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Mayor counts woes as Chicago loses Obama spotlight

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[March 17, 2009]  CHICAGO (AP) -- On election night last year, Mayor Richard Daley basked in the world's spotlight as hometown President Barack Obama gave his acceptance speech with the city's twinkling skyline as his backdrop.

Just a few months later, Daley finds himself awash in problems.

RestaurantA new political corruption trial has attention focused on City Hall; the city budget deficit could grow to $200 million next year; street violence is claiming the lives of Chicago Public School students and the one bright spot, the city's bid for the 2016 Olympics, has hit some new hurdles.

Things got so tough for Daley last week that retired South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu gave Chicago reporters mock absolution for their grilling of the mayor about free trips he took on a private jet.

Still, Daley is as synonymous with Chicago as his father was when he led the city. In 2007, the mayor was re-elected with 71 percent of the vote.

"The mayor's been the mayor now for going to be 20 years and he's had some real hits and he's taken them pretty hard, but he hasn't whined or whimpered, which is in the Chicago tradition, and he keeps on going," said Roosevelt University political scientist Paul Green.

For his part, Daley, 66, has blamed the media for focusing on the negative rather than the good works he's done for the city. He launched his own YouTube channel last month to promote the city, unfiltered by the media.


"In Chicago, the press has to find always negative things. That's how it is," Daley told Tutu, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate.

Tutu stepped in as reporters pressed the mayor about taking flights on the corporate jet of Educap, a nonprofit company being investigated by the IRS and Congress. The mayor said he accepted flights "once or twice."

City Hall is getting more unwanted attention at the trial of Al Sanchez, a Daley loyalist. The former streets and sanitation commissioner is charged with trying to hide the fact that city jobs were given only to political workers, including those belonging to his Hispanic Democratic Organization.

A 1993 letter put into evidence at Sanchez's trial said the organization's "main purpose" was to keep Daley in office, according to news coverage of the trial. Daley, who was first elected in 1989, has not been charged with any wrongdoing.

Corruption scandals are nothing new for Chicago. Daley's former patronage chief is already in prison for a 2006 fraud conviction, and political patronage was rampant in the 21 years Daley's late father, Richard J. Daley, served as mayor.

"We already have the image of being corrupt and being a machine politics city, so that this is just confirmation that all that's true, which everybody already knew, even New Yorkers," said University of Illinois at Chicago political science professor Dick Simpson, a former alderman.

Until there is evidence that directly links Daley to illegal political patronage, City Hall scandals like this will continue to roll off of him, Simpson said.

"It's like a bad storm passing because tomorrow everybody's attention will be on something else," he said.

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But Daley's problems extend beyond his political image. Street violence is claiming the lives of Chicago Public School students; 28 of them have been killed so far this academic year, already two more than the number slain last year.

The uptick in violent crime is just one of the knocks against the police chief Daley brought to clean up a department embarrassed by a string of brutality cases.

Daley and police Superintendent Jody Weis also have had to try to explain how a a 14-year-old boy was able to pose as an officer for hours in January, assisting in an arrest and even driving a squad car. And Weis got a stinging rebuke from a federal judge last week for initially defying a court order to release a list of names of officers with repeat complaints from civilians.

Daley has continued to support Weis publicly.

Like other cities, Chicago is swamped with budget troubles; it's facing a deficit that officials say could be $200 million next year. The budget aldermen approved for this year already included layoffs, new fees and taxes and leasing city assets to raise money.

The city's tough financial times risk dampening local support for the city's Olympic bid.

"People are going to be asking whether we can really afford to host the Olympics," said Chicago Alderman Joe Moore.

The International Olympic Committee will be in town for a site visit next month before picking a host for the 2016 games in October. Chicago is a finalist along with Tokyo, Madrid and Rio de Janeiro.

The city's prospects for success came into question after a recent leadership change at the U.S. Olympic Committee. The USOC's chief executive was ousted in a surprise management shakeup, and the IOC likes stability.

But Lori Healy, president of the Chicago 2016 organizing committee and Daley's former chief of staff, said changes at the USOC should have no impact on the bid.

"Everything's relative, and I think Chicago is an incredibly stable town from a long term perspective. You're not mayor for 20 years because you're doing things wrong," she said.

[Associated Press; By DEANNA BELLANDI]

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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