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The Daleys are a classic urban Irish American family; the firstborn son, Richard M., was six years older than Bill and destined to follow his father. “If anybody was marched around as the next-generation pol, it would have been Rich, because it’s an Irish family and that’s the way it is,” says Bill’s childhood friend Colleen Dolan. “Bill would have to find his own way.”
As a boy, Bill was “like sunshine,” recalls his sister Pat, “slight, beautiful eyes, and dark hair.” He was the baby of the family, “very inquisitive, a very serious child. He was interested in the world.”
In politics especially, and he was eager to accompany his father, whether to a wake, a parade, or a nominating convention. “He adored his father,” says Dolan. She recalls one summer in Grand Beach, Michigan, where the Daleys had a summer home, complaining to Bill that the political conventions “took over TV.” He insisted that people needed to be informed. In 1960, when Bill was 12, and John Kennedy, a family friend, was running for President, Pat remembers a torchlight parade, and a rally at the Chicago Stadium. Bill was captivated by everything Kennedy said. “‘You’re right, Jack,’” Pat recalls him responding.
After Richard J. Daley became mayor in 1955—Bill was seven then—he and Sis were determined that their children would have normal lives. They walked from the family’s red-brick Bridgeport bungalow to the parish school, Nativity of Our Lord, at 37th Street and Lowe Avenue, and returned home for lunch. The boys played baseball in the backyard and basketball in the alley. They met their friends at the nearby Valentine Boys and Girls Club and at McGuane Park. A neighbor, Harry Brice, recalls that after Bill’s father was elected mayor, the only change was the police presence—cars in front and back of the bungalow.
His mother was more the disciplinarian, Bill says; the mayor was a softer touch. He was most relaxed in Grand Beach, where the man who was seldom seen without a coat and tie could be found in swimming trunks on the shore.
John, a year and a half older than Bill, chose St. Ignatius College Prep for high school, breaking the Daley male tradition of going to De La Salle. Bill followed him to the Jesuit school, which prided itself on its academic rigor. The Daley boys received “no special treatment, not with the Jesuits,” recalls John. At home, the parents monitored the homework. Their father “would know whether you had a test in algebra or Latin,” says John, and when he came home for dinner that night he would ask about it.
John says that his younger brother was extremely quiet at St. Ignatius. Classmates, though, recall that Bill was popular, and he joined the swimming and baseball teams. His baseball coach, Jim Spalding, remembers him as “very conscientious, certainly good enough to make the team, but not a starter.”
“I got through at Ignatius,” Bill says today. “I did OK, not great in any of my academic endeavors.” Robert Connelly, one of his teachers, remembers him in his English class as “above average, a B student, a hard worker.” Spalding, who taught math, says Bill “certainly didn’t set the world on fire as a math student.”
Like his brother Rich, Bill went to Providence College in Rhode Island, but he stayed only one year. “I was not real excited about being away,” he says. Returning to Chicago and living at home, he joined John at Loyola University Chicago, where he majored in political science.
One afternoon when he was a junior, Bill stopped by his father’s office to catch a ride home. Bill “plopped down on a chair to talk,” recalls David Stahl, then deputy mayor, “and asked, ‘Who’s the blonde?’ So I took him out and introduced him to Loretta.” The next time Bill stopped by for a ride, he sat down next to her.
Loretta Aukstik, Stahl’s secretary, had also grown up in Bridgeport; she was a Catholic, and Lithuanian on both sides. Besides being competent and bright, says Stahl, she was beautiful. “The minute he met her,” Colleen Dolan recalls, she and the friends with whom they had grown up knew “it was ‘Bye-bye, Billy.’” They married in December 1970, seven months after Bill graduated from Loyola, and lived in Marina City for a while, then in the two-flat her parents owned at 34th Street and Emerald Avenue. Later they moved north, to the Edgebrook neighborhood, and then, in 1987, to a house in the tonier Sauganash.
On his father’s advice—“Get the degree; they can never take it away from you”—Bill went to law school. He was a good but not great student, without a particular passion for the law. Twenty-six years later, a magazine reporter deconstructing Daley for The Nation wrote that to navigate the “undistinguished halls” of John Marshall, Bill required a tutor and that Mayor Daley was so grateful that he gave the man a judgeship.
The principals say that is not quite what happened. Joseph Gordon, who taught at John Marshall, says he assisted Daley in the subject of evidence for a couple of months, meeting with him once or twice a week. Gordon calls Daley quick on the uptake and says that “a little help went a long way.” Tom Hynes, a colleague of Gordon’s on the John Marshall faculty and later the Cook County assessor, suggested Gordon as a tutor and subsequently helped him land his judgeship. Today, Gordon is an appellate court judge.
Even back then, Daley had a quality that set him apart. Another professor, Ron Smith, remembers recognizing the mayor’s son on his first day of class. He was seated beside “a big, beefy guy” who Smith thought could be Bill’s bodyguard—until he asked for a volunteer and the presumed bodyguard, a classmate of Bill’s, gave a perfect brief. Smith called again for volunteers; this time the case involved an Illinois statute that prohibited civil rights activists from picketing in front of Mayor Daley’s house. “Up goes Daley’s hand,” Smith recalls. “I thought it took guts.”
Daley started as a day student and switched to nights in 1972, when his first child, William, was born. In the summer of 1973, John and Bill opened a Bridgeport storefront, Daley and Daley, to sell insurance. It was “mostly neighborhood business,” Bill says, “auto, homeowners, small businesses. Dad didn’t help us. The fact that we were Daleys, everybody assumed that whatever walked in the door walked in [for that reason], and maybe it did. I don’t know. We didn’t ask, ‘Why are you here?’”
In 1974, the year before Daley graduated from law school, Joel Weisman, now moderator of WTTW-TV’s Chicago Tonight: The Week in Review and then working for the Chicago Sun-Times, reported that answers had been changed on the insurance broker’s exam that Daley had taken three years before. No evidence ever emerged that Bill had had anything to do with it. Ultimately, the man charged with altering the answers was convicted of perjury, but the conviction was later overturned. Supposedly his intention was to do a favor for the senate minority leader, Cecil Partee, who would then presumably score points with the mayor.
Daley passed the bar exam on the first try and started working for the family law firm, then called Daley, Riley and Daley. (Richard J. had been a partner, and his son Richard M., then a state senator, was one at the time.) Today, the firm is anchored by Michael Daley, the most private of the brothers, and by his current partner, John George. Daley and George remains a go-to place for zoning and tax appeals.
Bill Daley wanted more. In 1976, he became his father’s liaison to the Jimmy Carter campaign for President. Daley was hooked and, according to John, transformed—he lost the reticence that had characterized him since boyhood. By the late 1970s, Bill and Loretta had the heady experience of attending a White House state dinner. When in Washington, Daley would use Vice President Walter Mondale’s office. In 1979, Mondale invited Bill and Loretta to a dinner party at which they met Bill Clinton, then in his first term as the governor of Arkansas.
In 1980, Bill Daley ran his brother Richard’s successful race for Cook County state’s attorney. “Bill’s particular gift,” says Dawn Clark Netsch, who served in the state senate with Rich Daley, “is that he was not as impulsive as his brother is; he has a great capacity to be calm, to look ahead a little bit.” Bill was honing the pragmatism that came to define him, making alliances with the liberals who in 1972 had unseated his father from the Democratic nominating convention. In 1983, when Rich made his first run for mayor—facing the incumbent, Jane Byrne, and Congressman Harold Washington in the primary—Bill rejected any appeal to race. “One of the things Bill was quite adamant about was no . . . racial anything,” Netsch told a writer for The New Republic in 2000. She lent her progressive credentials to the Daley cause—he finished third—and recalls it as a “classy campaign.”
In the 1984 Presidential race, Walter Mondale’s campaign chairman, Jim Johnson, recruited Bill, who then traveled with Mondale every day from August until the election. Chuck Campion, a Mondale aide, says that Mondale tapped into Daley’s sense of “what regular voters think.” Mondale saw in him something rare: “In these campaigns, people get all excited and bummed out over everything,” Mondale recalls. “Bill Daley was our steadier. He just seemed to be able to keep it under control at all times.”Edit Module