Steve Chapman

His tangible achievements owed much to his ability to ride the rising economic tide of the 1990s, making Chicago an appealing place to live, shop, play and do business. But they also owed a lot to his willingness to mortgage the future in pursuit of his vision.

He kept the Bears here with a deal to renovate Soldier Field at a cost of more than $400 million in tax dollars, producing an expensive eyesore. He created a major downtown attraction in Millennium Park -- which cost three times what it was supposed to. In his effort to get the 2016 Summer Olympics, he was willing to put local taxpayers on the hook for $500 million.

But his habits have caught up with Chicago. City pensions are grossly underfunded, leaving taxpayers with billions in obligations. _Spending has risen far faster than inflation, which Daley accomplished by piling up debt.

Sales taxes here rose to 10.25 percent, the highest of any major city in America -- before voter anger forced a rollback that left locals grateful to be paying only the second-highest rate.

The pleasure of living beyond your means can only go on so long before the party comes to a bitter end. With a big city budget deficit and a future of diminishing help from the state and federal governments, Daley is leaving before the truly painful decisions have to be made.

Plenty of contenders are scrambling to replace him, which suggests they do not understand what they face. The situation brings to mind what former New York Gov. Nelson Rockefeller said when Hugh Carey was elected to his old job in 1974: "He thinks it's going to be fun being governor. It's only fun being governor of New York if you have money to spend, and I spent it all."

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Steve Chapman

Steve Chapman is a columnist and editorial writer for the Chicago Tribune.

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