In office for 20 years and on track to surpass his legendary father, Richard J. Daley, as the city's longest-serving mayor, Richard M. Daley said he still has passion for the job despite sinking approval ratings and his clear disappointment over Chicago's failure to land the 2016 Olympics.
"I don't know why you already put me in the grave," the 67-year-old Daley joked recently when asked whether he'd seek a seventh term in 2011.
Daley hasn't declared his candidacy _ he still has two years left in his current term _ but many expect him to run barring a major shift in the political landscape.
Republicans have fared better at the state level in Illinois, and held the governorship for 26 years until the election of Democrat Rod Blagojevich in 2002. But in Chicago it's a question of which Democrat _ not which party _ will run the show.
William "Dock" Walls, one of two Democrats Daley crushed in the 2007 election, said political opponents don't stand a chance against the mayor, who isn't constrained by term limit laws like those in place in many other major U.S. cities.
"He became a monarch because he never had serious opposition or competition. No one has been able to raise money against him because people just won't give money to a candidate who's running against Daley because they believe it's a fait accompli," said Walls, who's now running for governor.
That said, the next two years won't be smooth sailing for Daley.
The fatal beating last month of a 16-year-old honors student that was caught on video brought unwanted attention to the city and led to a visit by U.S. Attorney General Erick Holder and Education Secretary Arne Duncan. Four teens have been charged in that beating, but it was not an isolated incident. According to the Chicago Public School District, there were 34 student deaths and 290 shootings last school year.
Then there's Chicago's finances, which have been buffeted by the global recession. Daley will be forced to contend with a projected budget gap next year of more than $500 million, which could mean higher taxes and cuts in services for city residents.
Because Chicago lost out to Rio de Janeiro in its Olympic bid, it won't receive the flood of state and federal funding city leaders had hoped for to fix Chicago's crumbling infrastructure and antiquated rail system, which could annoy voters.
Daley, who was re-elected in 2007 with more than 70 percent of the vote, has seen his popularity plummet. A recent Chicago Tribune/WGN poll showed his approval rating had sunk to 35 percent.
But for many here, the Daley name has become so synonymous with power in Chicago it's hard to envision someone else taking over.
"Some people believe that the title of the office is Mayor Daley," quipped University of Illinois at Chicago political science professor Dick Simpson, who served as an alderman under Daley's father.
The elder Daley died in office in 1976 after having been mayor for 21 years. His son will have served 22 years in office when his current term ends in 2011.
Winning the games could have cemented the current mayor's reputation as not only one of Chicago's greatest leaders but one of the world's most powerful mayors.
But creating a legacy wasn't something Daley said he was ever worried about while bidding for the games.
"When people start looking back or looking forward, 'Oh, how am I doing with my legacy?' that means you're not going to make any decisions," Daley said before the city's Olympic flameout.
Daley will be remembered as a "builder mayor" despite Chicago's failure to land the Olympics, Simpson said. He helped spearhead the popular downton Millennium Park, the O'Hare International Airport expansion project and a redeveloped south Loop area of downtown Chicago.
Daley has not been accused of any wrongdoing, but his legacy has been tainted by corruption allegations against members of his administration that have landed some people in prison. And continued youth violence could inflame the public against Daley, Simpson said. Daley's father's legacy was marred by violent clashes between police and Vietnam War protesters during the 1968 Democratic National Convention held in Chicago.
The next mayoral election is too far off for anyone to have declared their candidacy, but a few possible Democratic challengers are being talked about, said Simpson, who served as an alderman under Richard J. Daley. They include U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez, of Chicago; former Chicago Inspector General David Hoffman, if his Senate bid fails, Cook County Clerk David Orr; City Clerk Miguel del Valle; and Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr., Simpson said.
But more many here, like 47-year-old unemployed internal auditor Robert Lawrence, a change at the top seems unlikely.
"I think no matter how unpopular some of the things he has done are, I think he would win election again easily. He's a Daley," Lawrence said.