Will Marty Walsh become another Michael Bilandic?

blizzard 2015Will Marty Walsh become the next Michael Bilandic?  Bilandic was the first Chicago Mayor to try to fill the large shoes left when Mayor-for-life Richard Daley died in 1976. Walsh, of course, replaced our own Mayor-for-Life, Tom Menino and is working to make the job his own.

Bilandic’s first challenges were negotiating the shoals of some labor disputes. Yesterday’s headlines here at home screamed how last year’s police and fire contracts’ 7.5 percent increase is the largest in the city’s history.  Bilandic also had to deal with social unrest among Puerto Ricans in Chicago when an FALN terrorist bomb exploded in Chicago City Hall. Walsh has been focused on improving relations between Hub police and communities of color.

But the death knell  for Bilandic was the Chicago Blizzard of 1979, which dropped nearly 20 inches of snow on the Windy City.   With eight inches already on the ground that January, the city couldn’t get the streets plowed. Tracks froze on the public transit system, and bus alternatives to the trains couldn’t handle the crowds, whose commutes in sub zero temperatures became hours-long torture. Snow removal never caught up, and much of the snow stayed there till early spring.  Trash collection failed. The city mismanaged its response, and the mayor took the blame.

The Chicago Transit Authority’s problems were, like the T’s, years in the making. But the local media and the public faulted Bilandic.   He faced the voters the next month and all those commuters who had stood in the cold waiting for public transportation that didn’t work were only too eager to voice their frustration at the polls. Bilandic lost the Democratic primary in February to Jane Byrne,  a colleague from the  Daley administration whom Bilandic had fired. She went on to become mayor.

The analogy  is imperfect. The storms here have been bigger. Chicago is not the capital of Illinois, but in Massachusetts the capital and largest city are one and the same. And, unlike Chicago, the T is not just a city authority so we’re looking to newbie Governor Charlie Baker to fix that part of the problem.

But a mayor, whether in  Chicago or Boston,  for better or worse, owns the streets and sidewalks, and here  local residents and employers are paying the price for Marty Walsh’s failures. Saturday’s Boston Globe editorial laid out how Minneapolis and Montreal, both of which get more snow than Boston, remove their snow with dispatch.  Marty Walsh should take note, and come out with a plan to revise and improve snow removal here.

Unlike Michael Bilandic, Walsh has time to recover. He doesn’t face the voters for another couple of  years, at which time the major issue could be how city priorities and spending may have gotten skewed chasing after the Olympics.

I welcome your comments in the section below.



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