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He Ran the Show

Daley Worked, But the City He Ruled Didn't

By Jonathan H. Alter

One of the hundreds of stories about Richard Joseph Daley making the rounds in Chicago these days concerns a trip he made to Harvard in the mid-60s. The idea, concocted by Daley's then-press secretary (since convicted), was to show academic types that the mayor of America's second largest city used more than "des, dems and dose" when he spoke. Daley gave a dull, technical, very formal speech and questions followed--mostly hostile ones,. Suddenly, the stiff, unnatural Richard Daley gave way to the mayor millions of Chicagoans worshipped. Malapropisms and Chicagoese returned--his blunt words chopped through the air. A student charged bossism. The answer to that was easy. "You either run the party or the party runs you," the mayor said.

And run the Democratic Party of Illinois he did; and Cook County; and the City of Chicago. He helped run the General Assembly in Springfield and he ran the slate-making process, which, months before the primary, anoints the candidates who will represent the Democrats on the local, county and state-wide level.

And he helped run things on the national stage too. All the honchos for over twenty years trooped up to the fifth floor of City Hall. Everyone knows John F. Kennedy '40 owed his election in part to the kingmaker and Carter clinched the nomination last June on the day Daley endorsed him. Even if the mayor failed to carry Illinois for Carter and got crushed by the Republicans in the gubernatorial election, Daley ran the party in Illinois up to the day he died.

The things Daley really ran, though, were closer to home. Schools, parks, housing, transportation, sewage, libraries--they all came under his control. His connections to the business community allowed him to decide on most major building construction. He ran many labor negotiations. Licensing? Building Inspection? Property assessment? Daley ran those. Much of the judiciary in Illinois is "elected", so a large number of the late mayor's men are on the bench. Same thing with the University of Illinois trustees.

The Fire Department, of course, was his (What Chicagoan can forget when the mayor's buddy, the fire commissioner ordered the air raid sirens turned on when the White Sox--Daley's favorite--won the pennant in 1959?).

Daley's running of the Police Department proved one of the more visible examples of his power. Everyone watched in April of 1968 when he issued his famous "shoot-to-kill" arsonists order after the riots following the assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. In August of that year the nation watched again as policemen's billy-clubs did their work in Lincoln Park, clubbing Democratic presidential chances along with the demonstrators.

Even considering Chicago's weak-mayor, strong-council municipal system, it hardly needs to be said that Daley ran the City Council, and when a few aldermen refused to be run, well, their microphones sometimes got turned off and their "legislation" always lost.

Yes, "you either run the party [city, county, police, etc.] or it runs you," but now Mr. Big from which all emanated, is gone. Without someone running things how is Chicago going "to work?" Because Chicago has "worked" up to now. That's what they say all over.

The streets are clean and well-lighted and the garbage gets picked up. For those who play ball (a large percentage) favors are granted with regularity. Chicago is stable, too--a very important fact. But there is more to making a city work than that, and "works" is a relative phrase.

Daley's Chicago worked for the rich land-owing friend of the mayor whose downtown property was assessed at a fraction of its real worth, but it didn't work so well for the small homeowner trying to get a mortgage from a nearby savings and loan which refuses to lend money in its own neighborhood. The LaSalle St. banker, profiting from the city, probably lives in the suburbs; the neighborhood resident may well be on the verge of joining the white flight to less affluent communities, in part, because of something that doesn't work at all in Chicago: the schools--among the nation's worst.

Daley's Chicago worked downtown and along the lakefront where the beautiful buildings he gave the city serve as a testament to his ability to improve Chicago. But the skyscrapers and architectural wonders--for all their importance--distract visitors from seeing the decaying inner city, which doesn't work so well. No public housing has been built recently. Daley refused to put the projects in white areas and lost federal funds as a result. Chicago remains statistically the most segregated major city in the nation. And the Machine can't and won't do much for ghetto dwellers. The infant mortality rate is higher in Chicago than in any other large metropolitan area.

Daley's Chicago worked for the party faithful, for the guy who could call his "clout" to get his alley fixed or his brother a job with the Park District. But it didn't work so well for the guy who voted against the Machine and couldn't get his alley fixed, or the voter who didn't want to support feather-bedding in city government, or the store owner who receives a surprise visit from the building inspector after an anti-administration poster appeared in his window, or the tavern owners forced to pay extortion fees to corrupt policemen.

It didn't work for blacks and Latins wanting to join the Fire Department--one of the nation's most discriminatory. As for the Police Department, a federal judge held up millions of dollars in revenue-sharing funds to Chicago because Daley refused to change police hiring practices.

Daley's Chicago worked for dozens of his cronies who got rich off knowing in advance which land would soon contain expressways, public buildings, etc. It didn't work so well for his close friends now behind bars, but there are plenty more for whom Chicago is still working just fine.

Daley's Chicago worked for those who like to drive, and for the building contractors who profit from expressway construction. But it didn't work for the ethnic neighborhoods uprooted by his pet projects. Hizzoner didn't have much sympathy for citizens who prefer public transportation--a mess in the city.

Daley's Chicago worked financially, supporters like to say, especially in comparison to New York. Indeed, the mayor was an adept fiscal manager and the city is solvent. But observers are wrong in attributing that to some magic on Daley's part, some ability to have his cake and eat it too--to satisfy labor and management, black and white, rich and poor, and keep taxes down at the same time.

Chicago has no city hospitals, no extensive city college system, no share of the welfare burden. The city is fortunate, since unlike New York it shoulders none of these costs. But the fact remains that much of Daley's success stems from his ability to hide the trade-offs he made: high wages and benefits to keep labor happy, tax breaks for businesses, large-scale downtown construction, patronage jobs for the faithful, instead of better education, health care, housing.

Blacks, of course, suffered the most in Daley's Chicago. It never worked for them. Although clever management by the mayor's ward bosses kept the huge black community in Daley's corner, recent years have seen them chafing under the yoke. They rose to throw Daley's states attorney out of office after he allegedly engineered the murder of two Black Panthers, and in the 1975 Democratic mayoral primary Daley failed to get a majority of black votes for the first time. Last spring black voters stood off an organization front man's challenge to Rep. Ralph Metcalfe (D-I11.), who had angered the mayor with his charges of police brutality.

As for dissidents in general, Daley's Chicago obviously did not work for them. Recent revelations show that the Police Department's Red Squad spied on thousands of Chicagoans. Senior citizens groups, church groups, women's groups, community groups and dozens of others were infiltrated. Police filled files with information on reporters who wrote stories critical of the Machine, people who spoke or even signed petitions against the war in Vietnam and activists of almost any kind. The revelations probably won't stir up much resentment against the Police Department, though. Many Chicagoans approve of the spying.

And that's the way it was with a lot else that went on in the Daley years. The mayor was frequently attacked in the press ("They have vilified me, they have crucified me, yes they have even criticized me"), but he knew nothing could touch him.

Even when he blatantly showed just whom Chicago really worked for by shifting much of the city's insurance business to his son's firm, the people understood. As for his critics, they could "kiss my mistletoe," which the mayor described as attached to the seat of his pants. In explaining his action, Daley knew he spoke for many of his people in the "neighborhoods". "If a man can't put his arm around his sons, then what kind of world are we living in?" He loved his city but he loved his sons too. Chicago bought it.

The truth is Chicago did not work, but Richard J. Daley did. Daley worked. He worked because he embodied the city, reflecting the feelings, moods and characteristics of many of its citizens. And he was genuine. He lived his entire life in the same Irish back-of-the-yards neighborhood. He talked like his constituents. He revered God and family. Daley made the transition from boss to father figure, columnist Mike Royko wrote, and that holds the clue to how this brontosaurus succeeded.

The patronage Machine preceeded him and will continue--strong--after his death, but Daley's success was a personal success. Few under 30 can remember anyone else being mayor. Chicagoans worshipped the man. He received over 70 per cent of the vote in four of his six elections; he carried every one of the city's 50 wards in the '75 primary, except the liberal-chic University of Chicago neighborhood and the professionally liberal 43rd ward. Many wept in the streets when the end came, and all citizens, whatever their views, felt a sense of loss. The mayor touched the lives of every single person in Chicago and that meant a lot. To those who went along--a large number--it meant they had a stake, however small and easily manipulated, in their city. What is unfortunate is that many mistook that stake and all its varying degrees of convertibility into power for evidence that Chicago actually "worked" as a city, rather than just a means of providing for their selfish patronage interests.

There are others, the poor and voiceless among them, who will also mourn Daley. But they will mourn the passing of the man, not of his city. For them Daley worked, though Chicago did not. They welcome the changes that will take place. Last week the acting mayor, under pressure from the Latin community, ordered Spanish taught to firemen working in Latin areas. That wouldn't have happened in what are now quickly becoming the old days--the Daley years.

When people look back for Daley's legacy they will not see the city he left, the city he said "worked." Rather the legacy of Richard J. Daley will be Richard J. Daley himself and his approach to government. The image of that man, however monumental a force he was, may well wither with time

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