Daley, Richard M.

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Richard M. Daley

Known for his efforts to create community-based programs that address Chicago's educational, public safety, and neighborhood development concerns, Mayor Richard M. Daley (born 1942) continued the political dynasty forged by his father, a political institution in that Midwest city for more than two decades.

ADemocrat by birth and by conviction, Daley was born into a well-known political clan on April 24, 1942, in Chicago. The fourth of seven children, he was also the first son born to Richard J. Daley and wife Eleanor. The Daley children were raised in Bridgeport, a working-class neighborhood in the city, while the elder Daley worked to further his political aspirations. He became the mayor of Chicago in 1955 and remained in office for six terms until his death in 1976.

The senior Daley guarded the privacy of his family fiercely and worked hard to provide his children with a normal upbringing. He still required them to do chores around the house, but he also indulged them in some of the opportunities his position allowed him, such as taking them to White Sox games in his private box at Comiskey Park. Although he was busy due to his responsibilities as mayor of Chicago, he was also actively involved with his family and would come home for lunch most days. "I have great memories of my father," the younger Daley recalled in People, "sitting around the dinner table on Sunday talking about politics."

From very early in his life, young Daley followed in his father's footsteps. He was an alter boy at the Nativity of Our Lord Catholic Church and attended De la Salle Academy, just like his father had before him. He completed his bachelor's degree at De Paul University, his father's alma mater, in 1964. While in college he learned a valuable lesson when he ran a stop sign and found himself on the front pages of the Chicago papers the next day. From then on, Daley was extremely cautious of the media. During this time, he also served in the Marine Reserves, which his father considered good training. Young Daley continued at De Paul University and received his law degree in 1968.

Witnessed Chaos at 1968 Democratic Convention

The year 1968 is memorable to many Chicagoans as a result of events that occurred at the Democratic National Convention held in the city that year. The Mayor Daley had fought hard to keep the convention in Chicago, despite a great deal of public debate about safety concerns due to civil unrest and planned Vietnam War protests. Unfortunately, when the convention began, these concerns materialized; what started out as protests to the ongoing war turned violent and there was rioting in the streets for five days. The Chicago police were sent into the mobs of protestors, armed with billy clubs and tear gas, and the Mayor Daley took the blame for allowing the police to use what the federal commission would later condemn as excessive force.

The atmosphere was also volatile inside the convention walls, where the younger Daley—at 26 years of age a contemporary of many of the protesters gathered outside the walls—stood next to his father as the elder Daley shouted obscenities at U.S. Senator Abraham Ribicoff when the Connecticut senator criticized the mayor for his police actions. The television cameras were rolling, and the event, with Mayor Daley shouting, made national news and startled the American public. It was a large blemish on the mayor's office, but not large enough to prevent Daley's re-election in 1971 and 1975.

Following the completion of law school, the young Daley passed his bar exam on the third attempt. In 1969 he started on a path of public service when he was named as a delegate to the Illinois Constitutional Convention. A year later, he met Maggie Corbett, a 26-year-old executive at Xerox Corporation, during a Christmas party. Daley asked her to go out with him on New Year's Eve, and she accepted. Fifteen months later, the two were married.

An Elected Official

In 1972 Daley won his first elective office, to serve in the Illinois State Senate representing the 23rd district. He remained a state senator until 1980, working to remove the sales tax from food and medicine, sponsoring landmark mental-health legislation, and establishing rights for nursing-home residents. During this time, the Daley's had their first three children: Nora, Patrick, and Kevin. Sadly, Kevin was born with spina bifida, a birth defect involving the central nervous system, and only survived until 1981.

On December 20, 1976, when the senior Daley passed away while in office, many thought that Senator Daley would step directly into his father's footsteps. However, he did not. In 1980 Daley was elected as state's attorney for Cook County, where he pushed for tougher narcotics laws, helped to overhaul rape laws, and developed programs to battle drunk driving, domestic violence, and child-support delinquencies. He also became the first official in Cook County to sign a decree eliminating politically motivated hiring and firing. He was re-elected as state's attorney in 1984 and again in 1988. In the mid-eighties, the Daley also had a fourth child, their daughter Elizabeth.

In 1983 Daley made his first run for mayor. However, in a racially charged election, the vote in the Democratic primary was split between Daley and Jane Byrne, which allowed Harold Washington, Chicago's first black mayor, to win the election. Six years later, in 1989, Mayor Washington passed away while in office, and this time Daley was ready. He was elected on April 4, 1989, winning out over two other candidates to complete Washington's term.

Began Era of Fiscal Responsibility

Daley wanted to run Chicago like a business. When he took over the helm as mayor the city was running at a deficit, but by the end of his first term in office he had turned that deficit into a surplus. Largely on the basis of his ability to manage the financial affairs of the large city, he was reelected mayor in 1991, 1995, 1999, and 2003, winning a greater percentage of votes at each election.

Upon entering the same wood-paneled office that his father had once inhabited, Daley immediately set about cleaning up the city. Shortly after being sworn into office, he griped to an aide about a filthy window. "If this place isn't clean," he said at a press conference, according to People, "what does that say about our city?" He took more crucial steps to clean up the city, ridding its streets of abandoned cars, removing graffiti, repairing roads, and planting trees. "Rich has been on that tree kick for years," quipped brother Bill Daley to People. "He believes that greenery makes life a little more enjoyable for people." On the social front, Daley encouraged the awarding of city contracts to minority-owned businesses and created the Office of Sexual Harassment to investigate complaints and stiffened penalties for hate crimes. He tripled the number of beds available to the city's homeless and developed a community policing program which joined police officers with city agencies and neighborhood residents to solve problems that cause crime. He worked with the Chicago Police Department to develop an aggressive anti-gang program that seized and destroyed up to 12,000 to 15,000 illegal weapons each year. According to information provided by the mayor's office, under Daley's watch the crime rate dropped every year beginning in 1992.

Among other things, Daley became known for his "drive-by jottings"; he would take notes while on drives through the city, recording eyesores or other issues that needed action. His notes were then written up by his staff and included in appropriate directives.

Daley worked to present himself as a manager rather than a politician. He sought the advice of local business executives and developers and drew on the expertise of key area businesspeople for ways to run the city more efficiently. Despite a great deal of criticism over Daley's efforts to "privatize" city functions, the positive results from his efforts were quickly evident. By turning over many city functions to private contractors, as well as by implementing programs to make city employees more accountable, he saved taxpayers more than $50 million a year by 2002.

Welcomed More Orderly DNC

In 1996 Daley successfully hosted the Democratic National Convention (DNC) in Chicago, where President Bill Clinton received the nomination for his final term in office. The event was held at the United Center, the city's newly constructed sports and convention complex. During the convention the mayor was also the primary spokesperson for the nation's cities and their problems in his capacity as the incoming president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors. Unlike the DNC of 1968, the 1996 convention saw no riots; events proceeded smoothly and professionally.

In an effort to stop the flow of guns into the city of Chicago, officials from both the mayor's office and Cook County joined forces in 1998 to bring a lawsuit against the U.S. gun industry in which the plaintiff sued for damages of $443 million and accused the gun industry of creating a public nuisance by manufacturing and distributing its product. The suit was filed against 22 gun manufacturers, 12 gun shop owners, and 4 gun distributors. Efforts such as this, to improve the quality of life for the people of Chicago and the region, did not go unnoticed. In 1999 Mayor Daley received the Education Excellence Award from the National Conference for Community and Justice, the Public Service Leadership Award from the National Council for Urban Economic Development, the J. Sterling Morton Award from the National Arbor Day Foundation, and the Keystone Award from the American Architectural Foundation, as well as the Martin Luther King, Jr./Robert F. Kennedy Award from the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence/Education Fund to End Handgun Violence. As an Economist writer noted in 2002: "The city center is cleaner, greener and more vibrant than ever before. The public schools, though still worse than they ought to be, have shown signs of improvement since Mr. Daley took them under his own control in 1995. Tourist attractions … have opened up on Mr. Daley's watch such as the grand opening of Millennium Park in May 2004. Many residential areas have been reinvigorated by immigrants from Latin America, eastern Europe and Asia."

Family traditions run deep in the Daley family, and the study of the law and political service are two such traditions. Daley's brother, Michael Daley, is a lawyer who served as cochair of the 1996 Democratic National convention. The mayor's youngest brother, William Daley, became U.S. secretary of commerce under President Bill Clinton and helped to persuade Congress to pass the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) in 1993. Although Daley himself started out even more rigidly in the footsteps of his father, he developed his own style and way of doing business. While the basic values of family, education, safe neighborhoods, and economic development remain the same for both men, the younger Richard Daley was definitely considered an "updated version."

Apart from the duties assigned to him as mayor, Daley enjoys bike riding, attending movies, and country-western line dancing. But mostly, he enjoys his work. "I believe today, as I have from the start, that we can only achieve … progress together as one city, united in our mission to make our schools, our streets safer, and all of our neighborhoods better places in which to live and raise our families," Daley stated in a speech made following his fifth mayoral win in March of 2003 and reported by CNN.com. "That's why I take particular pride in the fact that Chicago is united today, and that our victory was built in every community."


Economist, March 1, 2003.

National Review, September 11, 1995.

People, September 2, 1996.

U.S. World & News Report, March 23, 1992.


"Best Summer Ever," City of Chicago Web site,http://egov.cityofchicago.org/ (May 21, 2004).

"Chicago Mayor Daley Wins Fifth Term," CNN.com,http://www.cnn.com/2003/ALLPOLITICS/02/26/chicago.daley (December 12, 2003).

"Mayor Richard M. Daley," City of Chicago Web site,http://egov.cityofchicago.org/ (December 8, 2003).