Daley's Jazzed-Up Chicago

The people of the nation's third- largest city are so satisfied with Mayor Richard M. Daley - and sure of his political invincibility - that only one-third even bothered to vote in Tuesday's election.

The son of Chicago's most infamous mayor, Richard J. Daley, easily won a fifth term, beating three other candidates - all African-American - with 79 percent of the ballots. Contented voters ignored the fact that Mr. Daley didn't feel any political responsibility to debate his opponents.

Since taking office in 1989, he's earned his dominance largely by turning Chicago around through common-sense attention to smart policies.

Daley has all but squelched racial and ethnic divisions in politics. He's improved one of the nation's worst school systems. He's finding viable solutions for low-income housing. He's revived downtown, mass transit, and city parks. And he's made Chicago beautiful by focusing on details, such as fences and flowers. Most of all, he's brought a community spirit back to its diverse neighborhoods.

His political machine can be aggressive toward those who oppose him, and the occasional hubris can lead to mistakes, such as the redevelopment of Soldier Field. Those are warning signs that no city or state can afford the dominance of one leader or one party for too long, no matter how well they do. At some point, the mechanics of democracy - a viable opposition, debate, fresh faces, etc. - need as much attention as garbage pickup.

Chicago and Mayor Daley used the '90s economic boom well to make the city an attractive place to live. The next step is ensuring healthy politics for a post-Daley age.

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