Daley gets award, attends White House dinner

January 20, 2011 4:48:12 AM PST
Chicago Mayor Richard Daley and his wife, Maggie, attended a state dinner at the White House for Chinese President Hu Jintao Wednesday night.

The guest list was dominated by the usual diplomatic heavyweights and business leaders, including the CEOs of Chicago-based Boeing and Motorola.

Daley will host a dinner for President Hu on Thursday when he will travel from Washington to Chicago.

Earlier in the day, the mayor received a standing ovation after receiving the distinguished service award by the U.S. Conference of Mayors, which is meeting this week in Washington, D.C.

All eyes focused on Daley as he arrived for the U.S. Mayor's Conference of Mayors' Plenary Session. After nearly 22 years running the nation's third largest city, he was recognized as the Dean of American Mayors.

"We mayors, as my father taught me, we are the closest to the people. They can find the mayor. They can't find the governor or the president. But they find the mayor," Daley said.

The distinguished public service award has been earned by only 19 mayors in the group's 79 year history. Daley thanked his father.

"My father gave us the values, the religious beliefs and, of course, a quality education. He said, 'I will sacrifice for you and your brothers and sisters for an education,'" he said.

"I said to people, 'he is America's greatest mayor,'" said Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa of Los Angeles. "He has been a real role model for me."

While Daley expressed his sincere appreciation for the award and the accolades, he admitted his focus this week is on the Chinese president's visit.

"China brings the future. In 25 years we look at a year or two years as a long time. They don't," Daley told ABC7 Chicago.

Daley envisions Chinese investments in local infrastructure projects, including high-speed rail service between O'Hare and the Loop, which he says city taxpayers can no longer afford.

"We can't tax the people in America. We can't borrow money, so we have to say to the private sector, 'how can you invest in our schools and public transportation in and the environment as quickly as possible?'" the mayor said.

Daley says his final months in office have offered no respite; he is as busy as ever. He says he is considering teaching opportunities and has been approached by publishers to write a book.

"Remember, I have had a schedule for 30 years and really have worked and sat down, cutting things out, looking at issues and discussing issues which I have enjoyed. It will be a change," Daley said.