ability to fill vacancies that's furthered his grip on the council over the years. He got his way, with few exceptions, and few opponents.

But even those opponents, with the battles behind them, had mayoral praise at the ready. Daley once refused to let Ald. Joe Moore speak before a vote on repealing an ordinance he championed. On Wednesday, though, Moore called Daley a "transformational leader" who picked the hard fights and was "very fair."

MOORE: Very fair, not only to the residents who live in or around downtown, but through the outer reaches of the city of Chicago, neighborhoods such as Rogers Park and Edgewater and West Ridge - the neighborhoods that I represent.

There were no snide comments about the botched parking meter lease deal. No talk of corruption or hiring fraud in city government. When aldermen did acknowledge Daley's more controversial moves, they did so in defense of the mayor. Like when Ald. Rey Colon made this reference the Daley's overnight destruction of Meigs Field.

COLON: There's a time to listen and to work things through the community, and there's a time to scrape those Xs on the runway. And you've managed to teach us when those times, when it's appropriate to do those times.

The aldermen chipped in and bought Daley a crystal bowl, engraved with the names of the more than 100 aldermen he's worked with. And Daley insists he has worked with them, rather than just ordering them around - a point he tried to drive home with reporters at a press conference later.

DALEY: You have to sit down, listen to them, and what they want and...how we can compromise. That's what you have to do. That's what leadership is all about. No one says, 'Go and do this.' They just pass it. It doesn't happen. It doesn't happen in life. I don't know how you figured this out. it doesn't.

The mayor was joined at the council meeting by two of his children, but not his wife. Maggie Daley is hospitalized. Recuperating, the mayor says, undergoing tests unrelated to her recent surgery.

Daley didn't want to talk about his future - what he'll do after he leaves office. He repeatedly reminded reporters he'll be a private citizen then. A private citizen who, Daley joked to the council, will soon have to get out of the habit of writing lots of notes to his staff.

DALEY: And all those blue notes I would send to you. I don't know what I'm going to do with all my blue notes when I - maybe I'll send them all to the alderman or something. But all my notes that I gather in my trips around the city or my trips around the world, and reading articles and magazines and everything else that I get a hold of. And just think, how can we adopt this to the city? And that was to me - this is the greatest job in America.

And with that, the aldermen stood and applauded. Daley thanked them a few times.

DALEY: Thank you very much. Thank you.

And softly banged his gavel for a final time.

Wednesday's city council meeting was also the last for 13 aldermen. Their replacements - along with the new mayor, Rahm Emanuel - will be sworn in on May 16th.