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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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By the time Richard M. Daley became mayor in 1989, the Machine of the old days was “dead, dead, dead,” as Harold Washington had famously declared. Television advertising had all but replaced precinct captains for attracting votes. As Daley I’s longtime press secretary, Earl Bush, noted in the early 1980s, “A bucket of coal won’t buy anybody today.” Election laws had also changed in the face of the 1979 Shakman decrees, which barred politically motivated hirings and firings.

Daley II did not seek the Machine’s Lazarus-like return, and he didn’t aspire to be party chairman—leery of the “Boss” stigma that would have come with the title. Asked once by a Tribune reporter why he had not followed his father’s blueprint, Daley II was quoted as saying: “Parties aren’t what they used to be. People don’t vote for parties. They vote for the person. It’s all television money and polling now. It’s not parades. It’s not torchlights and songs.” His observation might be even more true today. Does anybody anymore even know who is chairman of the Cook County Democratic Party? (It’s Joseph Berrios. Next question: Who the hell is that?)

But Daley II had other reasons for bucking the Machine establishment. It didn’t want him. The old guard’s loyalty toward Daley I did not extend to the son, especially after the 1983 mayoral race, when the young Daley finished an embarrassing third, and many of his father’s old allies blamed the son for splitting the white vote with the incumbent mayor, Jane Byrne, and allowing the relatively unknown legislator Harold Washington to become Chicago’s first black mayor. Furthermore, the ward pros saw young Daley as a threat to their power. For his part, Daley felt no loyalty to the Machine. “I don’t owe the Democratic Party anything,” he was quoted as saying. In 1991, he made the break official when he pushed to change the Democratic mayoral primary to a nonpartisan election.

The split from the old Machine made Daley II more palatable to lakefront liberals and other good-government types, or “goo-goos,” who had viewed his father as anathema. “There were a few of us at first,” recalls John Schmidt, who had fought Daley I and later became Daley II’s chief of staff. “We gave credibility to one another.”

But in place of the old Machine, Daley II set up his own independent political organization. He formed groups, such as the now-defunct Hispanic Democratic Organization (HDO) and the Coalition for Better Government, and installed get-out-the-vote workers in every ward who were loyal to him and to candidates who supported him, not necessarily to the full Democratic ticket. Roughly half of the 1,000 or so HDO members were on the public payroll, according to the Tribune.

Beyond running city hall, the mayor has extended his power across the city. He controls at least a half dozen other agencies with taxing powers, including the Chicago Public Schools, the Chicago Transit Authority, the Chicago Housing Authority, the Chicago Park District, and the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District.

His influence stretches further with his family ties. Through his brother John, who chairs the Cook County Board of Commissioners’ powerful finance committee, the mayor wields clout in county matters. (The board president, Todd Stroger, was a Daley-appointed alderman before being elected in 2006 to fill his father’s shoes.) Another brother of the mayor, Michael, practices law at Daley & George, a clout-heavy law firm. His brother Bill, of course, was commerce secretary under Bill Clinton and is well connected inside the Beltway and in the business world.

Daley II cements his power through his vast influence—or perceived influence—over government levers and funds. Dick Simpson, a political science professor who served two terms as an independent alderman in the 1970s, says Daley II depends on the practice of pay-to-play “pinstripe patronage"—that is, handing out lucrative government contracts and other economic favors to clout-heavy political supporters and campaign contributors.

And just as his father did, Daley II has astutely co-opted nearly all of his opposition. Whereas Daley I’s organization relied on patronage hiring to reward the politically faithful and crush opponents, Daley II has dominated the city by doling out the spoils to his opponents. “This is where Richard J. and Richard M. differ,” wrote the Tribune columnist John Kass. “Where the Old Man gave critics the back of his hand, the son buys them.”

In an interview, Kass, a vocal critic of Daley II, says the current mayor’s machine is just as powerful as his father’s, but today there’s no opposition. “Richard J. Daley had opposition,” he says. “The fact is, when his father did controversial things, there was dissent. There’s not much dissent anymore, is there?”

Daley II denies that he has created a new Daley machine. “My political organization is myself,” he once said. Again, whatever you call it, his mighty political operation would probably put a proud smile on his father’s face. “I think Rich didn’t say, ‘I have to copy what my dad did,’” says Bill Daley. “But he was smart enough to say, ‘If it worked for him…’”

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Photograph: AP photo/Charles Rex Arbogast



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