Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Tearful Richard Daley Says Goodbye To Chicago Mayor's Office To Begin Retirement

With tears in his eyes, Richard Michael Daley walked out of City Hall last Friday for the final time as mayor of Chicago and into the uncertain but, he hopes, rewarding and lucrative life of a retired politician.

When the farewell tributes, parties and interviews were finally over and the clock struck 5:17 p.m., Daley walked out of the mayor’s office on the 5th floor of City Hall holding the hand of his grandson, Jack.

He was accompanied by his wife, Maggie, his daughters Nora Daley Conroy and Elizabeth, his son Patrick, his son-in-law Sean Conroy and the Conroys’ daughter, Maggie.

Roughly 50 staffers and their wives — some holding thank you signs, others holding mini-Chicago flags — stood in the hallway outside the mayor’s office applauding and cheering the mayor. In the lobby, there were more well-wishers set up on either side of a velvet rope.

They cheered the mayor as he came off the elevator. Tears now streaming down his face, Daley, 69, stopped to shake hands and kiss an occasional department head. Scores of people used their cell phone cameras to record the moment when Chicago’s longest-serving mayor rode off into the political sunset.

Outside City Hall, there were more well-wishers crowded onto the landscaped median that Daley had installed on LaSalle Street and scores of other Chicago streets.

At 5:21 p.m., the mayor finally helped his wife, who uses a walker, into a waiting mini-van, then got into the Lincoln Town Car that he has used since taking office.

He mouthed the words “Thank you” and gave the thumbs up sign as he rode away, his hand waving out of the car window.

Several people could be seen watching from the windows of nearby office buildings.

The roster of department heads on hand to see Daley off included Chief-of-Staff Ray Orozo, Press Secretary Jacquelyn Heard, Acting Schools CEO Terry Mazany, Coporation Counsel Mara Georges, Acting Police Superintendent Terry Hillard, Fire Commissioner Robert Hoff and Streets and Sanitation Commisioner Tom Byrne.

All but Byrne and Hoff will be leaving along with Daley.

Rahm Emanuel, Daley’s replacement, was sworn in as Chicago’s 46th mayor on Monday.

Daley’s transition to political retirement has been more like the long goodbye.

Since his stunning retirement announcement on Sept. 7, he has literally been on a victory lap across the city. It culminated in a ribbon-cutting “Neighborhood Appreciation Tour” of nearly all of Chicago’s 50 wards.

Earlier Friday, the mayor’s farewell tour made its final stop at Ogden Park, 6500 S. Racine. There the mayor was joined by his wife, Maggie. Together, they celebrated the 20th anniversary of After School Matters, the highly-acclaimed arts and education program for teenagers championed by Chicago’s first lady.

“As mayor, you take credit for everything. [But] I can’t take credit for After School Matters. That was Maggie’s idea,” Daley said.

Calling the program the “largest of its kind in the nation,” Daley said, “These programs for young people are so important. I want to thank Maggie for this idea and this wonderful program.”

Maggie Daley replied, “Thank you, Richard for those kind, wonderful words. I couldn’t have done it unless I was married to this guy.”

After reciting some of his proudest achievements, Daley exhorted the crowd packed into the Ogden Park fieldhouse to work together with Emanuel and to show the new mayor the same “passion and the same commitment and honesty and feel of the community” that they showed Daley.

“It is necessary that all of us — all of us — come together because we don’t want to go back to the days of people fighting for nothing. They were fighting for nothing. It became a disgrace for Chicago. We became the laughingstock of America,” Daley said, referring to the 1980’s power struggle known as Council Wars that saw 29 aldermen, most of them white, thwart then-Mayor Harold Washington’s every move.

“And we moved on [from] that. We moved on because we all have the same belief in helping our children, our grandchildren or other children. Make them a better way of life. Let’s not think of how we can lose a child. Let’s always think how we can save a child. I don’t care where that child comes from.”

Daley is planning to write a book about his life in Chicago politics. He’s also hoping to make speeches at $50,000-a-pop.

But, Friday was all about turning the page for Chicago’s always emotional mayor.

It’s been my great honor to serve the people of the city of Chicago. I’m a public servant. I serve you. I serve the taxpayers. I don’t serve anyone else. It’s all the people — whether you voted for me or didn’t vote for me or you couldn’t vote. It doesn’t matter. You serve the people,” he said.

The crowd at Ogden Park included activist-priest Michael Pfleger, whose future is as uncertain as Daley’s. Despite Pfleger’s feud with Cardinal Francis George, Daley praised Pfleger for his crusade against guns, his work with victims of gun violence and for his “commitment to fairness and justice.” Pfleger returned the favor.

“He’s the best mayor I’ve ever seen,” Pfleger said.

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