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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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Cupping their hands to their mouths, Richard J. (center) and Richard M. (at right) shout at Sen. Abraham Ribicoff during the 1968 Democratic National Convention.


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In the early 1960s, a fresh-faced seminary student named Jesse Jackson came to Chicago, and, on the basis of a recommendation from North Carolina’s Democratic governor, Terry Sanford, won an audience with Daley I. The mayor was impressed with Jackson and offered him a job—as a toll collector. Jackson wanted something more substantial and instead went to work as a salesman for John Johnson, the publisher of Ebony. “Mr. Daley saw a toll collector, and Mr. Johnson saw a young communicator,” Jackson says today.

Had Jackson taken the job, Chicago’s most prominent civil rights activist might have been drawn into the Machine—or more precisely, the black “submachine,” a vital cog in the Democratic organization. Ostensibly controlled by the long-serving congressman William Dawson, the submachine was actually controlled by Daley I. Dawson and a handful of other black ward bosses doled out patronage jobs and other favors to blacks living in their wards; in return, Daley I carried huge majorities in black precincts at election time. At his peak, for example, Daley I collected 90 percent of the black vote. Timuel Black, the longtime civil rights activist, professor, and historian, coined the phrase “plantation politics” to describe the elder Daley’s rule over blacks in Chicago. “The people in the precincts picking the political cotton were overseen by the ward bosses, of which Daley was the head,” says Black.

In 1950 Chicago reached its height in population: 3.6 million people. Between 1940 and 1960, a half-million blacks—most of them poor and uneducated—emigrated from the South to Chicago. With this influx, the percentage of Chicago’s black population shot up to 23 percent from 8 percent. Meanwhile, whites were fleeing the city—at least half a million during the 1960s. Many of the whites who stayed resisted racial integration through furious NIMBY (“Not in my backyard") campaigns. By 1959 the United States Civil Rights Commission declared Chicago the most segregated big city in the country.

Through the Machine—relying mainly on Dawson and the “Silent Six,” the group of black aldermen loyal to Daley I—the mayor managed for years to keep the racial cauldron from boiling over, as it did in other cities. His solution for keeping the city together was to keep it apart via segregation. “Integration didn’t help [Daley] politically,” says Adam Cohen, an editorial writer for The New York Times who co-wrote (with a Tribune editor, Elizabeth Taylor) the 2000 biography of Daley I, American Pharaoh. As long as the black vote bloc was concentrated and segregated in ghettos, says Cohen, the mayor could more easily control it without scaring off white voters.

But the relative calm didn’t hold. After Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination on April 4, 1968, rioting broke out in more than 150 U.S. cities, but the unrest was perhaps worst in Chicago. By the end of three days of chaos, 11 people were dead, 300 had been arrested, and thousands more were homeless. Seeing his city up in flames, Daley I issued orders that have lived in infamy: “Shoot to kill any arsonist” and “Shoot to maim or cripple any looters.” (The orders were never actually issued to police commissioner James Conlisk during the riots; rather, the mayor announced them at a press conference on April 15th, a full week after calm had been restored.) Bill Daley defends his father’s saber rattling: “He honestly believed that [someone who throws a Molotov cocktail] was putting someone’s life at risk that was innocent, and that would justify a shoot-to-maim or shoot-to-kill order. Tell me why this is so illogical.”

Logical or not, many people viewed the order as racist. Family, friends, and former staffers insist that Daley I wasn’t racist. He was simply a pragmatist who believed at his core that in Chicago, everybody, no matter what race, has an equal opportunity to succeed through hard work, just as he had. “I’m a kid from the stockyards,” he used to remind people. If anything, his supporters concede he was a product of his segregated upbringing in Bridgeport.

Others disagree. “Oh, sure he was racist,” says his old council foe Leon Despres. “Daley Sr. really was a partisan for segregation.” Bob Crawford, the radio newsman who covered Daley I for eight years, is more circumspect: “Some people say ‘racist’; I would say, ’somewhat bigoted.’ But it all came back to politics with Daley; if anything was too risky, why do it?”

By the late 1960s, Daley I’s tight political grip on the black wards had begun to loosen. (By his last election, in 1975, he would receive only half the black vote.) Anger toward Daley I and the Machine swelled up after the deadly predawn police raid in 1969 on the Black Panthers’ headquarters that ended in the suspicious deaths of two Panther leaders, Fred Hampton and Mark Clark. The tipping point came in 1972, when Congressman Ralph Metcalfe Sr., the former Olympic sprinter and longtime protégé of Dawson, split with Daley I’s Machine and joined the chorus of protest after two prominent black doctors were allegedly beaten and harassed by police. “It’s never too late to become black,” Metcalfe said.

Daley I couldn’t adjust. He continued to surround himself with a monolithic group, and he kept blacks at arm’s length. “He didn’t really have black people in his inner circle,” says Cohen. “He had blacks in the submachine, but their responsibility mainly was to turn out votes.” Under Daley I, only two blacks headed city departments (health and human services). And it wasn’t until 1971 that Daley I slated a black candidate, Joseph Bertrand, to run for a citywide office (treasurer).

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Times were different for Daley II. By 1983, blacks had taken to the streets once again, this time celebrating Harold Washington’s mayoral victory. The euphoria was tempered by the “Council Wars,” which earned Chicago an embarrassing reputation as “Beirut on the Lake.” Mayor Washington died in November 1987, and in 1989 Daley II won the office in the most racially polarized vote in the city’s history. “I had whites, blacks both yelling at me,” the mayor recalls today. “I’d go to one parade, they’d yell; I’d go to the other parade, they’d yell.” He received just 7 percent of the black vote that year.

Much of the black community’s hostility stemmed from lingering resentment toward his father. But to the surprise of many, Daley II has calmed the city’s political and racial upheavals. “He knew he wouldn’t be around long as mayor if he had a racially divided city,” says Bill Daley. “And the big concern in 1989 when he won was, ‘Will he be fair to the black community?’ A lot of people in the black community thought they were never going to get streets cleaned, no snow pickup, no nothing—that Rich Daley would just ignore them.”

Within days of being elected, Daley II introduced his new cabinet, and half of the 24 appointees were minorities. By his third term, the African American newspaper The Chicago Defender endorsed Daley II over a black challenger, U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush. “The evidence is clear that the young Daley is much more accepting of blacks than his father was,” says Timuel Black. “Maybe it’s the times.”

Maybe, but it’s definitely smart politics. African Americans account for about two-fifths of Chicago’s population. This mayor “recognizes something that his old man would’ve found very, very hard,” says the retired federal judge and former U.S. congressman Abner Mikva, who used to clash with Daley I, “and that is that the African American population is not just a piece of a jigsaw puzzle that you fool around with when you’re drawing maps and assigning places at the table.”

Daley II has set up additional chairs for other minorities, too, particularly Latinos, Chicago’s fastest-growing ethnic group. (Latinos make up a quarter of the city’s population.) UIC’s Dick Simpson argues that the increased role of Latinos in Chicago politics has caused blacks to lose ground. In recent years, for example, the share of city contracts awarded to African American businesses has dropped to 8 percent, the lowest level since Daley II took office.

Still, Jesse Jackson acknowledges that race relations in Chicago are markedly better under Daley II—though much remains to be done. “The city is still the Loop and the Northwest Side,” says Jackson. “The South Side, West Side still don’t exist.”

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Photograph: AP


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