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Daley vs. Daley

For much of the past half century, a mayor named Daley has towered over Chicago. We compare the reigns of father and son, assessing their triumphs and failures, their impact on the city—and what their enduring dominance at the polls says about us

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Like father? Richard M. Daley shares more than a hint of his dad’s features. Richard J. Daley (left) in 1964  Photography: (Daley I) © Hulton-Deutsch Collection/Corbis; (Daley II) Kevin Banna; (Father and son) Chicago Tribune photograph by James Quinn

On a blustery morning early in March, Mayor Richard M. Daley was running late for a constituent’s birthday party. A very important constituent, practically family: the City of Chicago. One hundred seventy-one years old this year, Chicago was being feted at the History Museum in Lincoln Park, and the second-floor banquet hall was decked out for the occasion—there were hot dogs, balloons, and a cake decorated with the stars and stripes of the city flag. By the time the mayor walked in, 20 minutes behind schedule, the Marist High School Jazz Band was playing an impromptu recital of the school fight song to fill the dead air for the few hundred guests.

Waiting to be introduced, the mayor fixed his windswept comb-over and straightened his blue pinstripes. When it came his turn to speak, he read his prepared remarks in a robotic monotone. Rattling on about the founding father Jean Baptiste Pointe du Sable, the city charter, and world’s fairs past, the mayor seemed bored—like a man who has spent six long terms schlepping to untold thousands of such ceremonial events.

About halfway through, the mayor paused. Perhaps he sensed his lackluster performance, because he looked up at the audience and started speaking off the cuff. He riffed about the visit he’d made earlier that morning to an eighth-grade class in the tough Back of the Yards neighborhood on the city’s South Side—at a school named for his late father, Mayor Richard J. Daley. With passion in his voice, he mused about how many of these young, mainly Hispanic and black students were succeeding in the classroom despite the daily scourge of gangs, guns, and drugs they faced. Then, in one of his characteristic non sequiturs, he segued into a story about the meeting he’d had the day before with the former British prime minister Tony Blair and how the city must meet the vast and varied challenges of the global economy. His face flushed as he stressed the need for safer neighborhoods, better schools, new libraries, and vibrant cultural attractions. His boyish enthusiasm spoke better than words of his love for the city and for a job he gives no indication of ever leaving.

Like father, like son.


Walking in his father’s footsteps: Richard M. and Richard J. in 1972

Richard Michael Daley, who turned 66 in April, is the country’s longest-serving big-city mayor—at presstime, 7,059 days as “The Man on Five” in City Hall. If he serves out the rest of this term ending in 2011, he will have surpassed by four months the 21 years and 8 months his father, Richard Joseph Daley, spent in office before suffering a fatal heart attack. Together, the Boss and Son of Boss have ruled the city for 40 out of the last 53 years and nearly a quarter of Chicago’s history. The marks of their tenures are everywhere—from the big stuff like the mass of highways and towering skyscrapers, O’Hare International Airport and Millennium Park, to the smaller things, such as bicycle lanes, wrought-iron fences, and well-illuminated streets.

Over the years, they have inspired many Chicagoans with a feeling that the city works, even when it sometimes doesn’t. In the process, their overwhelming popularity with voters has brought stability to a city government that, by tradition, has been politically unruly. (Consider: Chicago went through five mayors in the 13 years between the reigns of Daley I and Daley II.)

But there are other, deeply troubling marks, too: the numerous scars of corruption and scandal; the perpetuation of one-party rule—make that one-man rule; and the ugly results of racism and segregation, which are still felt in the city’s downtrodden neighborhoods.

Daley I’s legacy is by now more or less a closed book—or a shelf full of books. To many Chicagoans, he was a city savior who kept Chicago from plunging into the downward spiral of urban failure that ravaged other Midwestern industrial cities. To others, he was an intolerant despot who saved only half of the city, the white half. He built lasting monuments, but could not handle the political and social upheaval of his times. The jury is still out on Daley II’s legacy. His career, in some respects, has surpassed his father’s, and over the years he has both atoned for some of his father’s past sins and repeated others. Granted, the two men confronted different generations, different cultures, and different political eras. “It’s like comparing A-Rod to Babe Ruth,” says the Cook County state’s attorney, Dick Devine, who worked as an administrative assistant to Daley I and served as first assistant under the son when the latter was state’s attorney.

Our goal here is not to determine who was a “better” or “worse” mayor, but to examine the two administrations across a range of issues to see what the similarities and differences tell us about the men, the city, and ourselves. We tried to focus on areas where there are strong and illuminating contrasts or similarities without delving into the Oedipal complexities between father and son.

In compiling this report I interviewed more than 30 people—from Daley allies and critics (several of whom bridge the father-son generational gap) to former staffers, journalists, and academics. Some of the sources were reluctant to criticize the Daleys too harshly for fear of jeopardizing their relationship with the mayor or with other members of his clout-heavy family.

Daley II himself is fiercely loyal to his father. In March, I met with the mayor in his fifth-floor conference room. He was genial, yet slightly on edge. “I don’t compare myself,” he said tersely, when asked to line up his mayoral legacy against his father’s. As the mayor’s youngest brother, Bill Daley, explains it: “You’re not going to get a lot of self-psychoanalysis by Rich Daley—neither [would you] with my dad.”


On top of Chicago: Richard J. overlooking his city


The Machine Gets Retooled


Ten suggestions for how to use the remainder of his term

Our special report

Early in February, on primary day, I ventured to Bridgeport, the birthplace of mayors. Five of Chicago’s 45 mayors, including the Daleys, hail from this roughneck, Irish Catholic-dominated neighborhood at the edge of the old slaughterhouse district. Freezing rain fell as I parked my car at a broken meter (so much for the “City That Works") near the intersection of 35th and Halsted, the heart of the neighborhood’s business district. In spite of the bad weather, I half expected the streets to be overflowing with people, as if it were the St. Patrick’s Day parade. After all, aren’t elections in Bridgeport tantamount to city holidays? But the sidewalks were practically deserted. Ditto for the 11th Ward Democratic headquarters and Schaller’s Pump, the old neighborhood tavern that people in the old days used to joke was the “real” City Hall. On election day at the Nativity of Our Lord, the Daley family’s former parish, the gymnasium of the church’s adjoining school becomes a polling place. A few precinct captains stood outside, and voters trickled in, but not many.

Several poll workers I talked with said they were surprised by the poor turnout. “In the old, old days, everybody would come out and vote—bad weather, good weather, it didn’t matter,” said one poll watcher at Engine Company 29, where Daley I voted his whole lifetime. The difference owes partly to a change in the neighborhood’s ethnic identity. By the time of the 2000 census, Hispanics and Asians outnumbered whites in Bridgeport, and statistically speaking, these ethnic groups have much lower voter turnouts. (Daley II himself moved from Bridgeport to the Central Station development in the South Loop in 1993.) But what about all of the die-hard precinct workers—where were they? “They don’t do that as much anymore,” said the poll watcher.

Like Bridgeport, Chicago as a whole has changed dramatically in the nearly 32 years since Daley I’s death. The stockyards are long gone. The steel mills have vanished. Chicago is no longer even the “Second City”; it dropped to third behind Los Angeles in the 1980s. Huge changes have come to the city’s politics, too, simply because of the gradual decline of the Democratic Machine. Sure, Chicago is still dominated by one party—just as most other big cities are today—but not the way it was in the years under Daley I.

* * *

“Organization, not Machine,” Daley I would sternly correct people who criticized his vast political operation. “Get that. Organization, not Machine.” Whatever you call it, Daley I and his political army counted as many as 35,000 to 40,000 patronage workers who could be relied on to deliver a 400,000-vote margin in each election.

Daley I, of course, did not create Chicago’s political machine; Mayor Anton Cermak did it a quarter century before Daley—forging a loose coalition of ethnic duchies ruled by politicians and hoodlums who divided up the spoils with little thought for the public interest. But it was Daley I who turned Cermak’s Model T organization into a political muscle car. He changed the existing feudal system, allotting authority to the ward bosses but holding them responsible for taking care of city services and turning out the vote. In return, the ward chieftains surrendered control of the city government to him. Daley I also modernized the machine by cozying up to big business. “He’s often thought of as the last of the old-time bosses,” says the veteran political consultant Don Rose. “But he was the first of the new-time bosses by bringing LaSalle Street into the Machine.”

A consummate politician, Daley I had a Vince Lombardi approach to politics—winning wasn’t everything; it was the only thing. It’s hard to overestimate how rough-and-tumble the old Machine played. The former 43rd Ward alderman William Singer, one of a handful of independent aldermen who dared to defy Daley I, remembers what happened soon after he was elected to the council in 1969: The ward’s Democratic committeeman, Edward Barrett, who was also city clerk, fired a slew of precinct captains from their posts in his clerk’s office. “That’s how it worked,” says Singer.

The slightest dissent was met with swift retaliation. The Reverend Jesse Jackson recalls that if church pastors didn’t go along with the pro-Daley ticket or spoke out against the mayor in their Sunday sermons, they could count on building inspectors showing up at their churches on Monday to issue notices of code violations. “Daley’s authority was absolute, and people bowed to absolute authority,” says Jackson.

To Daley I, however, the Machine was a necessary appendage to municipal governing. “Good politics is good government,” he used to say. In addition to delivering votes, ward bosses were also expected to deliver city services 365 days a year. By the end of Daley I’s first term, there were 475 new garbage trucks, 174 miles of new sewers, 69,600 new street and alley lights, 72 downtown parking facilities, 2,000 more police officers, and 400 additional firefighters.

As chairman of the Democratic Party of Cook County and the head of the patronage system, he larded city departments with political workers. “No job was too small to get their attention,” says the former Illinois governor Dan Walker, who often clashed with Daley I. “They would fight over a janitor job as strongly as they would fight over a cabinet job.” A Chicago Tribune investigation in 1974 found that the city had squandered $91 million in its annual budget because of padded payrolls. In Daley I’s administration, changing a light bulb was no joke; it required five city workers, according to the paper.

At the same time, Daley I employed some of the city’s best and brightest policymakers and technocrats, and if a politically connected city commissioner was a loafer or a drunk, Daley I would make sure he had a competent deputy to run the department. “One of the myths about Richard J. Daley is that he was just a politician,” says Paul Green, a political scientist at Roosevelt University. “He loved to govern. He loved to run things.”

Bill Daley says his father doled out patronage jobs, not just as rewards for his political supporters, but also to lend a hand to the needy: “My dad would go to wakes, and the widow would be there with a couple of kids, and she’d say, ‘I don’t know what I’m going to do, Mr. Mayor.’ He’d say, ‘Call my office tomorrow—we’ll see what we can do.’” Today, adds Bill Daley, “you can’t do that. You’d go to jail.”

* * *

Photograph: Chicago Tribune archive photo



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