Edit Module
Edit Module
Edit Module
Edit Module
Carol Felsenthal
On politics

What’s Behind the Daley Dynasty Decline

After decades running Chicago, no Daley is in power. Hear the experts explain why.

The Richard J. Daley family poses for a family photo on Dec. 24, 1954. From left to right: Front row - John, 8; Michael, 11, Eleanor, Richard, 12, and Bill, 6. Back row, standing, are Mary, 10, Richard J. Daley, Candidate for Mayor of Chicago and Eleanor, 14.   PHOTO: JIM QUINN/CHICAGO TRIBUNE

When Chicago’s Power 100 list was released last week, I wrote a sidebar noting that no Daley made the list.

There’s obviously a lot to this story. In fact, the experts I’ve interviewed had a bit more to say about the Daley brothers than that print article could fit.

If one moved to Chicago in the summer of 2011, and had somehow missed all of the city’s news up to that point, one might have thought that Rich Daley left behind little in the way of legacy. Not so, says Kent Redfield, professor emeritus of political science at the University of Illinois, Springfield. Chicago is “one of a handful of truly global cities in the country,” and Daley deserves credit for that. “He certainly did a good job of building the city when the economy was good.” (When it turned bad in 2008, “that required some bold thinking and tough choices and it didn’t get done.” Instead, Redfield explains, Daley ran in place, papered over without engaging on such issues as pensions and on “rebuilding the middle class by rebuilding the schools.”)

In that time, visitors came to Chicago from around the world, looked at downtown and the lakefront, and exclaimed, “I never knew that Chicago was so beautiful,” Costas Spirou says. Spirou recently left National Lewis University for Georgia College and State University where he’s professor and chairman of the department of government and sociology. Based on 24 years in Chicago and continuing work on co-writing a biography of Richard M. Daley, Spirou sees his subject as a man who had a vision of “what a Chicago could be” and a “direction for the city” as a global hub—a vision, says Spriou, that meshed nicely with that of the city’s business, civic, corporate elites.

Privatizing city services was one way Rich Daley saw to realize his vision. Predictably, he ran out of resources, used one-time funds to plug holes until there were many fewer resources and many more holes.

When he lost the Olympics, the failure, says Spirou, “took the air out of his vision.” Had Chicago gotten the 2016 Olympic games, Spirou adds, Daley would likely still be mayor.

His announcement of his retirement left Chicagoans stunned. “People thought that he’d serve the entirety of his life,” says Larry Bennett, political science professor at DePaul and author of The Third City: Chicago and American Urbanism, “that he’d die in office as his father did.” The mistake they made, explains Bennett, is that Rich is “different than his dad. He had interests outside of politics.” Bennett imagines Rich saying to himself in the wake of the Olympics humiliation and the illness of his wife, Maggie, “I’ve been doing this for a hell of a long time.”

Bennett sees Rich Daley as someone who experienced “personal growth” as he grew older. “I think if either of us had met him when he was 20, we would have thought. ‘Oh, Jesus, let’s end this conversation as quickly as possible.’ If we met him at 40, we would have thought of him as someone who knows something.”

On to other Daley brothers:

In my experience, most people don’t realize it, but there’s one more brother, Michael, the second son after Rich. He’s often called “the brains of the family,” an exceedingly private, self-effacing man, known as a smart lawyer, who has practiced for decades at what’s now called Daley and Georges. Both Rich and Bill practiced at earlier iterations of the firm, cofounded in 1935 by Richard J. Daley.

Michael is said to be the son who, brain-wise, most resembles the father—it’s the go-to firm for zoning and tax appeals and land-use issues. Clients include developers and others who deal with the city. DePaul lecturer and former Chicago Tribune writer John McCarron guesses that Michael’s practice has “lost some cachet” since his brother Rich retired, but likely still has plenty of business because Rich’s retirement and Bill’s pratfall do not rob Michael of his City Hall contacts and knowledge of which levers to pull.

Bill Daley’s sudden exit from the governor’s race, which made him look both like a ‘fraidy cat and a spoil sport, is not surprising. Indeed, his quitting the race could be viewed as the height of rationality. Joel Weisman, host of WTTW’s ‘Chicago Tonight: The Week in Review,’ says that Bill’s “private polling numbers…weren’t as good as he hoped” and that “people were not falling behind him faster.”

Add to that, says Redfield, organized labor’s hostility to NAFTA, which Daley had helped shepherd through Congress, and the fact that his older brother Rich’s accomplishments were not looking so good in the era of Rahm Emanuel. Redfield elaborates that Bill was not willing to subject himself in a primary to “rough and tumble” incumbent Pat Quinn, whom Redfield describes as a man who believes he’s “on the side of right and truth,” an ends-justifies-the-means guy, who, despite his “affable image,” has no hesitation to “get down and dirty—Daley wasn’t willing to pay that price.”

Anyone in the third generation waiting in the wings to carry on the family franchise? Some thought that Rich Daley’s son, Patrick, with his military and business background, was the guy. In the meantime, that franchise has morphed from politics to business—business that benefits from Rich’s mayoral connections. With his father and his father’s former mayoral chief of staff, Patrick helps to run TUR Partners, which bills itself as a “global investment and advisory firm” with “dedicated practices” in the US, China and Russia. Doing business in the latter two countries may not be the best preparation for running a successful campaign for political office.

Women in the family? Both men mentioned above are sons of Rich Daley’s sisters—there were three of them—none of whom ever entered the political arena. Rich and Maggie’s daughter, Nora, chair of Steppenwolf’s Executive Committee, is known as a roll-up-her-sleeves hard worker. She is also a senior advisor to Metropolis Strategies, a nonprofit dedicated “to maintain and enhance the economic competitiveness of the Chicago region.”

So—fourth generation, anyone?

Carol Felsenthal is a lifelong Chicagoan and self-proclaimed political junkie. She writes occasionally for Politico Magazine and The Hill. Her books include biographies of Bill Clinton, Katharine Graham, and Alice Roosevelt Longworth. Among her many stories for Chicago are memorable profiles of Michelle Obama and Bruce Rauner. Follow her on Twitter at @csfelsenthal.

Share

Edit Module
Submit your comment

Comments are moderated. We review them in an effort to remove foul language, commercial messages, abuse, and irrelevancies.

Edit Module