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.

In Bridgeport, the workweek has ended, and Schaller’s Pump is hopping. Families and friends are sitting around tables eating fried fish and prime rib. Other patrons are clustered at the huge oak bar. Gerald, a skinny, grizzled fellow wearing a Chicago Recycling Company cap, is at the bar, pounding down $2.25 martinis. He takes them customized-—that is, Jill Schaller, the pretty young barkeep, a direct descendant of the restaurant’s founders, serves his packed to the gills with olives. “I don’t know if I like the gin better or the olives,” he says.

Schaller’s was founded more than 100 years ago, about the time the family of Mayor Richard M. Daley took up residence in Bridgeport. The restaurant is situated across the street from the headquarters of the 11th Ward Regular Democratic Organization, and for that reason it’s the most political saloon in a neighborhood famed for its political talent. Bridgeport turns out politicians the way certain small towns in Georgia or Texas turn out beauty-pageant winners—the neighborhood has produced five Chicago mayors, including four straight from 1933 to 1979.

It was home to the current mayor, too, until last December, and the people of Schaller’s Pump think they know why they lost their latest favorite son to a tonier neighborhood to the north: Maggie Daley, the mayor’s wife.

“People feel absolutely that Maggie is behind the move out of Bridgeport,” says one neighborhood resident. “She’s wanted to move for some time. I think he’s very neighborhood oriented—obvious1y, growing up in the neighborhood—where she’s not. People just sort of accept it if she doesn’t want to be here. They think, Well, that’s their business. That’s what it should be—their business.”

Of course, the conventional wisdom of Bridgeport may be utter nonsense. The Daleys have indeed treated their move to Burnham Place—a new, affluent townhouse development in the South Loop—as their business alone. Mayor Daley has said only that it was a family decision. A source in Daley’s press office speculates that with two of their three children now away at college, the time had come to settle in a smaller house. But in Bridgeport and elsewhere in Chicago, the break with family tradition has put the spotlight on Maggie, and, by all accounts, she doesn’t like it there.

“She will guard her privacy with her life,” says Bill Zwecker, the Sun-Times columnist.

Her attitude is somewhat incongruous, given whom she married, but over the years it has provided her with an air of mystery. She’s an active participant in any number of charitable causes and a familiar face at civic functions. People who’ve followed her closely say her speeches are more polished than her husband’s, and—if she was once hesitant about taking a public role—there are any number of signs that she’s blossoming as first lady. “She gets blonder every time I see her,” says one woman who runs into her at social and charitable functions. Others think that she is simply growing accustomed to her position.

 

 

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.”

 

 

At home, she isn’t afraid to let the mayor know her views. “She fights with him,” says another friend who knows them well. Shirley Ryan, who with her husband, insurance magnate Patrick Ryan, is close to both Daleys, recalls that the mayor told her recently, “People ask me what I think about reporters’ comments They must understand that the only person I really care if she likes me or not is Maggie.” The mayor supports her refusal to cooperate with the media. Referring to her charitable activities, he says, “She doesn’t get the publicity. She just does the work.”

The Daleys have three children: Nora, 20, who goes to college in New England but is studying in Europe this year; Patrick, 18, who is in his first year at West Poin;: and Elizabeth, 10, who is a fourth grader at Old St. Patrick’s  School, the elementary school attached to the popular Near West Side church. A fourth child Kevin, was born in 1979 and died 33 months later of spina bifida, a congenital disorder in which the spinal column does not close during pregnancy. When Kevin was born, Daley was a state senator in Springfield. For nearly two years, until the baby’s death, he traveled home from the state capital, a distance of some 200 miles, almost every night to be with Maggie and their son. Maggie told the Wall Street Journal in 1989 that after Kevin died, Rich gave her “lots of space, time for healing. He never said, ‘You’ve got to get over this, honey.’” The mayor has said on many occasions that the death of Kevin was the lowest point in his life.

The Daleys have always tried to shield their children from the media and the the public—perhaps a legacy of Rich Daley’s own difficulties in growing up as the son of a famous father. He once told the Tribune, “Everything I did was watched by reporters. I remember once when I ran a stoplight and it was on the front page. Why? Because of my name, that’s why.” Maggie and Rich Daley’s attitude was no doubt hardened two years ago in the burst of press scrutiny following a rowdy party thrown by Patrick, then 16, at the family’s Grand Beach, Michigan, summer home when his parents were away. Liquor was served to the underage revelers and the whole thing ended up in a nightmare of a brawl between Patrick’s Chicago friends and a group of Indiana locals. Racial slurs were hurled, a concrete lawn ornament was thrown through the windshield of the mayor’s new Chevy Blazer, a shotgun was brandished, and one Indiana kid got clubbed in the head with a baseball bat— an injury that required surgery to remove a blood clot. Patrick, though not involved in the fight, pleaded guilty to furnishing alcohol to minors and disturbing the peace. He was sentenced to six months’ probation, and was ordered to pay fines and court costs totaling $1,950 and to do 50 hours of service work last summer in Grand Beach.

The incident was hard on the Daleys; discussing it at a press conference, the mayor broke down in tears. “Daley kids don’t get busted for being in a cheap, sleazy racial brawl,” says Greg Hinz, Chicago’s political editor. “That upset him.”

Still, Dennis Wiley, the Berrien County prosecuting attorney, says the family was helpful and cooperative. “Given the fact that Patrick was dumb enough to have had a party that prompted all this,” Wiley says, “the Daleys made themselves fully available in whatever way was needed, even though they were in great pain over what had happened and under a lot of pressure from the media.”

* * *

Many of Maggie Daley’s civic activities involve the Chicago Cultural Center—the old library, at Randolph and Michigan. She’s the chairwoman of the Chicago Cultural Center Foundation, which seeks to secure government and private funds for the programs at the Center. She is best known, though, for her role in creating and chairing Gallery 37, a summer arts program for kids, many of whom come from disadvantaged areas of town. The project was organized in 1990 in collaboration with cultural affairs commissioner Lois Weisberg and has won some corporate sponsorship. During the six-week program—held at Lot 37, the empty square block in the Loop—Gallery 37 students are tutored by professional artists in all mediums. And the kids make art. They are paid the minimum wage of $4.25 an hour, and if their art is sold, the proceeds go to fund future art programs.

 

 

“The project is a testament to a notion that Maggie Daley had in her mind that she pursued from a wouldn’t-it-be-wonderful stage to reality,” says Avis LaVelle. “It’s now in its fourth year and it’s bigger and better and more wonderful than anybody except Maggie Daley had imagined.”

Maggie is also a director of the Pathways Awareness Foundation, a national advocacy group for children with physical disabilities, and sits on a medical round table for the organization. It is an offshoot of the Pathways Center for Children in Glenview, where some 200 children go twice weekly for physical and occupational therapy. The foundation has created a widely distributed brochure and video called Is My Baby Okay?, which helps parents determine if their child is developing correctly. “We are very much pro-inclusion, which is the model nationally advocating that children be integrated into regular classrooms,” says Shirley Ryan, the founder of the organization.

Both Daleys have taken an intense interest in the medical problems of children. Mayor Daley has donated the proceeds from his two inaugural balls to the three children’s hospitals in town—Children’s Memorial, Wyler, and La Rabida—says Susan Phillips, a spokeswoman for Wyler. “They do it kind of fair and square. Three kids’ hospitals and every one uses the money in the way they see fit.” Wyler used the money to create a pediatric heart center, Children’s Memorial endowed a horticultural program, and La Rabida made part of their playground an area called Kevin’s Walk, named for the Daleys’ third child. “One of the things about having a child that died is that you are sort of inexorably connected to kids’ hospitals,” says Phillips. “They’re very loyal to us, one of the first people to sign up to come at Christmas. They bring toys, they read stories. They don’t just stop by for a photo opportunity. It‘s from the heart.”

For Maggie Daley, the roster of charities is a long one. She also serves as chairwoman of Blue Skies for Kids, an effort to create innovative programs for children and parents at branch libraries around the city. She is on the advisory board of Old St. Patrick’s School, which she was instrumental in setting up. And she i on the auxiliary hoard of the Art Institute of Chicago.

Surprisingly, given her concern for privacy, Maggie Daley did campaign a bit for her husband during the past two elections, though Daley’s insists her efforts were kept to a minimum. “Daley has never run a Kennedyesque campaign, like, ‘Vote for me; I have an adoring wife.’ Or ‘Vote for me; I have cute children,’” says a reporter who has followed Daley’s career but who asked not to be identified. “In fact, because of his own problems with getting out from under his father’s shadow, he’s taken the opposite stance, like, ‘Vote for me, not because of my family connections, not because of whose son I am, but because I can be a good mayor.’”

In the early days, however, Daley did trot his family out on occasion, and Maggie even did television commercials for her husband. (During the 1989 mayoral campaign, she also agreed to talk to a Wall Street Journal reporter who was profiling her husband, and she actually answered few questions about her private life.) “She helped put Rich in orbit and now he has to stay in orbit on his own,” says Phil Krone, a veteran political consultant.

LaVelle and others say that Maggie largely stays out of policy matters, but she doesn’t hesitate to speak to him on issues that concern her, usually involving children or the arts. “If she does any advising to Richie, I think it’s quietly at night,” says one woman who knows them well. “But whenever she does do events, people in the know talk to her as if she were making a decision. And she keeps a very nice smile on her face, but her ears are open.”

 

 

There are indications, however, that Maggie Daley is venturing into the spotlight a bit more. Many people who have seen her give speeches recently say she is becoming a gifted public speaker. Bill Zwecker says this was first evident to him when he attended the Mid-America Committee dinner last May honoring the Gorbachevs. The mayor was out of town and Maggie represented him in welcoming former President and Mrs. Gorbachev to Chicago before 3,000 or so people at the Sheraton. “I remember being struck at the time that she was so poised and so articulate and just seemed very comfortable,” Zwecker says. “She made a very, very impressive presentation, and the buzz in the room was that she was giving a much better speech than the mayor ever would or could.”

* * *

Margaret Ann Corbett grew up in Mount Lebanon, Pennsylvania, an older, well-to-do community 11 miles south of Pittsburgh. Her father, Patrick Corbett, was president of the Acme Bumper Parts Exchange Company. Maggie was the youngest of seven children and the only girl. She attended local parochial schools and went on to college at the University of Dayton in Dayton, Ohio. Her senior yearbook carries a photo of Maggie—her dark hair styled in a fancy do on top of her head—as Senior Farewell Queen. Her school record suggests that she cut quite a social figure on campus: She was also in the Junior Ball Court and the Military Ball Court, and she was secretary of the Social Activities Committee. She graduated in 1965 with a major in history. The university today claims her as one of its most famous graduates.

In the next few years, she moved to Chicago and worked for Xerox as an account executive with the educational division. In 1970, she met Richard M. Daley, then 28, who was two years out of DePau1 Law School and who had been a delegate that year at the Illinois Constitutional Convention.

A woman who knew them at the time recalls that Maggie was living on Goethe Street and rooming with the future wife of Rich’s brother Michael. The story goes that Maggie was introduced to Rich at a Christmas party at the Bridgeport home of Mary Jo George, the wife of John George, who is now Michael Daley’s law partner. Rich and Maggie spent the evening talking, and that same night he asked her out for New Year’ s Eve.

She knew Rich’s father was the mayor and hence expected a glamorous evening—dinner at a wonderful restaurant, dancing perhaps, the whole works. But when he picked her up and she asked where they were having dinner, his answer was, “Oh, I already ate.”

By several accounts, though, the future mayor was immediately smitten. For Maggie, it took some time. “A couple of years ago someone asked both of them if they knew it was love at first sight,” Shirley Ryan recalls. “Maggie said, ‘Oh, we dated for a while before we had a feel for each other.’”

Two years after meeting, they married in Mount Lebanon at the St. Francis Retreat House. Rich’s sister Eleanor was a bridesmaid, and his three younger brothers, Michael, John, and William, were groomsmen. Maggie carried a bouquet of tulips.

 

 

If Maggie harbored any misconceptions about the formidable political roots of the family she’d married into, she must have been set straight quickly. At the time of her marriage, her husband’s father was in the 17th year of what would be his 21-year run of six consecutive terms. Rich’s mother stayed almost entirely out of the spotlight (one of the few exceptions was when she spoke up to save the old downtown library building—today’s Cultural Center—where Maggie now has a desk). Rich and his three brothers were all politically oriented. The same year that Maggie and Rich were married, Rich was elected to the state senate. And Maggie was a visible part of the clan. A friend says Maggie told her that when they started dating, Jane Byrne—at the time, head of the Department of Consumer Sales, Weights, and Measures under the original Mayor Daley—used to criticize her to Rich’s father because Byrne thought that Maggie’s skirts were too short. The friend says that Maggie did a great imitation of Byrne.

When asked to confirm or deny this report, Byrne says, “Either you don’t know Chicago politics or you are coming from the moon. Family pride in the Daley family was such that no one would say anything critical about a family member to Mayor Daley. It just wouldn’t have happened.”

The newlyweds moved into an apartment in Bridgeport close to the house on South Lowe Avenue where Rich Daley had grown up, the same house where his parents were living (and where Sis Daley still lives today). They attended Nativity of Our Lord, the parish church a few blocks from their apartment, again the same church Rich had grown up in. They began having their family.

Around 1976, Maggie and Rich and their children moved into the Emerald Street house that was their home until last December. “The Emerald house used to be all apartments.” a neighbor says. “It was the typical two- or three-flat.” The Daleys owned it as a one-family house, and it was a bigger and nicer home than most others in Bridgeport. The mayor’s brother Bill recently told a reporter for The New Yorker that Rich had borrowed $200,000 on the house to finance his 1980 campaign for Cook County state’s attorney. When Maggie found out, Bill Daley said, “I thought she was going to kill me.”

Friends say the Daley’s summer home in Grand Beach is Maggie’s haven and she spends as much time as possible there, out of the public eye.

***

Bridgeport, one of Chicago’s oldest neighborhoods, was settled in the 1830s by Irish laborers who came to help construct the Illinois-Michigan Canal. The main industry was slaughtering. Over time the Irish were joined by other groups—eastern Europeans and Germans— who came to work in the stockyards and the packing plants. From early on, Bridgeport had a powerful sense of community, later bolstered by the local Democratic Machine and the strong presence of organized labor. Bridgeporters are famous for sticking together and equally known to be suspicious of strangers. Family is the most important connection and the community is very stable.

“Families don’t leave,” says one Bridgeport native. “It’s like its own little town. So instead of buying new homes, everybody’s remodeling. And John Daley, Rich’s brother, has an open lot and is building a house a block away.”

 

 

Bridgeporters always enjoyed the fact that the “old man,” as Richard J. Daley was known, was just one of them. For years Rich Daley was viewed with that same kind of easy fondness—yet he always had the privilege and the burden of being the son-of-the-father; to Bridgeport, anyway, he was the heir apparent. Like his father before him, Rich maintained a kind of simplicity, even after he became mayor. He and Maggie could be spotted on Saturdays at the local Dominick’s doing their grocery shopping or strolling down Halsted. In the summer, Rich would be out in his front yard, “in loud Bermuda shorts,” one observer recalls, mowing the grass.

But things may have begun to sour for Daley and Bridgeport around 1983, when he lost the mayoral primary to Congressman Harold Washington. Bridgeport, which is largely white, has had a reputation for being hostile to blacks. Some Bridgeporters faulted Daley for splitting most of the white vote with Jan Byrne and paving the way for Chicago’s first black mayor. John Kass reported in Tribune that Daley was socked in the jaw by a disgruntled neighbor at the local hardware store in a dispute right after Washington’s election.

Some Bridgeport residents began to complain among themselves that the Daleys seemed to spend most of their time outside the community, something that the old man and Sis did not do. Maggie Daley, as Chicago’s first lady, was busy with charities and society events. The family did not socialize a great deal within the neighborhood. Their children were educated outside of Bridgeport.

Early in their marriage, Maggie became a member of the Junior League of Chicago and joined the auxiliary board of the Art Institute. One friend who has known her since Junior League days says, “She used to joke about having to live in the neighborhood—‘the neighborhood,’ as she called it. She always wanted to live by us over in the Near North and that’s always bothered her, but she didn’t complain.”

The family moved from Nativity of Our Lord, the local parish church, to Old St. Patrick’s, on West Adams. Under its current pastor, Father Jack Wall, it has become popular with the professional set. Maggie is said to have led the defection, going to Old St. Patrick’s on her own in the beginning; the mayor followed later. “She was basically looking for good liturgy,” Mary Kay Latz, the sister of Father Jack Wall, told the Sun-Times.

But if Maggie and Rich had an urge to leave Bridgeport, that should hardly come as a surprise. It turns out Richard J. Daley was the only mayor from Bridgeport to actually stay in Bridgeport. Ed Kelly (mayor from 1933 to 1947) decamped to a mansion in Kenwood. By the time of his election, Martin Kennelly (1947-55) had settled into the Edgewater Beach Apartments, about two miles below the Evanston line. Mike Bilandic (1977-79) hightailed it off to Lake Shore Drive with his wife, socialite Heather Morgan, soon after he was out of office and after his mother, who lived in Bridgeport, had died.

By some accounts, even Richard J. Daley planned to leave Bridgeport after his election in 1955. The story goes that Daley had bought property in upper-middle-class Sauganash, but stayed in Bridgeport allies told him he’d be seen as turning up his nose at his old neighborhood.

 

 

“Why should [Maggie] be confined to living in a bungalow two blocks from a strip like Morgan, where gangs are hanging out all day and night?” asks John Kass. “And the Bridgeport hat is in people’s minds, in terms of the political myth, is not the reality. So who can blame anybody for moving?”

Aside from the adverse reaction that radio gabbers Ed Vrdolyak and Ty Wansley received on their WLS call-in show the day of the move, most people in Bridgeport and elsewhere seem to be perfectly willing to let the Daleys live where they please. The zone of privacy Maggie had established around the family may have helped mute the reaction; even though she was widely seen as behind the move, few people faulted her for rearranging tradition. That’s a relief to at least one other first lady. “I hope that that the role of the political spouse is changing so that spouses feel real freedom to be themselves,” says Brenda Edgar, the wife of Governor Jim Edgar. “I hope as we move forward, that just because a man or woman is in politics the person they’re married to doesn’t feel required to fit into a certain mold that they think the public might expect.”

Although the Daleys looked at houses in Hyde Park (Maggie has friends there and is said to have liked the area), the home they settled on is in the new $3-billion Central Station development south of the Loop, in a neighborhood where there was no neighborhood before. They chose a townhouse in the Burnham Place section costing around $400,000. The development is in the shadow of warehouses and burned-out buildings but only blocks away from Lake Shore Drive and the Field Museum and Soldier Field.

The developers of Central Station, a city within a city, plan to have commercial, residential, hotel, trade, and retail facilities all in one cohesive community. Though the development is considered a financial success and gets generally marks from architecture critics, Kass likens it to a medieval fortress. Indeed the brick buildings make a virtually solid wall around the interior section of the development. “It’s about keeping what’s outside, outside,” Kass says.

Although there is not a tavern at Central Station yet, there certainly will be—possibly a neighborhood spot, but more likely a bar in one of the hotels. Chances are, it’ll be slicked up with ferns and mirrors and shiny surfaces. Even if the developers try to copy Schaller’s Pump wood panel by wood panel, it won’t be like Schaller’s Pump. Gerald would never fit in, and you can be sure that the martinis there will cost more than $2.25—even without olives.

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