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Richard J. Daley

Richard J. Daley

Richard J. Daley (1902-1976) was the Democratic mayor of Chicago from 1955 to 1976 and the last of the nation's big city bosses.

The most powerful mayor in Chicago's history, Richard J. Daley, was born in a working class neighborhood on May 15, 1902, the only son of Michael Daley, a sheet metal worker, and Lillian (Dunne) Daley. His parents were Irish Catholics and sent young Richard to a Catholic elementary school, enlisted him as an altar boy, and then enrolled him at the Christian Brothers De LaSalle High School. Later, after several long years of night school, Daley earned a degree common to upwardly mobile Chicago politicians—a law diploma from De Paul Law School—in 1933. While a student Daley worked as a stock-yards cowboy and clerked in the Cook County controller's office.

Richard J. Daley worked his way up through the precinct and ward organization and made his first successful run for public office as a state representative in 1936. Two years later he was elected to the Illinois senate, where he remained until 1946 when he suffered his only election loss—as a candidate for Cook County sheriff. Defeated but not without friends, Daley was selected by Governor Adlai Stevenson in 1949 to become director of the Illinois Department of Finance. While there Daley expanded his grasp of budgets and public finance, which later served him well as mayor. Daley then returned to Chicago and was elected Clerk of Cook County. Meanwhile, he had married Eleanor Guilfoyle on June 23, 1936, and was the father of four sons and three daughters. A devout Roman Catholic, Daley reportedly attended mass every morning.

Begins Six Winning Elections

The key that opened his way to the mayor's office was Daley's election as chairman of the Cook County Democratic Central Committee in 1953. In 1955 Daley entered a Democratic primary election and defeated incumbent mayor Martin H. Kennelly. In the general election which followed, Daley beat Republican challenger Robert E. Merriam by a comfortable majority of the vote. During the next two decades Daley was reelected mayor over a series of nominally nonpartisan but generally Republican contenders in 1959, 1963, 1967, 1971, and 1975. The source of Daley's power derived from his dual role as mayor and party chairman. He ran a tightly organized party structure and made maximum use of about 35,000 city workers and patronage employees to bring out the vote. Daley also won public support because he paid attention to the delivery of municipal services and gave substance to the slogan "the city that works." His important role in helping John F. Kennedy win the Democratic nomination and the presidential election in 1960 brought Daley his first national recognition as a political strategist.

Dedicated to building and redeveloping Chicago's center, Daley encouraged the construction of downtown skyscrapers, stimulated expressway expansion, improved mass transit facilities, and enlarged the world's busiest airport, O'Hare. His administrations also set a rapid pace for urban renewal, the demolition of blighted areas, and the building of additional public housing. As with all of his enterprises he mixed politics and business, and for the scoffers, Daley repeated over and again: "Good politics makes for good government." When taunted about the evils of the "machine," Daley generally snapped back to reporters: "Organization, not machine. Get that, organization not machine." Although evidence of venality occasionally tainted Daley's cronies, the mayor himself appeared to remain free of corruption. One notable exception was when a lucrative insurance contract was given over to a firm employing a Daley son. When chided, Daley exploded with rage over the issue, insisting that it was the duty of any good father to help out a son. Beyond that misdeed numerous clandestine investigations by public and private agencies and local newspapers failed to produce a single solid charge of peculation against the mayor personally.

Some Setbacks in a Long Career

The year 1968 was a disaster for the Daley legend. In the wake of Martin Luther King's death in April 1968 a firestorm of arson, looting, and rioting swept through Chicago's Black West Side, and an enraged mayor issued an order which was broadcast across the newspaper headlines and television screens of the nation: "shoot to kill any arsonist … with a Molotov cocktail in his hand." Daley's command provoked the wrath of the liberal news media.

But that was only a foretaste of the bitter draught yet to come. Daley's attempt to host the 1968 Democratic presidential nominating convention in Chicago in August turned into a week of anti-war turmoil, street-violence by demonstrators, "a police riot," and a shambles that left Daley's reputation in low esteem. In newscaster hyperbole, Eric Savareid on national television compared that week in Chicago to the Russian invasion of Czechoslovakia with tanks. Daley's standing with the public plunged to its nadir.

For a few years thereafter some professional societies refused to schedule their annual meetings in Chicago. Media liberals predicted that Daley was finished, and the lockout of the Daley delegation from the 1972 Democratic National Convention by the George McGovern wing of the party seemed to support that view. Yet when New York and other cities teetered on the brink of bankruptcy in the mid-1970s, Daley's hard nosed business management kept his city solvent and its bond rating high, bringing about a recovery for his reputation. He went on to win his largest political victory ever in 1975, gaining an unprecedented sixth four-year term. Early in his new term, on December 20, 1976, Daley died and was buried at suburban Worth, Illinois. Daley's public esteem had ridden a roller coaster of highs and lows but had recovered in time for a glorious obituary by the city.

An Evaluation of Mayor Daley

Daley's accomplishments during his 21-year tenure in office were numerous. The mayor had professionalized the police force and upgraded the fire department's services; he had continued the advantageous arrangement whereby suburban taxpayers paid for the support of Cook County Hospital, which served primarily city residents; he had solved a Chicago Transit cash shortage by the creation of a Regional Transit Authority which broadened the tax base; he had pushed through legislative action that transferred the cost and administrative responsibility for public assistance and welfare from Cook County and Chicago to the state; Daley had helped form a Public Building Commission to finance public construction by means of revenue bonds and at the same time protect the city's bond rating; he had prodded the Illinois legislature to create a Metropolitan Fair and Exposition Authority to operate Chicago's convention center, McCormick Place, without charge to the city; and, finally, he had persuaded the state to build a University of Illinois campus at the state taxpayers' expense in the heart of his city to serve primarily Chicago students. In short, Daley had expanded city services and shifted a large measure of the costs to the state, the county, and the Chicago area suburbs.

A year after the mayor's death a symposium was convened which included scholars, journalists, and practicing politicians who examined the Daley era and concluded: that Mayor Daley had won membership in a class of the best and most-effective big-city mayors of his time; that he had used the mayor's office in an instrumental way to rescue Chicago's downtown Loop from impending blight; that Daley's superior ability as a budget manager and an expert on public finances had helped steer Chicago away from the rocky shoals that nearly bankrupted New York City; and that as a political broker and organizer Daley was with few peers in the nation.

The mayor earned lower grades from the experts for his reluctance to reach out to the growing suburbs; the Democratic Party's slowness in accommodating newcomer Blacks and Hispanics; and his often stormy and abrasive relationships with the media. On the other hand, the city's bankers and real estate interests were pleased with Chicago's solid financial footing and its high bond rating. On balance, the Daley mayoralty was judged a success. The key to Daley's success, as an expert put it, was that "he was more observant of detail, more canny in his analysis of the political possibilities, and when compromise failed, more powerful than his opponents."

Further Reading

For the two best works on how the "machine" worked under Daley see Milton Rakove, Don't Make No Waves: Don't Back No Losers; An Insider's Analysis of the Daley Machine (1975) and We Don't Want Nobody Nobody Sent (1975). A knowledgeable and veteran city watcher and newsman who put together a most perspicacious life and death of the mayor is Len O'Connor in his Clout: Mayor Daley and His City (1975) and Requiem: The Decline and Demise of Mayor Daley and His Era (1977). For an appreciation of the mythic and Irish dimension of Daley see Eugene Kennedy's Himself: The Life and Times of Mayor Richard J. Daley (1978). A wickedly clever and entertaining hatchet job on Daley "da mare" can be read in Mike Royko's Boss: Richard J. Daley of Chicago (1971). For a larger perspective on the Daley era, the best single source remains a conference symposium, Melvin G. Holli and Peter d'A. Jones, "Richard J. Daley's Chicago: A Conference," October 11-14, 1977, Chicago.

Additional Sources

Kennedy, Eugene C, Himself!: The life and times of Mayor Richard J. Daley, New York: Viking Press, 1978.

O'Connor, Len, Requiem: the decline and demise of Mayor Daley and his era, Chicago: Contemporary Books, 1977.

Royko, Mike, Boss: Richard J. Daley of Chicago, New York, N.Y.: New American Library, 1988, 1976.

Sullivan, Frank, Legend, the only inside story about Mayor Richard J. Daley, Chicago: Bonus Books, 1989. □

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Daley, Richard Joseph

Richard Joseph Daley, 1902–76, U.S. political leader, b. Chicago. Admitted to the bar in 1933, he entered politics and served as a Democrat in the state assembly (1936–38) and the state senate (1939–46) and as director of revenues for Illinois (1949–50) before being elected (1955) mayor of Chicago. His long tenure both as mayor and as chairman (from 1953) of the Cook County Democratic party enabled him to build an extremely powerful political machine. Although often accused of unscrupulous political practices, Daley proved to be an efficient administrator. He achieved national notoriety in 1968 when Chicago police used brutal tactics to subdue demonstrators during the Democratic National Convention.

See M. Royko, Boss (1971); E. Kennedy, Himself (1978); F. Sullivan, Legend (1989); A. Cohen and E. Taylor, American Pharoah (2000).



His son Richard Michael Daley, 1942–, b. Chicago, followed in his father's footsteps as an Illinois politician. After serving as state's attorney for Cook County, he became mayor of Chicago in 1989. Chicago's longest serving mayor, he was reelected in 1991, 1995, 1999, 2003, and 2007 before he retired in 2011.

See biography by K. Koeneman (2013).



His younger son, William Michael Daley, 1948–, b. Chicago, is a lawyer who served as special counsel to President Bill Clinton on the North American Free Trade Agreement (1993) and as secretary of commerce (1997–2000). He was chairman of Vice President Al Gore's unsuccessful presidential campaign in 2000 and later was president (2001–4) of SBC Communications before becoming a member of the executive committee at J. P. Morgan Chase & Co. He also served (2011–12) as White House chief of staff under President Obama.

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Daley, Richard Joseph

DALEY, Richard Joseph

(b. 15 May 1902 in Chicago, Illinois; d. 20 December 1976 in Chicago, Illinois), Democratic mayor of Chicago for six consecutive terms (1955–1976); he was thrust into the media spotlight after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., in 1968.

Daley, an only child, was raised in an Irish neighborhood in Chicago. His father was Michael Daley, a sheet-metal worker, and his mother was Lillian Dunne. While growing up, Daley worked at a variety of part-time jobs and attended Catholic schools. He also attended De La Salle Institute, a vocational high school. In 1924 he was elected president of the Hamburg Council, a neighborhood organization with considerable influence; it was his first taste of politics. During the evenings Daley attended law school.

Daley graduated from DePaul University law school in 1934. On 23 June 1936 Daley married Eleanor Guilfoyle; they had seven children. Also in 1936 Daley began his political climb in the Democratic Party, enjoying his first big political win in a race for state representative. In 1955 Daley became Chicago's mayor, a post he held for the next two decades. His power base as the Cook County Democratic Central Committee chairman and city mayor gave him tight control over Chicago politics and put him into the central spotlight during the 1960s.

During the tumult that characterized the 1960s, Daley focused on moving ahead. He was on a mission to make his city great. He encouraged projects that would improve Chicago, including the construction of downtown skyscrapers, such as the Sears Tower, which was the world's tallest building at the time, and the enlargement of the O'Hare airport. Daley's improvements also included new public housing, expressway expansion, demolition of derelict areas, and urban renewal efforts. In his role as mayor, Daley was loved by some and loathed by others. During the 1960s he was praised for his effective municipal services initiatives and his downtown revitalization efforts, but he was criticized for his failure to address the concerns of Chicago's African-American poor and for his roughshod treatment of civil liberties.

Some might quibble about how Daley used his power, but during the turbulent 1960s he did keep the city running. Through giving municipal employees high wages and keeping layoffs at a minimum, Daley was able to bring labor peace to the city of Chicago during his tenure as mayor. He had many boyhood friends who held positions of power in the unions, and they helped him weather tumultuous labor uprisings. In 1960 Daley helped John F. Kennedy win the presidential election, and thereafter presidential candidates sought Daley's blessing. Daley was recognized as an important political force. Those who were seeking political office soon learned that Daley's support was crucial to their success. But Daley's reputation as a "president maker" did not survive the 1960s because of the crises he faced.

In 1968 Daley's star was eclipsed by disasters. In April, when the civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr., was assassinated, riots ensued on the West Side of Chicago, along with arson and looting. As mayor, Daley was responsible for curbing the outbreak. He issued orders to "shoot to kill any arsonist," and this strict policy drew the censure of the outraged liberal news media. Daley was remembered by some for his response to the resultant civil disobedience, a response that many considered harsh.

As bad as the chaos that followed King's assassination was, more was to come. Daley had to face turmoil in August during the 1968 Democratic National Convention, when the actions of anti–Vietnam War demonstrators sparked retaliation by Chicago police. Although it is difficult to determine the exact sequence of events from accounts, one thing is clear: innocent people were caught up in the strife. Street violence between demonstrators and police lasted a week. Chicago was like a war zone, which the commentator Eric Sevareid compared to the Russian invasion of Czechoslovakia. The debacle made Daley notorious; his reputation was irreparably damaged.

Many predicted that the riots of the 1960s would mean the end of Daley's career. This was not exactly the case. It was true that Daley was no longer respected in some circles, but he continued to hold office as mayor. In December 1969 Daley shared the chagrin of the Democratic Party when the state's attorney Edward V. Hanrahan staged a police raid that ended in the deaths of two black members of the Black Panthers and stirred up racial unrest. In 1971 Daley's reputation was damaged further by the Chicago columnist Mike Royko, whose best-seller Boss: Richard J. Daley of Chicago exposed many of the scandals that plagued Daley's administration. Daley's own blunders contributed to the scorn and contempt some held for him. Among his famous misstatements are the following: "We must rise to high and higher platitudes" (instead of plateaus) and "The police are not here to create disorder; they are here to preserve disorder."

Still more disgrace was to come. U.S. attorney and later governor James R. Thompson exposed corruption among Chicago's police force during the 1970s, and members of the police force and a number of Daley's close friends and associates were put in jail. Although others were convicted of corruption, Daley himself was never charged, despite federal, state, and local investigations. He was known, however, to have given a profitable insurance contract to his son's company. In 1974 Daley suffered a stroke. To some it may have seemed that the Daley stronghold on Chicago was finished, but in 1975 he was elected to a sixth term of office. He was not to hold office much longer; he died of a heart attack in December 1976. Daley is buried in Holy Sepulchre Cemetery in Worth, Illinois.

To say that Daley's rule was unpopular would be untrue. During the 1960s he was able to keep political uprisings in check during a time full of strife. He modernized public services and expertly managed Chicago's finances. Even though Daley's power was in decline by 1968, his successes were not entirely forgotten. Ten years after his death, a Gallup poll showed that Daley was still thought of as a good mayor. Never one to hesitate when it came to mixing business with politics, Daley repeatedly said, "Good politics makes for good government." The Daley legacy lived on after his death. His son Richard M. Daley was elected mayor of Chicago in 1989 and continued to hold the position for several terms.

Biographies of Daley include Mike Royko, Boss: Richard J. Daley of Chicago (1971), Len O'Connor, Requiem: The Decline and Demise of Mayor Daley and His Era (1977), and Eugene C. Kennedy, Himself!: The Life and Times of Mayor Richard J. Daley (1978).

A. E. Schulthies

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