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When Mayor Daley died last month, people talked about a power vacuum reminiscent of that following the death of Stalin. Like other leaders of his ilk, Daley fancied himself immortal and groomed no successor. Even his son, State Sen. Richard M. Daley, whom the mayor supposedly wanted to succeed him, had been given no position of power from which to exert control over his father's domain. And many regulars hate the kid.
More serious was the lack of any official line of succession as outlined in city law. Daley himself had vetoed succession plans on three separate occasions.
The mayor died on December 20 and the city had a problem. Wilson Frost, the black president pro tem of the City Council who had presided in Daley's absence, told reporters, "I am acting mayor." But the city's corporation counsel, William Quinlin, said there was no acting mayor until the City Council met the following week to select one.
And Daley's other powerful post, as chairman of the Cook County Democratic Central Committee (party boss), was also vacant. The ten days between Hizzoner's death and the filling of those positions truly "shook Chicago," as the city's Sun-Times put it, but the power plays and deals cut would no doubt have made the old man proud.
What may not have made Daley happy was to see the city break up along ethnic lines, something his presence always prevented. The blacks caucused to support Frost in his bid for the acting mayor spot--a position much of Chicago thought he deserved. The Poles met too and a couple of Jewish aldermen claimed Polish grandmothers to get in on the conference.
Meanwhile the big boys, those closest to the late mayor, were also meeting behind closed doors. They decided to divide up the pie among themselves and leave the blacks and Poles out of it. Alderman Michael Bilandic of Daley's own 11th Ward would get their backing for acting mayor on the condition he would not run in the special mayoral election to be held this spring. Ald. Edward Vrdolyak was supposed to get the powerful finance committee chairmanship Bilandic had held.
Word of the deal leaked and the outrage it engendered made council leaders reconsider. Black attorneys were threatening suit if Frost was not made acting mayor. The power brokers offered Frost the finance chairmanship and told the Polish bloc it could fill the newly created position of vice-mayor (powerless except in the event of the death of the new mayor).
No one knew until December 28, the day the council met, whether Frost would accept the newly-cut deal. He did, claiming he wanted "real power" instead of taking a "suicide jump" by seeking council votes for acting mayor. The black coalition said he had sold out and pledged not to support him in the special mayoralty election, six months hence. Bilandic was elected acting mayor by the council and the next day Cook County Board Chairman George Dunne was elected chairman of the Central Committee.
That set the stage for the spring primary and election to determine who will serve out Daley's term. Slowly a whole generation of grown men are finding themselves, realizing for the first time in their lives that they don't have to take orders from anyone. Mayor Daley so dominated local politics that few others received any exposure. Not one in fifty Chicagoans could have identified Wilson Frost or Michael Bilandic before last month.
Now all kinds of politicians are coming out of the woodwork to look over their chances. Business and labor leaders are scouting the field for candidates to represent their interests. One prominent businessman said two weeks ago he would like to see another "benevolent dictator" keeping Chicago stable. Chances of a repeat performance of the Daley act are very slim, but here are the politicians interested in running for mayor--the first step towards filling those big shoes:
Michael Bilandic: The acting mayor, a Croatian millionaire, said last week he would be available for a draft despite the pledge he made to retire from politics when he finishes up as acting mayor. Bilandic would be a dull candidate but he has Daley's bratty sons and many of the late mayor's friends on his side.
George Dunne: Considered by many as the favorite, Dunne is an able veteran of Machine politics who could prove wrong the general feeling that no one after Daley will control both the party and the city. Like Bilandic, he would run only if slated by the County Central Committee he heads.
Roman Pucinski: The Polish alderman and
Lifsy said the task force was working on its own written analysis of the University's affirmative action program, and hoped to have it ready in two weeks
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