CHICAGO -- The funeral marked the final passing of the torch from one generation to the next. On a relatively balmy winter morning last week, in a simple neighborhood parish church on the South Side, this city's political and power elite bade farewell to Eleanor "Sis" Daley, the wife of one legendary mayor of Chicago and the mother of a second.
Her eldest son, Mayor Richard M. Daley, spoke at the end of the funeral Mass. His remarks were typically brief and, as he concluded, his voice choked with emotion. "We miss you. We remember you. We love you. Thank you, Mom," he said.
These are bittersweet days for Daley, who has come to dominate Chicago politics as much as, if not more than, his father, the late Mayor Richard J. Daley. His mother's death, at the age of 95, followed the diagnosis last year of his wife Maggie's breast cancer, which deeply shook him. He will be 61 in April and reportedly struggled with the decision to seek another term.
But much to the relief of his supporters, he is running, and tomorrow, in nonpartisan municipal elections, he is all but assured of winning another smashing victory. If he serves out a fifth term, he will have been mayor for 18 years, only three less than the record 21 years his father held the office.
Comparisons with the father are inevitable, but they only go so far. Over the years, the elder Daley became a divisive figure, ruling with an iron fist and the aid of a small army of patronage workers who made up the Regular Democratic Organization, the official name of the Daley machine.
But the role of patronage has been vastly diminished by a series of court decisions, and the old machine is a faint shadow of its former self. This is a different city, and the second Mayor Daley rules in a different way.
Daley's temper can explode in public, and he is famously hard on the people who work for him. But with his fractured syntax -- a trait he and his father shared -- and a slightly awkward, nonconfrontational public style, he has become a familiar, comforting figure and in the process helped to transform the politics of what was once a deeply divided city.
"He's really reached a kind of iconic status in the city," said David Axelrod, a political consultant who has worked in Daley's campaigns.
Nothing illustrates the changes more than Daley's slow, steady rise to a level of acceptance in much of Chicago's large black community. For decades, race was the main fault line in Chicago politics, and never more so than in the 1980s, when the city's first African American mayor, Harold Washington, was elected.
Shortly after winning a second term in 1987, Washington died and was replaced by an interim mayor, who was also black. In 1989, Daley, then the Cook County state's attorney, won a special election for the remainder of Washington's term. He garnered 7 percent of the black vote.
By the 1995 election, Daley's share of the African American vote had risen to 28 percent, and four years later it was 40 percent or more. In a recent Chicago Tribune poll, 48 percent of black Chicagoans said they would vote for Daley, and few here will be surprised if he carries more than half the black vote tomorrow.
Opposition to Daley has melted away like snow on a spring day. Over the years, he has defeated a white former mayor, Jane M. Byrne; a black former Illinois attorney general, Roland Burris, and, most recently, Rep. Bobby L. Rush (D-Ill.). But in this election, no political figure of stature, white or black, stepped forward to challenge him.
According to the Tribune poll, Daley enjoys a 68 percent to 9 percent lead over his closest competitor, the Rev. Paul Jakes, a black pastor and vocal critic of the Chicago Police Department. Two other black candidates, businesswoman Pat McAllister and the Rev. Joseph McAfee, barely registered in the poll.
"He dominates the city even more than his father," said Don Rose, a veteran of Chicago reform politics who battled incessantly with the old Daley machine. "He has obliterated virtually all significant opposition. He's co-opted the liberal white opposition, and done some good things to merit that. He has reduced black political tensions. He controls more of the City Council than his father ever did."
Washington turned out to be a surprise to many white Chicagoans, a coalition builder who reached out to their ethnic neighborhoods. When Daley first took office, Rose said, "the fears of many were that he would attempt to turn the clock back."
But Rose said Daley "has only done that here and there." The mayor, he said, also turned out to be a coalition builder. "You have to say he's made moves of accommodation that have been substantial. He consorts with folks his father wouldn't have let on the same block."
One of those is Marilyn Katz. When Martin Luther King Jr. brought his open-housing campaign to Chicago in the 1960s, she joined the fight against the old Daley machine. At the 1968 Democratic National Convention here, she was on the streets battling Chicago police with other Vietnam War protesters. She worked in Washington's 1983 campaign and stayed out of the 1989 special election, thinking then, she recalled, that Daley was "pretty much a run-of-the-mill politician."
But today Katz, who runs her own public relations firm and does business with the city, is one of Daley's strongest boosters. Like his father, Daley loves the big, glitzy downtown projects, but Katz, Rose and others also credit him with pouring resources into the city's neighborhoods to build new parks and libraries, police and fire stations, and to revitalize blighted commercial strips.
"What I learned about Daley is that he is an amazingly thoughtful policy person . . . much more than Harold" Washington, Katz said.
The mayor is obsessed with the city's appearance. He has ordered the planting of countless trees and flowers along Chicago streets and declared war on chain-link fences, preferring the wrought-iron variety. This has sometimes led to derision. In the 1999 mayoral campaign, Rush called him "Johnny Appleseed."
But Katz recalled driving home in the 1980s in the dark because the lights along North Lake Shore Drive were broken. Daley, the new mayor, had the lights fixed, returning nighttime luster to one of the country's premier urban thoroughfares.
"This was a little thing, but it changed the way you felt about the city," Katz said. "He understood that walkability, livability, trees, flowers, education are the keys to urban revival. No one else in the country understood that."
There are still plenty of Daley critics here, and not all is well in his beloved city. Last year, the Chicago metropolitan region led the nation in number of jobs lost. Strains on the municipal budget forced Daley to lay off 625 workers. He has been widely credited with improvements in the public schools, but the schools remain deeply troubled. Allegations of political cronyism in the awarding of city contracts swirl around City Hall.
As for Daley's apparent growing support among black voters, Robert T. "Bob" Starks, director of the Harold Washington Institute at Northeastern Illinois University, said, "The mayor has bought his way into the African American community. He has pretty much bought off the leadership. The great masses are either indifferent or really do not care for him."
During the 1990s, Chicago experienced its first net population gain in decades. Starks said the newcomers were the middle class and new immigrants. Under Daley's policies, he said, "poor people are being pushed out of the city."
But such voices of discontent have largely been stilled, at least in public. Axelrod, the political consultant, said that most people here have not thought about Chicago without Daley as mayor. Were that to happen, he said, "I think there would be a tremendous sense of anxiety in this city. He's a comfort to people."
The elder Daley died in office in 1976 at the age of 74. No one knows the son's future intentions. But Axelrod suggested that overseeing the city he loves will always be part of Daley's future.
"It's hard to imagine him doing anything else," he said. "This is a calling for him. He believes he was put on this earth to do this job. This is his life."