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Photograph: Drew ReynoldsMayor Richard M. Daley

Exit interview: Mayor Daley

On the eve of his retirement, Richard M. Daley talks about segregation, parking meters and losing the handgun-legalization battle.

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You’ve been passionate about keeping handguns out of Chicago. And then five guys in Washington, D.C., said, The heck with you, Mayor Daley. What can be done to keep guns under control in Chicago if you’re up against the Supreme Court and the most powerful lobby in America?
The gun industry, they own the United States. Politicians are afraid of the issue, Democrats and Republicans—it seems like America’s given up on the issue and we keep killing our own. Until America realizes that, I don’t know what we do, but I’m going to be just as passionate about this as a private citizen. In Illinois they want to have somebody to be able to carry a concealed, loaded weapon. Think of that. You go to church, you go to a mosque or temple, you go shopping, go to a basketball game, a football game, a hockey game, they can’t take it away from you. Why do we think that guns should replace the law? We’re going backwards.

My wife just graduated from Washburne culinary school at 63rd and Halsted. It’s a great campus and yet I was nervous having her there. What can be done to address the problems facing Englewood?
They’re being addressed. Take that school alone. People were against it, but we used TIF money on that. We did it because Kennedy-King is an important school. And around Kennedy-King, there aren’t any problems. There are problems in certain sections of the neighborhood. But we’ve got libraries down there, we’ve got senior housing, we tear down a lot of abandoned buildings, but gangs and drugs are a federal problem.

What about policing levels and the way the police have been distributed across the city? You’ve taken heat for that.
We’ve got a lot of police. But remember, it’s not the police that control crime, it’s people in the community who are willing to come forward. That’s why cameras are so important. Cameras solve things faster than a human being. They can prevent and record. And it isn’t the blue-light cameras, it’s the cameras in the CTA, it’s the cameras in public ways, it’s the cameras in parks, it’s the cameras in parking lots that give you safety.

After Obama’s election, we heard a lot of talk about “postracial” Chicago. But we still have hypersegregation. So what’s the next step?
First of all, we see segregation in suburban areas. Why is the North Shore all white? Don’t ask me. I just came from the 9th Ward—it’s a wonderful African-American community. They have senior housing, affordable housing, market-rate housing. That’s a community. I’m not against that. They’re not forced there, they want to live there. Many of them moved there in the ’60s. People forget: This is their home, no one’s going to move them. Most importantly, the way to get access to everything is through a job. If you don’t have a job, then you’re stuck.

Do you feel good about how the CHA high-rises have come down?
Oh, yes. Definitely. People can’t live in a high-rise and have an extended family. Most wealthy people live in high-rises. Very interesting. But you can’t take people from rural areas and move them into a high-rise. They lose all their social and community response. That’s what happened. And that’s why they’re all coming down. Now, we’re building mixed communities for the first time. With the recession, it’s hurt us a little bit, but we’re on the right track.

Here’s a question that if I were in your position I wouldn’t answer because, leaving office, I wouldn’t have to: What does Rahm have to do with public union contracts for Chicago to reach fiscal stability?
I’m not going to talk about that. [Laughs] But we did put $100 million into the budget. How did we do it? Cutting back overtime. Furlough days. Not filling open positions. Cutting back waste and inefficiency. The budget was in good shape, but the recession’s the recession. You’re not going to go back to 2007 revenue. Our revenues are still down. So you have to live with the new revenue.

Parking-meter privatization: Was it a lack of backbone on the Council? Could you have raised the money with a simple vote from the Council, or did it need to happen this way to get the money up-front?
No one wanted to raise the rates, number one. And I say, get me a better offer. We have not seen anything. And you need the money up-front. Number two was the management of it. You can’t transition something right away and that was a problem. We should have had six months [to roll out the new meters]. But now, I don’t have any problems. That’s a good system.

You’ve spent a lot of that long-term money. Are you leaving the cupboard bare for Rahm?
No. We just put $50 million in the meter fund and $50 million in the reserve fund. That’s unheard-of: $100 million. You have to have discipline about budgets. We’re doing better than the federal and state governments. We’re doing better than most local governments.

If you were in sports, they’d retire your jersey. What should they retire of yours?
[Laughs] You really don’t retire when you love the city so much. I want people to just keep good memories. Even when I leave to the private sector, I will still want to help on the environment, education, cultural affairs and things like that—whatever we can do, Maggie and I.

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