First elected in 1989 after defeating incumbent Mayor Eugene Sawyer in the primary, and Timothy Evans and Edward Vrdolyak in the general election, Daley proved to be a uniter, although not always clear of controversy. He has taken after his father in making civic improvement a high priority, announcing the desire to turn the entire Chicago lake front into a park.
Daley has drawn attacks for his intention to close Meigs Field, an airport with a single runway surrounded by water that is a familiar sight on the downtown waterfront. He was re-elected on February 25, 2003 for a fifth term with 79% of the vote in a four-candidate race.
While Daley has won an even-increasing share of the votes in each election since 1989 (with the exception of 1995, when he ran against Roland Burris and Ray Wardingley, also known as "Spanky the Clown"), voter turnout has also declined significantly during this period. In 1989, Daley won with 55% of the vote and 67% voter turnout. This means that, counting voters who stayed home on election day, 37% of registered voters cast a ballot for Daley. In 2003, Daley won with 79% of the vote and 34% turnout, for a total of 26% of registered voters. In other words, while Daley's vote percentages have been going up, fewer people have actually been voting for him. Instead, the city has been overcome by a shocking wave of apathy.
However, if support for Daley is no longer as deep as it once was, it has grown considerably wider. Daley's election in 1989 can be attributed largely to his overwhelming pluralities in wards on the city's Northwest and Southwest Sides. In 1989, Daley's pluralities in his 15 highest vote-getting wards accounted for 264% of his citywide plurality. This means that support for Daley was incredibly concentrated in these wards. In 2003, Daley's pluralities in his top 15 wards accounted for just 57% of his city-wide plurality. This signifies much broader support. If support for Daley were uniformly distributed throughout the city's 50 wards, we would expect each set of 15 wards to deliver around 30% of Daley's total plurality (give or take a few due to differences in population between wards).