Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley took back more than a few pointers on security when he returned to his hometown after a recent four-day visit to Israel.
More than anything else, he was impressed with Israel's use of technology to fight terrorism and provide security for its citizens, Daley told The Jerusalem Post in an interview.
"With the airport and other things, the use of technology is really important. It's the key to building any infrastructure for public and private buildings because we now always have to think of public safety in all aspects of work," he said.
Though Chicago has never been hit by terrorism, the so called "Dirty Bomber," Jose Padilla, was arrested there in 2002, and its skyscrapers have Daley worried that Chicago could be targeted in the future.
Padilla, a former Chicago gang member, was arrested at O'Hare International Airport as he returned to the United States from Afghanistan. Initially, then-attorney general John Ashcroft alleged Padilla planned to set off a radioactive "dirty bomb." Those charges were later dropped. Last month, a Miami grand jury in Miami charged Padilla with being part of an Islamist cell that allegedly raised funds and recruited fighters to commit terrorist acts outside the US.
"We're always concerned, and that's the way it is since 9/11," Daley said. Since that day, Chicago has implemented a combined fire and police emergency service. "You have to put everyone in one system, as they do here, you can't have layers of bureaucracy which complicate operations. That's what New York found out," he said.
Since his trip focused on studying security procedures for possible implementation in Chicago, Daley did not have time to visit many tourist sites. He did, however, make it to Yad Vashem, calling it "emotionally striking." "Especially in this day and age, there are lessons which are important to remember," he said. "No one heard the cries of people issuing anti-Semitic remarks and we have today the president of Iran issuing them all the time."
Daley said he was impressed with Israel's "knowledge based" economy; he characterized the Jewish state as a "progressive country." "The scientists and mathematicians, it's part of the global economy. There are [also] major Chicago companies over here and many Israeli companies have operations in Chicago, so it's a two way street," he said.
Despite the barrage of Middle East violence appearing on American television sets every day, the mayor said he hadn't hesitated before coming to Israel or Jordan, which was the first stop on his trip.
"The media in America overplays everything. Whether coming to Israel or Jordan, the perception is every day someone is getting killed, and that's an unfortunate perception," he said. "The Jordanian government and Israel understand public safety."
Daley said he wasn't sure that US mayors have a direct role to play in the political situation in the Middle East. He said municipal leaders are generally more pragmatic than national politicians and that therefore they are better at improving peoples' day-to-day lives.
"We have to get the garbage, provide water and education. There's planning, development, zoning. So we're more concentrated on quality of life [issues]," he said. He said cultural exchanges might be a way for cities to contribute to the development of peace in the region.
On a lighter note, Daley, who is a life-long White Sox fan, said the elation created by last years's World Series win by the team from the South Side of Chicago, its first since 1917, had yet to ware off. However, he said, there is still a feeling that the team did not get the recognition it deserved. "Everyone still talks about the Yankees and Boston. I keep telling people we're even better this year than last year," he said.
Asked if he could convince the White Sox's Jewish owner, Jerry Reinsdorf, to bring the World Series trophy on an Israeli tour, he laughed. "That would be great. Jerry is a wonderful guy and a great friend of mine."