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June 13, 2009
Obama Learned Power Politics From The Daleys
Old guard Beltway politicos marvel at Obama’s skill at concentrating power. He learned it from the Daley’s.
Chicago is nicknamed “the City that works.” The Office of the Mayor, where power has been centralized, sees to it that it “works.”
“More recently, decentralization has been mitigated by the informal concentration of power and influence in the person of the mayor. This is commonly recognized as the Chicago political machine, founded by Mayor Anton J. Cermak (1931–1933), developed by Mayor Edward J. Kelly (1933–1947), and perfected by Mayor Richard J. Daley (1955–1976).
Daley's control of Democratic Party ward organizations permitted him to dominate the city council and thereby expand his authority. In 1956, state legislation removed the responsibility for initiating the city budget from the council and placed it in the mayor's office. This allowed the mayor, rather than council politicians, to establish the city's financial priorities. Daley also began to whittle away at independent sources of aldermanic authority, by, for example, taking over the “driveway permit” power (each minor construction permit required an individual bill passed by council) and professionalizing and centralizing ward services under his office. New state legislation also increased the mayor's authority over departments and the various urban renewal agencies dealing with city planning and construction.
Later mayors, however, were less able to usurp the official power residing in the city council. Jane M. Byrne (1979–1983) was elected as a reformer but quickly recognized the need to ally with regular party leaders in the council. In Harold Washington's [first African-American mayor of Chicago] first three years of office, city council opponents marshaled a majority of votes to stymie his policy objectives and usher in the paralyzing “Council Wars” Only his veto power kept the council from completely ignoring his agenda until his supporters won a majority in special council elections in 1986. Mayor Richard M. Daley (1989–) has continued a functional aspect of his father's machine politics, using his campaign organization and network of fundraisers to offer advantages to selected aldermanic candidates.” (Source)
The Chicago City Council is the Mayor’s rubber stamp – a brokerage house for distributing patronage and favoritism that masquerades as bad legislative theater. The Mayor runs the whole show.
Similarly, up until now the U.S. Democrat-dominated Congress has been subservient to the President. We’ll watch the Health Care decision to see if that relationship continues.
Obama’s reliance on “czars” accountable only to him is akin to the functioning of the City of Chicago Departments.
Now that he’s inside the Beltway, instead of dealing with lethargic career bureaucrats ensconced in the assortment of Cabinet Department silos – like herding cats – Obama is establishing his own parallel bureaucracy answerable only to him. Hence the platoon of czars. Daily, many Cabinet positions are becoming merely ceremonial.
So where did he learn about the inner workings of the Mayor’s Office?
Barack Obama was a law student at Harvard in 1990 when Rezko's low-income housing development company offered him a job. He declined. Two years later he returned to Chicago to work on a voter registration drive while he figured out what to do next.
Next came in 1993 when he joined a law firm that represented subsidized housing developers eager to tap into government funds available to reconstruct public housing. Mayor Richard M. Daley planned to tear down Chicago's old, dilapidated public housing stock and build new units. It promised government housing renovation on a massive scale.
At Davis Miner Barnhill & Galland, Allison Davis was Obama's boss and tutor in the legalities of government subsidized housing. (Source)
Obama learned much from Allison Davis.
He also learned from Michelle Obama. She once worked in the Office of the Mayor. Her boss was Valerie Jarrett, today a senior advisor in the White House, and the one who was favored by Obama to follow in his senatorial footsteps, until Blago went off the reservation.
So it helps to understand the functioning of the Office of the President today if we view it through the Office of the Mayor of Chicago. Similarities abound.