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Chicago’s First Lady: Maggie Daley on the Move

FROM OUR APRIL 1994 ISSUE: With good works and a deft political touch, Maggie has quietly carved a special role for herself. Now, the departure from Bridgeport has put her in the spotlight, and she doesn’t like being there.

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Yet very little is known about her, and, aside from her close circle of friends, few Chicagoans know her well. There seems to be nothing to hide. Again and again, acquaintances speak of her kindness, simplicity, intelligence, and warmth. “It’s the smile,” says Christina Gidwitz, a good friend. “It’s just electrifying. It’s just very warm and inviting and greeting. A good Irish smile.” Still, Maggie Daley almost never talks to the media. She refused to give an interview to Chicago magazine despite the professed urgings of the mayor’s press office, which at her insistence refused to cooperate in fact checking this article—a highly unusual stance for a media office to take.

It’s possible that Margaret Ann Corbett Daley, who grew up in a suburb of Pittsburgh, didn’t realize the depth and breadth of the Daley political roots when she married Richard Michael Daley 1972. At times, early on, she apparently bridled at being a political wife. She may be more accepting of politics now, but she firmly holds to the idea that though her husband was elected mayor of Chicago, the rest of the family neither ran nor were elected.

“She basically wants to be a wife and a mother,” says a friend who grew up with Rich Daley. “She was basically thrown into this, and she’s doing the best she can do. All the Daley boys married girls who were very much homebodies. They stayed home, they had children, they were wonderful mothers. All very educated, all had jobs beforehand; all are interested in the good things, the charities, the arts. They’re all very religious, all real good Catholics.”

In spite of her efforts to avoid the limelight, some observers insist that she is a great boon to Rich Daley’s career. “She is the perfect political wife—which I am not,” says Kathryn Cameron Porter, the wife of Congressman John Porter of Wilmette and the director of gender and social policy at Conservation International, a Washington-based environmental group. “She’s very much—I wouldn’t call it ‘old school,’ but she’s nonthreatening.”

At a time when Hillary Rodham Clinton is breaking the pattern for the modern political wife, Maggie Daley has molded her own role: more active in civic affairs than was, say, her mother-in-law, Eleanor “Sis” Daley, yet above the hubbub of public life. “Maybe that’s how she preserves her personal life, her own identity, because she is in control of it.” adds Porter. “That way she doesn’t have to worry about having to be invisible. She knows who she is.”

* * *

In private, friends say, Maggie Daley is a funny, fun-loving first lady whose nickname for the mayor is “Lou.” “Some people take a sip of life, other people take a gulp,” says Avis LaVelle, Mayor Daley’s former press secretary. “She takes a gulp.” Barbara Rinella, a friend from the early Junior League days, says, “She greets you even if she can’t remember your name with the big smile and a ‘Hey, babe, how’re you doing?’ I thought, boy, that covers everything.”

She wears her blondish hair brushed back, and, at about age 50, she has become—as one friend puts it— “just comfortably round.” This friend adds, “I have always thought of her as someone who was very pretty, always looked nice and in style, but never dazzled you with great style. It wasn’t high fashion. It was just really appropriate.”

 

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