Public Watchdog.org

There Will Never Be Another Mayor Dave

03.10.15

Last Monday night (March 2), Park Ridge Mayor Dave Schmidt gave his sixth consecutive “State of the City Address.” By his own admission, it was the most upbeat one he has given.

He didn’t know it was to be his last.

Mayor Dave was buried yesterday in the Town of Maine cemetery. He died suddenly late last Wednesday (March 4) night of what is believed to have been a brain aneurysm.

Ironically, in the address’s opening-paragraph Mayor Dave claimed to be “as optimistic as ever about the City’s future,” clearly unaware of how soon his own future would be cut short. Throughout his address he cited the progress made on such matters as the refinancing the Uptown TIF bonds, a lower projected TIF deficit, stopping further decline in Moody’s rating of the City’s bonds, surpluses in the General Fund, and the repair of the Touhy railroad overpass.

Always the realist, however, he echoed Thomas Jefferson’s first inaugural address (“a wise and frugal Government…”) in reiterating the need for City government to maintain its resolve that “every single dime we ask the taxpayers to give to us is spent as wisely and frugally as possible.”

That should be a prominent piece of the legacy Mayor Dave left his successors and our community.

The rest of Mayor Dave’s address was a mixed bag of the good and the not-so-good. But telling his constituents the bad as well as the good was a hallmark of Mayor Dave: he respected us enough to tell us the truth.  And he trusted us to understand and use that truth to vote and act in the best interest of our entire community.

That respect and trust should be a prominent piece of his legacy, as well.

One of Mayor Dave’s greatest virtues was that he never wanted to be mayor. As a first-term First Ward alderman he regularly scoffed at any suggestion that he was looking toward the big chair at The Horseshoe.

But about a year into his aldermanic term he saw and heard things that he knew weren’t right. He spoke out against improper closed sessions and the secret dealings that went on in them, most notably over the City’s attempt to acquire the 720 Garden property for a new police station.  That earned him a formal, albeit meaningless, “condemnation” from his predecessor and a majority of his fellow aldermen, even though everything he said and did was fully within the boundaries of the Illinois Open Meetings Act.

It also contributed to a break with his mayoral predecessor – as did Ald. Dave’s siding with residents who opposed the traveling road show known as PADS because he believed it to be a half-cocked, ineffective and inhumane way to address homelessness; and because it violated the City Code.

Those positions made Ald. Dave a number of powerful adversaries. But it earned him even more supporters.

And the more he studied City finances, the more he realized they were a house of cards that nobody else around The Horseshoe – elected official or bureaucrat – wanted to acknowledge.

So when no other challengers to the then-sitting mayor stepped forward in 2009, Ald. Dave became Candidate Dave, a reluctant Cincinnatus with a simple campaign platform: “H.I.T.A.”

Honesty. Integrity. Transparency. Accountability.

Can you imagine any “politician” running on such a platform?  They’d be laughed right out of the politicians’ union. But Candidate Dave was no “politician” because he didn’t suffer fools gladly, and he wouldn’t compromise principles just to make some half-baked, short-term deal that would make some special interest happy.

So despite running as the darkest of dark-horse candidates – a short-time Park Ridge resident with no kids in the local schools or sports programs, no family members living in town, no local business presence, and no Country Club, Rotary, Kiwanis or Lions club memberships – his message and his two-year record on the Council resonated with the voters. He won the mayoralty in 2009 by a solid margin over the incumbent.

His adherence to those H.I.T.A. principles and his straight-talking, stand-up style during his first term in office earned him the nickname “Mayor No” for having the common sense, courage and foresight to just say “no” to unaffordable and/or misguided spending; and the nickname “Mayor Veto” for doing what no other Park Ridge mayor had ever done: veto irresponsible budgeting and veto irresponsible spending.

Not all of his vetoes were sustained, but a majority of them were. And the ones that were sustained saved hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars on untimely, unnecessary or just outright wasteful expenditures.

That earned him re-election in 2013 by an even wider margin than in 2009 – despite the first-ever endorsement of his opponent by (and a $1,000 contribution from) the union representing the City’s public works employees; and an unprecedented endorsement of that same opponent by the City’s three previous mayors and twenty-five former aldermen allegedly representing 100 years of City government experience.

Mayor Dave took that in stride: “If the people who caused all the problems we’re stuck with are for [my opponent], I must be doing something right.”

And indeed he was.  But that ended last Wednesday night.

In his six years in office, Mayor Dave was bolder and more courageous, and more fiscally responsible, than all three of his predecessors. Combined. He embraced the daunting tasks they left for him and “his” City Councils. And in that relatively short time he and those City Councils succeeded in mending the gaping holes in the City’s finances while at the same time invigorating the City’s spirit with a new style of government – grounded in reality but energized with a freshness, honesty, transparency and optimism that won him support from a broad spectrum of City residents.

Mayor Dave knew his own mind and had firm principles which he articulated clearly and acted upon decisively.  Although a staunch Republican, he never saw any City issue as a “Red” or “Blue” one.  He knew the color of most of the City’s problems was green, the color of money, which is why he was so focused on the financial side of City government.

He never backed down from a fight when he was championing the cause of Park Ridge, and especially its taxpayers.  Mayor Dave instinctively embraced the common sense of those taxpayers that Nelson Algren so marvelously memorialized in his book Chicago: City on the Make: “For the masses that do the city’s labor also keep the city’s heart. And they think there’s something fishy about someone giving them a museum for nothing and free admission on a Saturday afternoon.”

Substitute “an Uptown TIF” for “a museum,” and “anything” for “admission,” and you’ve got the picture.

There will never be another Mayor Dave.

He was the right man at the right time for Park Ridge: an affable, tireless, guile-less yet savvy public servant who hated “politics” and the term “politician,” for good reason.  He strove every single day to do the right thing for the well-being of his adopted community with absolutely no expectation of, or desire for, any economic, social or personal gain.  Whether at his Loop law office, at the ballpark, or on vacation near some ocean a thousand miles away, he truly was the 24/7 mayor Park Ridge needed these past six years.

But now he’s gone.

So it’s left to those of us who believed in the principles of government he stood for to carry them forward – hopefully with something close to the humor and irreverence he regularly brought to the task.

“Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened.” (Dr. Seuss)

To read or post comments, click on title.

20 comments so far

Mayor Dave truly was one of a kind, and the city of Park Ridge has lost a great man. I am grateful and proud to have gotten to know him over the last six or seven years. Hopefully whomever is asked to fill his shoes in the interim has watched closely and will honor his legacy with the same principles he unshakingly stood by. Honesty. Integrity. Transparency. Accountability. Great post PD, keep ’em coming.

I was able to hold back the tears till I read this.

I’ve known a lot of politicians (unluckily), but luckily, I met Dave; and if there is a meeting place in heaven, a very small room where honest politicians meet, Dave will be there.

EDITOR’S NOTE: So long as it doesn’t have a sign that says “Politicians” – honest or otherwise.

Mayor Dave was a game-changer in a number of ways: HITA, the videotaping of meetings with the camera he donated (with the rest of his first-year salary), reducing closed-session meetings, cutting off City donations to private community groups, taking on flooding, using task forces to provide insight to problems, trying to control salaries and contracts, etc.

He was the most dynamic leader this City has had since Marty Butler. He will be sorely missed.

Excellent, PD
Park Ridge was truly lucky to have him. He will be sorely missed.
To family, friends, and all of Park Ridge, my condolences

I’m almost certain that Algren, biographer of the feckless and friendless, was being sarcastic; acknowledging the working man’s awareness that shared largesse almost always comes with strings. I don’t think he was saying that it ought to be that way. However, while I disagreed with Mayor Dave about a number of the specific calls he made, he was a far better Great Communicator than the original and far smarter and more articulate in voicing his views than most elected officials anywhere, anytime. That’s the part I’ll miss most as I don’t see who will fill those shoes. We are spoiled now, that’s for sure. I also respected Mayor Dave’s ability to admit when he was wrong. It didn’t happen often, but our friendship would not have happened if he had not apologized to me for an inappropriate insult nearly a decade ago. I was floored and delighted then…and many more times over the short six years of his tenure. God bless you, Mayor Dave. And all who serve and care as you did.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Don’t desecrate the brilliant observations of one of Chicago’s greatest writers, or the memory of one of Park Ridge’s greatest mayors, in order to spin away the idiocy of the self-aggrandizing fools whose messes Mayor Dave and “his” Councils have been stuck cleaning up.

At Mayor Dave’s funeral, his sister thanked the residents of Park Ridge for electing her brother as mayor for two terms. She said he really loved serving as our mayor … more than we can ever know.

Comforting to hear that we gave him something in return for all that he did for Park Ridge.

I voted for his opponent in 2009, but he won me over and I contributed to his campaign in 2013. He was smart and tough, but he always struck me as the epitome of the uncommon common man.

Let us see whether the city council continues on Mayor Schmidt’s path. That would be the best testament to what he accomplished.

Bob,

Great piece. We lost a true friend.

I’ve made my feelings known about Dave… damn good Mayor, larger than life, a glass half full guy and sometimes like a big over grown kid in the best and funnest way possible.

Things are going to be very different at 505 and around the horseshoe. I said before and will say here, I trust we will all continue to walk the path Dave led us down starting about six years ago and really adhere to those guiding principals: H.I.T.A.

It’s not always easy but Dave set a great example for us.

RIP Mayor Dave.

Wow. I’m sorry you took it that way.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Wow, and we’re sorry you intended it that way…or are you just so unfamiliar with Algren and his writing that you derived such an erroneous meaning from our quoted passage?

Surely you jest.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Surely we don’t.

What way 3.11?

For those who think the momentum Mayor Dave built over the past six years might be lost without his leadership, it’s up to all of us who want to see it continue to make certain it does. The loss of his leadership demands that we all take some of that leadership on ourselves. Are we up for it, or will we let the City backslide into the complacency, neglect and errors of the rpevious administrations?

EDITOR’S NOTE: We’re sure there are some who long for a return to yesteryear, so you raise an interesting question.

So it’s left to those of us who believed in the principles of government he stood for to carry them forward – hopefully with something close to the humor and irreverence he regularly brought to the task.

There are a few in place that can be nominated to fill the task and continue the principles of government. Fiscal Responsibility and Transparency foremost. They may not have the humor and irreverence, but they will have the two years to prove they can carry the torch.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Anyone who believes in HITA and all that comes with it should be thankful that the current Council is in place rather than the Frimark Alderpuppet council of Mayor Dave’s first two years in office; or their predecessors who engineered the replacement of the self-exiled Wietecha.

I hope the ambitious keep in mind that you cannot bully or insult people into following you. There’s an ancient anecdote, Greek or Chinese, I can’t recall, that observed, when “politician X speaks, the people say, ‘how well he orates!’ and when politician Y speaks, the people say, ‘let us march.'” Those who only take from our current situation Mayor Dave’s testiness will not have his enrollment numbers.

EDITOR’S NOTE: The quote was by an American, Adlai Stevenson, when introducing JFK in 1960 – with “politician x” being Marcus Tullius Cicero and “politician y” being Demosthenes.

Mayor Dave was not an orator at all. Instead he led with his ideas and by his refusal to compromise them either for political expendiency or to placate the special interests. And whatever occasional “testiness” he may have displayed was usually reserved for those self-interested few impeding the progress of the many.

Sen. Stevenson was quoting Plutarch, a contemporary Roman observer who originally made the comparison between Cicero and Demosthenes.

The editor’s right about one thing, though: Dave wasn’t an orator. He just cared about getting things done. I don’t know what the commenter means by “testiness” because I never saw that from Dave as a friend, neighbor or mayor.

Perhaps you refer to the occasions when Dave would state things very directly so we could all understand a situation clearly. That could be uncomfortable for the more genteel residents of Park Ridge who valued comity more than getting to a workable solution for taxpayers.

Or perhaps you’re just echoing the campaign materials of Dave’s last two opponents, both of whom tried — and failed — to portray Dave as uncaring or uncouth. He wasn’t either of those things, and the voters knew it both times.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t vote for public officials based on how well they’ll get along with each other, or with the day-to-day bureaucrats they’re expected to supervise.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Thanks for the education, Mr. Schildwachter.

You are right about the “Pleasantville” style-over-substance mentality of some residents, including those who tried to portray him as an Ebenezer Scrooge (pre-Christmas version) when, in fact, he was far more the generous Fezziwig.

Mayor Dave was a neighbor of mine. I always saw him gardening, yet he would always happy to take a break to answer questions about or discuss city business. I pretty much grew up in Park Ridge and no mayor during my time here, including Marty Butler, had any more passion and outright love for this community than Dave. I am sad about his passing, but even sadder for any Park Ridge residents who haven’t paid attention and therefore cannot appreciate all he did for this community in his too short time in office. RIP Dave.

You misunderstand me…again. Mayor Dave wasn’t the best public speaker perhaps, but he was unbeatably eloquent in writing. I can’t recall another elected official at this level (and some levels above) who could motivate people to digest unpalatable facts and go along (or march, as it were) to his drum based on how eloquently he explained things. He could be testy when crossed, but could be easily guided into a more tolerant position because it just meant he had to explain a bit better. And he did. While I think he could have been a little more demanding of some high-level staff, in general he did call ’em like he saw ’em, and his genuine passion for the City made it feel right. I am still thinking of him on and off all the time. And I’m sure I’m not alone.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Or perhaps you just can’t help being obtuse.

Reasonably intelligent people will “digest unpalatable facts and go along” with an elected official only if he makes sense and if they trust him. Mayor Dave made sense, and his constituents rightly trusted his intelligence, his honesty, and his integrity. And he was “more demanding of…high-level [City] staff” than ANYBODY who has sat around The Horseshoe over the past 20 years. By far!

What I had hoped to convey was just this: Mayor Dave’s wannabe replacement will not have his success with the public if the new guy takes only the uniformly testy, superior tone that we love about you. Dave had another side, and without it, he would have been just another contemptuous egomaniac. People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. Mawkish, yes. But also true. The human touch that Dave had will be needed to keep things in balance. About your last sentence, of course it’s true. But as you yourself have said, that’s like being the best bobsled team leader in Jamaica.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Stop the revisionist praise of the deceased: the history of your not-totally-anonymous comments over the years demonstrates your borderline contempt for much/most of Mayor Dave’s substantive beliefs about local government, and his accomplishments at The Horseshoe and in the community. You’re about as credible as Mike Madigan, John Cullerton or Rahm Emanuel advocating for taxing/borrowing/spending “reform.”



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