Chicago Mayor Richard Daley wants President Obama to share the pain of city workers, who on Monday had to take the first of three unpaid days off. Daley wants President Obama -- and every federal worker -- to take 15 days off without pay.
Chicago is no longer the city that works. It is the city that furloughs. Daley closed down all non-essential city services for the day to conserve cash and save jobs. Chicago is facing a $300 million shortfall in 2009.
Chicago's police and fire departments remained on call in what the city is labeling a "reduced service day." Daley is in the same boat as many CEOs, as well as mayors and governors of states such as California and Hawaii who have furloughed workers.
Unlike California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger or Hawaii Gov. Linda Lingle, however, Daley wants to make a federal case out of this.
"I hope every federal employee from the president all the way down takes 15 days without pay to turn that money back to taxpayers' use, because they're getting laid off, they're getting cut back, there are no jobs out there," Daley said on Aug. 7.
"I believe that would have an enormous impact upon America," Daley said. "In other words, you're telling the taxpayers that everybody's suffering and you're suffering. And government has to start squeezing and tightening in," the Chicago Sun-Times
White House spokesman Ben LaBolt on Monday declined to comment on Daley's shot at Obama, hurled earlier this month.
What's behind Daley dragging Obama into Chicago's fiscal mess? What should Obama and his advisers -- who have strong ties to Daley -- take from this?
Certainly, Daley has no personal animosity against Obama, though they are not very close. They share in common David Axelrod, who, until he joined the Obama White House as a senior adviser, was a member of Daley's inner circle of consultants.
And Daley's City Hall has served as a farm team for the Obama White House. Senior Adviser Valerie Jarrett comes out of City Hall; so does First Lady Michelle Obama and her chief of staff, Susan Sher, as well as Education Secretary Arne Duncan and Tina Tchen in the office of public engagement. Even Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel had a Daley appointment -- to the Chicago Housing Authority Board -- back in the day. (I write about all the Obama White House-Daley City Hall ties here
Daley often rails against Washington, asserting the Beltway types are out of touch, screw things up and don't have a feel for what Chicago's Bungalow Belt needs from the federal government.
The White House has long been a foil for Daley, even when his brother William was Commerce secretary under former President Clinton. Daley every so often pops off at whomever is president, no matter whether it's Obama, Bush or Clinton.
In this case, Daley maybe was crazy like a fox, because of course Obama cannot take a 15-day furlough, though, I suppose, he could turn his pay back to the federal treasury.
Daley may have spoken impulsively. Maybe not. Sometimes he just rants.
Bringing up Obama while trying to explain why city workers are taking pay cuts -- Daley included -- is a neat way to deflect criticism. After all, the entire economy is suffering and it doesn't hurt to point that out.
Daley probably went too far in asking for all federal workers to take a 15-day salary shave. Ed O'Keefe, who writes The Washington Post's Federal Eye
, interviewed experts on federal spending to determine if Obama could by fiat order furloughs, and the answer seems to be no. One of O'Keefe's experts
: "As long as funding is appropriated, it's not possible to force federal employees to take furloughs," said Donald Kettl, dean of the University of Maryland's School of Public Policy and a leading expert on the federal government. "As long as funding is available, they couldn't force people to do it."
But the larger point for the Obama team is Daley's call for shared sacrifice, even if symbolic. Daley does have his finger on the pulse of people just scraping to get by. People who don't make a lot of money are hit hard by forced, unpaid days off.
The Obama family is about to start a vacation on a posh estate on Martha's Vineyard. They just returned from some neat sightseeing at Yellowstone National Park and the Grand Canyon. Obama wedged this recreation time at the national parks between work -- he hosted town halls in Montana and Colorado. Mrs. Obama and the girls have been to Europe twice this summer. They visited with the queen of England and lunched with the president of France and his wife, calling these stops vacation private time, not official visits.
The president is always on duty, no matter where he is, whether fly fishing, at Camp David or at a basketball game. I don't begrudge him time off, or the travels of the entire First Family.
But intentionally or not (and I don't discount that Daley was looking for cover in invoking Obama's name on the pay cut), the mayor is on to something. As Obama gets ready for a really nice vacation, Daley is sending a message to Team Obama, once upon a time Team Daley: People on the ground, in the real world, are worried.