Was Mayor Daley a Republican?

In a word, no. But asking the question raises some interesting answers about the soon-to-be former mayor, which tell us a bit about Rahm Emanuel as well.

Mayor Daley

We just posted a roundup of Chicago’s best stories about Mayor Daley. The best place to start, even if you think you know the mayor, is David Bernstein’s lengthy, meticulously compiled piece about the legacies of Richard M. and Richard J., their public works, and their private temperaments.

But going through the archives unearthed an interesting little gem from 1991 by Gretchen Reynolds: “Is Mayor Daley Really a Republican?” Well, no, of course. His gun-control efforts alone would keep him out of even the moderate (such as it is now) wing of the Republican party, not to mention his obsession with supertrains. But some of Reynolds’s evidence is pretty interesting:

“Chicago and Du Page will always have their differences, says James “Pate” Phillip, minority leader of the state senate. “But I do enjoy working with Richie. He was a fiscal conservative when he was in Springfield [as a senator] and he’s a fiscal conservative now. I think he probably understands the suburbs better than some  recent mayors.”

Samuel R. Mitchell, president of the Chicago Association of Commerce and Industry, is more effusive. “I am absolutely thrilled to have the current Mayor in he says. “He’s noticeably pro-business—unlike some of his predecessors,” he adds, steel in his voice. “And that’s what we like to see.”

Even the unabashedly conservative Heartland Institute chimes in with praise. “He’s going against the traditional support base of the Democratic Party,” says Alejandro Bertuol,  a spokesman for the group “He’s undercutting the support base of his father. We’re in favor of it.”

To add to Phillip’s point, Daley was also a Republican, or at least Republican-ish, state’s attorney, as detailed in David Jackson’s 1988 piece “The Law and Richard M. Daley,” about his tenure as state’s attorney and the political ambitions his policies and politicking hinted at. Daley cracked down on narcotics users…

He cut from 30 to 15 grams the amount of cocaine needed for a “class X” possession charge. Fifteen grams, assistant state’s attorneys say, can get five people high. “Class X” means six years in the pen, minimum, with no possibility of probation-a stiffer sentence than you’d get for committing burglary, auto theft, or several sex offenses. Daley has made possession of more than one gram of cocaine with intent to deliver a “class one” felony (4 to 15 years).

… and young offenders:

Daley’s critics point to an analysis of juvenile court data by University of Illinois sociologist Tom Regulus. Regulus’s research shows that judges were in fact granting transfers to adult court almost every time the state’s attorney requested them—until 1982, when Daley drastically stepped up his requests for transfers in armed robbery cases.

Which, as you probably know, he was doing up until the end of his tenure as mayor. Not to mention privatization, the biggest story from the end of his term. But that was nothing new:

ln Chicago, under Daley, privatization has become a daily event. Already, the Mayor has farmed out the city’s drug and alcohol rehabilitation programs, its parking-ticket collection, and its car-towing jobs; he’s talking about doing the same for engineering, housing loan programs, and, yes, even garbage collection….

In 1991, some of the people Reynolds talked to suggested that Daley’s relative conservatism suggested his ambition for the governor’s mansion—building a record that would appeal to downstate and suburban voters. But I think this is closer to the truth (emphasis mine):

Some people do point out that the Republican-style policies Daley has adopted are similar to notes being sounded by such young, flashy Democratic Presidential candidates as Governor Bill Clinton of Arkansas. This suggests to these same people that Daley may be hoping to use his leadership to reshape and lead the Chicago Democratic Party into a new, stronger, pragmatic age.

In short, Daley was evolving with his party, particularly the Democratic party as it was reinventing itself on a national level. And, of course, one man bridged the gap between Chicago Democrats and national Democrats: our new mayor, Rahm Emanuel. From Daley protege to Clinton protege to U.S. Representative from the north side, Emanuel was in both places as the Clinton and Daley eras dawned and the New Democrats emerged in a watershed moment for the party and its ideology.

And that’s why, I continue to believe, that Emanuel won. He’s the logical next step. Chicago might not be ready for reform, but it’s at least willing to follow the mainstream of the Democratic party as it changes.


Photograph: dbking (CC by 2.0)



3 years ago
Posted by MrJM

"His gun-control efforts alone would keep him out of even the moderate (such as it is now) wing of the Republican party"

As would his appreciation of the rights of gay homosexuals.

-- MrJM

3 years ago
Posted by Sky Full of Bacon

As would his being the guy who runs the whole f'ing Democratic Party in the United States and put his handpicked rising star in the White House.

3 years ago
Posted by EdmundBurke

In this increasingly left-wing dominated environment of contemporary Chicago, I am not surprised that Moser would be intrigued (or titillated) with the idea that Richie Daley had some Republican chromosones in his DNA. But the notion is a complete red herring and this piece ultimately misleads the reader.

I find it amusing for Moser to conclude that Daley "grew" along with his party. The national Democratic party has been reliably liberal for decades, and most definitely since the "McGovern revolution" in the party in 1972. The Daleys, both father and son, were outliers in that movement due to the environment in which they were raised: a blue-collar, Catholic, polyglot metropolis which evinced clear strains of traditionalism and conservatism on select issues.

When Richie Daley emerged as a leader for the next generation after his father, Ronald Reagan was president, the conservative movement was in the ascendancy, and Chicago was chock-ful of "Reagan Democrats" happy to support the president in both of his presidential campaigns in the '80s. Richie appreciated this and thus burnished his conservative credentials, at least those credentials he could perceive as appealing to conservatives. Thus his relatively-speaking fiscal conservatism as a state senator and his strong law and order posture as State's Attorney.

This only shows was any Daley was and is: keen politicians capable of staying tuned into the current political inclinations of the masses.

When Richie finally captured the brass ring of mayor of Chicago, he latched onto the coalition which for him created a winning formula: strong embrace of the old-line unions, cooption of the aging lakefront liberals, cultivation of the Harold Washington-inspired emerging black leadership, and - both last and least - sufficient sops to the Catholic traditionalists and the Republican business establishment (or what was left of it). None of this made him a Republican: pseudo or otherwise. Due to his political acumen, Daley realized what few of the committed lefties in this town do, that there is a stubborn, incipient strain of traditionalism and conservatism in Chicago which, if not mollified in some way, poses potential political risks not worth taking on.

The long reach of the Reagan Revolution was such that it affected governance under the Clinton administration. But lifelong Democrats did not really shed their inate liberalism; they merely bided their time. Ergo, the unpopularity of the George W Bush's administration stirred a backlash that the left could, and did, easily exploit.

Thus, it was easy for Daley to gravitated comfortably back to his family's liberal Democratic roots. Over time, this meant massive and expensive public works projects, incrementally increasing taxation, endorsement of the pro-choice position (even though as mayor, Daley had little to do with abortion policy), endorsement and support of gay rights, advocacy of strict gun control, and countless other solid Democratic Party positions. And given this and the fact that the Daleys never strayed from a resolute pro-union position, Richie was always a solid, reliable Democrat. Anyone with even the most rudimentary understanding of Chicago's recent political history can readily adduce that Daley could never be considered a Republican in any sense.

3 years ago
Posted by EdmundBurke

PS. Throughout the 150 year history of the Republican Party, Republicans have overwhelmingly despised, denounced and worked against the corrupt Democratic machines of the country's big cities. Prominent Chicago Repubican politicians from Col. MoCormick to former Governors Jim Thompson and Jim Edgar have been vocal and resourceful opponents of corrupt machine cronyism in Chicago.

Daley was the product of the corrupt machine and allowed it a rebirth and a safe haven throughout his political career. That is another fact which would soundly disqualify Daley as having even a tincture of Republican Party blood.

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