CHICAGO – City Hall is shaking from a series of corruption scandals, and Mayor Richard Daley's (search)approval ratings are at historic lows. Add to that a possible mayoral hopeful — congressman Jesse Jackson Jr (search). — who won't let those scandals die, and the city that has been ruled by a Daley for 37 of the past 50 years has the potential for picking another name come 2007.
So Daley has brought out the ax at City Hall, forcing out four department heads and accepting the retirement of a fifth connected to the scandals in the last six weeks. Political strategists say it is smart move that could help keep the 16-year mayor in office, although he still has work to do to win back voters' trust.
"The biggest thing he's doing is trying to show he's doing something about corruption. He's got to do that. He can't hide," said political consultant Don Rose. "(Over the years he) has been trying to discount all this stuff by pretending all along that it was a bad guy here, a bad guy there. He's not acknowledged that it was anything systemic."
Daley does not face re-election until 2007, and he is not committed to running for a sixth term. But the mayor — who has not been accused of any wrongdoing — has been laying the groundwork for a future run with his cabinet makeover.
He also has kept up his steady stream of public appearances and news conferences, pushing quality of life initiatives and promoting successes in city schools even while scandal is swirling around him.
Daley's major headache has been the ongoing federal investigation of bribes being given in return for jobs in the $38 million Hired Truck program, in which the city outsourced hauling work. Eighteen people have pleaded guilty.
But that is far from his only problem.
In June, three city employees were charged with taking part in a Colombian heroin (search) ring, and 14 workers in the water department have been fired for allegedly using each other's identification cards to make it appear they were on the job when they weren't.
Investigators have also found millions of dollars in fraud in Chicago's program designed to set aside contracts for minorities. And the Building Department has struggled with everything from porch inspections — two years after a porch collapse killed 13 — to a teenage son of a top union official who was fired from his inspector job after he inflated his resume.
Jackson's name as a potential Daley challenger first got mentioned six months ago. The Democratic son of civil rights leader the Rev. Jesse Jackson (search), he has said he has not yet decided on whether to run — but has kept up a steady drumbeat of reproach.
Over the Independence Day weekend, at an event at his father's Rainbow/PUSH headquarters to launch a huge voter registration drive, Jackson turned the heat up several notches.
"For the last six months, we've read and seen nothing but corruption and greed and malfeasance throughout much of city government ... While the corruption has not directly touched the mayor, it's all around him."
"As a result, we've seen a defensive and angry Mayor Richard M. Daley, but we haven't seen a responsible and accountable Mayor Daley," Jackson said at the event, where some wore "Jr." buttons on shirts and jackets. "Instead of a mayor who says, `The buck stops here,' we've seen a mayor who passes the buck."
Daley refused to speak directly to Jackson's comments last week or even use the congressman's name. Instead, he boasted of taking on challenges like control of the city's public schools and public housing system. A day later, he held a news conference within hours of the bombings in London to assure Chicagoans he was working to keep public transit safe.
Since he first took office as mayor in 1989, Daley has mostly steamrolled to victory. In 2003, he won nearly 80 percent of the vote. When asked about 2007 possibly being his first tough election in a long time, Daley tellingly referenced a tight race he faced in a 1979 run for Cook County state's attorney.
"I don't take anyone for granted. I never take a voter for granted. I never take anything for granted. I work very hard. As mayor, I love this job and I work hard," he said. "I'm very passionate about it."
But he does face the lowest approval ratings (53 percent) since his mayoral career began, according to a Chicago Tribune/WGN TV poll conducted in May. Less than half of those polled said he should run for another term. And the survey found that if Jackson ran for mayor in 2007, 40 percent would vote for Jackson, 37 percent for Daley and 23 percent were undecided.
"The beat, beat, beat of scandals keep dripping, dripping, dripping on his head," said Paul Green, a political science professor at Roosevelt University. "I call them ongoing pin pricks — nothing lethal, but they are building up."