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Hall of Fame: The Case Against Richard J. Daley

Yesterday we argued for the late Chicago Mayor Richard J. Daley's inclusion in the Fix Political Hall of Fame. Today we make the opposite case.

Stay tuned in the coming weeks for cases for and cases against former New York City Mayors Fiorella LaGuardia and Rudy Giuliani. Then Fixistas will get a chance to vote on the next inductee in the Fix Hall of Fame.

So Big, Yet So Small

Daley, as mayor of Chicago, was one of the most visible and powerful people within the Democratic party for the better part of two decades.

From that perch, he could have helped influence the direction and messaging of the national Democratic party but instead he remained decidedly parochial -- rarely lifting his gaze from his beloved Chicago.

When Daley did look at the national picture, it was always through the narrow lens of what was best for his city's image rather than what was best for the party.

There is no better example of the damaging provincialism of Daley than his actions during the 1968 Democratic National Convention.

Daley saw the convention as an affirmation of his power within the party. Perhaps because of that singular focus, he was unable to see that the strong anti-Vietnam war element that has risen up to protest President Lyndon Johnson's handling of the conflict could not be ignored or snuffed out.

Protesters outside the convention hall were treated harshly by police and inside the hall Daley did everything he could to curtail the voices of those speaking out against the war.

Most famously, Daley was caught signaling the sound men to cut off Abe Ribicoff's microphone -- the New York Times described the gesture as "drawing a finger across his jowls" -- when the Connecticut Senator spoke of the "Gestapo tactics" being used by Chicago police against the protesters.

Daley's inability to see beyond the disparaging of his city's police to the broader issue roiling the party is indicative of a politician focused so inwardly that he could never be a serious national leader.

Times Changed, He Didn't

Daley was a product of an insular Irish Catholic society and he never grew beyond those roots.

His relationship with the black community -- a burgeoning source of votes for Democrats in Chicago and nationwide during his tenure as mayor -- was uneasy (at best).

Following the assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in spring 1968, riots left Chicago in turmoil. Daley, in perhaps the biggest misstep of his political career, issued his famous "shoot to kill" proclamation -- giving the police the authority to end the protests by any means necessary. (Daley later recanted but the damage was done.)

In "American Pharaoh", a biography of Daley, authors Adam Cohen and Elizabeth Taylor wrote that the mayor built Chicago's successes on an "unstated foundation: commitment to racial segregation."

They add:

''Today, Chicago is the nation's most segregated large city: about 90 percent of black Chicagoans would have to move for the city to be integrated. Chicago is one of America's wealthiest cities but, remarkably, nine of the nation's 10 poorest census tracts are in Chicago's housing projects.''

Corruption, Tolerated

Daley was never convicted on any sort of corruption charges but his willingness to use the massive patronage system afforded to the mayor and to tolerate public graft among many of his associates -- many of whom were charged with public corruption during his time in office -- amounted to a tacit acceptance of the status quo.

So ingrained was that graft within the cogs of city government, Mike Royko, the legendary Chicago reporter and Daley biographer, wryly suggested that the most appropriate motto for the city was "Where's Mine?".

Chicago's reputation as a city in which corruption flourished lingers to this day. During the 2008 presidential campaign, Arizona Sen. John McCain ran ads attacking then Illinois Sen. Barack Obama as being "born of the corrupt Chicago political machine"; the ad featured an image of William Daley, the son of Richard J. Daley and brother of Chicago's current mayor Richard M. Daley.

While Daley proudly guarded the fact that he was never mixed up in the corruption charges that swirled around his office, it is also true that he did little to try and reform a clearly dysfunctional system and, in fact, likely made it worse by his emphasis on patronage jobs and the political rewards and penalties that came with them.

By Chris Cillizza  |  September 24, 2009; 2:28 PM ET
Categories:  Hall of Fame  
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Comments

The influence of Richard J. Daley. extends to this generation...Mr. and Mrs. Obama are going all-out to make sure his son's Chicago gets the 2016 Olympics. As Daley(father) gave Kennedy those Chicago precincts, so Daley (son) called in the chits from the Kennedys to get them to support Obama and then get the Obamas on board for the 2016 Olympics. Now that's mayoral power from the great beyond.
And the President is going to Copenhagen for Chicago.
MAYOR DAILEY must win this one.

Posted by: Grace6 | September 28, 2009 10:33 AM | Report abuse

Richard J. Daley was slime; pure and simple. I was born and raised in Chicago, and remember the man's declaration during the Democratic Convention "The police are not here to create disorder....they're here to PRESERVE disorder!" He was a "Dem," "Dat," "Dese," and "Dose" guy who through all manner of crooked means attained and managed to hold onto power in Chicago "The city that works," according to some talking head of the time. Yeah; it WORKED alright, but at the expense of decent race relations between blacks and whites due to Daley's overt discrimination (except at election time). As the article states, Chicago is STILL suffering from racial hatred. I moved to Texas in the 70's, and while we have our share of problems here as well, in no way do they match the intensity of hatred I experienced between the races as I was growing up on Chicago's South side. Some of this I blame on "The Man" himself; Richard J. Daley and the corrupt Chicago police force of his day.

Posted by: hill24730 | September 26, 2009 7:06 AM | Report abuse

RE Daley helping Kennedy get elected: The 1960 election is a testament to Daley's parochialism. True,JFK benefited from the massive vote fraud in that election. The fact is, the key race that year was Cook County State's Attorney. They pulled out all the stops to elect a do-nothing Democrat. The Republican incumbent was a former Democrat who knew where a lot of skeletons were. He had uncovered a major police scandal. The machine wanted him out before he did any more and bigger damage prosecuting corruption.

Posted by: gciesla | September 25, 2009 3:53 PM | Report abuse

Ironic that Daley helped Kennedy get elected because Daley and Nixon had similar personal and political charateristics.

I say that if Nixon gets into the Hall of Fame, Daley also gets in.

Posted by: MikeK3 | September 25, 2009 1:55 PM | Report abuse

I would like to see great mayors honored, not crooks like Daley, Curley, Hague, Rizzo, Kenney, Barry, etc.

David L. Lawrence, Pittsburgh
Fiorello LaGuardia, NYC
Richard Lugar, Indianapolis
Tom Bradley, L.A.
Bill White, Houston
Ed Rendell, Phila.

These are mayors who brought their cities out of crises or who faced down major crises for their cities and who were not crooks or colorful cads or media darlings. Of them, I would rate Lawrence and LaGuardia #1 and #2. I would like to see more nominees [from posters around the country] who share these kinds of histories but who were not crooked bosses.
.

Posted by: mark_in_austin | September 25, 2009 11:40 AM | Report abuse

"His relationship with the black community...was uneasy (at best)."

Thanks for the laugh, Chris. Somehow, I knew that when you got to the case against Daley you would parse it to within an inch of its life, and screw it up entirely. You claim to have read Boss, but you must have missed everything Royko said about Daley's "relationship" with the black community here, which was characterized by his overt racist attitudes, which was only exemplified by his "shoot-to-kill" order. (You forgot the Panther raid in '69, hisabdication of the Summit Agreement with Dr. King, and his attempt to suppress any sign of black political independence).

Better stick to praising your fave, TPaw.

Posted by: rlodato1 | September 25, 2009 9:51 AM | Report abuse

"Yes, there was graft, but nobody overdid it."

Chicago is my favorite city to visit, and I lived there for several years, but anyone who would make that comment is woefully ignorant of Chicago history, native or not.

Posted by: dlk117561 | September 25, 2009 9:02 AM | Report abuse

ceflyline you live in a honey of a city. The kids and I were doing a tour of the Indian mounds in southern Ohio and we stopped in Dayton to go to your art museum and saw a bit of the town. It has a very pretty situation and a nice mix of old and new.
You're lucky to live there.

Posted by: margaretmeyers | September 25, 2009 6:07 AM | Report abuse

In 1945, David Lawrence was elected mayor of Pittsburgh by a narrow margin. At the time, Pittsburgh was considered one of the most polluted cities in America with smog so thick that it was not unusual for streetlights to burn during the daytime. Lawrence developed a seven-point program for Pittsburgh during his first days in office, making him one of the first civic leaders to implement a dedicated urban renewal plan. Republicans still controlled much of city politics and business at the time, so Lawrence had to forge bipartisan alliances to accomplish his objectives. His most famous partnership was with Richard K. Mellon, chairman of one of the largest banks in America and a staunch Republican. Despite their political differences, Mellon and Lawrence were both interested in the revival of Pittsburgh and both were early environmentalists. This partnership drove what came to be called the “Renaissance” (later Renaissance I) of Pittsburgh.

David Lawrence left Pittsburgh clean and strong after four terms and went on to become Gov. of PA, the only mayor of P'burgh ever to do so. He was instrumental in the nominations of Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1932 and John F. Kennedy in 1960, and became known as the “maker of presidents”. In the weeks leading up to the 1948 Democratic National Convention, Lawrence was one of the few urban bosses to support Harry S. Truman's attempts to win the Presidential nomination. Lawrence is sometimes credited with convincing Kennedy to choose Lyndon Johnson as his running mate to balance the ticket and mend a rift between northern and southern Democrats.
-----------------------------------
CC - read more about him - he WAS the best Mayor of the twentieth century and he served as long as he wanted to and he was a big national player, unlike your nominees.

Posted by: mark_in_austin | September 24, 2009 10:16 PM | Report abuse

Chris,

I agree 110% with 'MikeK3'. You're REALLY good at capturing the 'pockmarks as well as the dimples' of political figures.

Daley certainly had both, yet he was a REMARKABLE mayor.

I'll abstain from H. o. F. voting pending your profile of Fiorello La Guardia.

I tend to doubt I can be swayed re: Rudy, because of all the underreported bad behaviour (not personal; political) during his US Attny. days. But if anyone can persuade me, you probably could.

Posted by: sverigegrabb | September 24, 2009 9:06 PM | Report abuse

This is HoF quality mayors we are talking about here, now altar boys or sundayschool marms. It will soon enough contain names like Ed Cump and Frank Rizzo and Ed Curley and Jimmy Walker. They ran corrupt cities and whether they profitted or not they got those cities to work.

Of them all, Hizzonner got his city to work just a whole lot better than most. Think of great cities on the lakes, and their various mayors. With Cleveland you get Kucinnich, and Voinovitch, and a burning river. With Detroit you get what? Milwaukee is only known for beer because all the breweries in Chicago burned down. Duluth? BRRRR!

But Chicago? a major city where the money still go window shopping.

Daley took what he had, burnished it, and made it marvelous, problems and all.

I seldom wish I were somewhere else than here in dayton, but Chicago, on a warm summer night, on the North end of the golden mile, seeing "Long Long Ago in a Galaxy Far, Far away." for the first time?

Would I were there.

Posted by: ceflynline | September 24, 2009 9:05 PM | Report abuse

Chris, you expertly hit on the negatives of this complex man.

His efforts to racially segregate by destroying neighborhoods and building public housing weren't unique to Chicago, but, man, he sure did that in a real big way, far surpassing other major cities.

It should be noted that he was far too conservative to be a true Democrat. (That's still the case in Chicago; Democrats have for years ruled Chicago, but there is not much liberal to be found in each Chicago Democrat.) Daley was a man for the hard hats and bigots, not for the intellectuals and visionaries.

We could also mention that cruel way that the late Mayor crushed his enemies, and the spying that he did on them beforehand.

There was nothing progressive about Daley's Chicago. Just a whole lot of downtown buildings being built in the name of progress.

Still, it is a great city and he did make some positive contributions.

Posted by: MikeK3 | September 24, 2009 5:39 PM | Report abuse

Chris, you expertly hit on the negatives of this complex man.

His efforts to racially segregate by destroying neighborhoods and building public housing weren't unique to Chicago, but, man, he sure did that in a real big way, far surpassing other major cities.

It should be noted that he was far too conservative to be a true Democrat. (That's still the case in Chicago; Democrats have for years ruled Chicago, but there is not much liberal to be found in each Chicago Democrat.) Daley was a man for the hard hats and bigots, not for the intellectuals and visionaries.

We could also mention that cruel way that the late Mayor crushed his enemies, and the spying that he did on them beforehand.

There was nothing progressive about Daley's Chicago. Just a whole lot of downtown buildings being built in the name of progress.

Still, it is a great city and he did make some positive contributions.

Posted by: MikeK3 | September 24, 2009 5:39 PM | Report abuse

As somebody born and raised in Chicago, I was a big fan of Richard J. Daley. The city worked and it is working now under his son. He stopped the 1968 riots quickly without having much of the city burned, unlike Washington DC. There were NO teacher or garbage strikes. Chicago is a successful city.

Yes, he ran a well-oiled machine. Yes, there was graft, but nobody overdid it. Patronage made the system work. If your precinct captain turned out the vote he could get things done for you - like fixing pot holes. Do you know who to call to fix a problem? We did in Chicago.

Mayor Daley knew the limits of his power - unlike Nixon. He died in the same house in which he was born. Provincial?? He was a MAYOR. He was elected to act in the best interest of Chicago.

Posted by: illinialum5 | September 24, 2009 3:48 PM | Report abuse

I grew up in Evanston while Daley was da mare. I'm very proud of that City, but everything Daley did could have been accomplished without his heavy hand, and if Bilandis, Byrne and Washington struggled in the position it was often because of failures in the system Daley had enforced, bad luck (snow storms) or the economic struggles of the late 70s and early 80s.

Everyone should visit Chicago -- it's a beautiful city, and midewesterners are the best (except for OK and Kansas :-P)

Posted by: margaretmeyers | September 24, 2009 3:37 PM | Report abuse

Change a few details and this could be the case against Daley's son too. Dont know what that means, tho.

Posted by: WOW9 | September 24, 2009 3:09 PM | Report abuse

If ever there was an argument in favor of the establishment of a "Fix" Hall of Shame, it's this Daley profile (and the case against Nixon). Touche.


***


ATTENTION A.G. HOLDER: Where is the DOJ Civil Rights Division investigation into the covert use of silent, harmful microwave and laser directed energy weapons on unjustly targeted Americans and their families by a Bush-legacy federal-local "multi-agency coordinated action program" that continues to commit civil and human rights violations under Team Obama...

...including government-enabled, warrantless GPS-activated, covert "community stalking" harassment and terrorism against entire American families?

http://nowpublic.com/world/gestapo-usa-govt-funded-vigilante-network-terrorizes-america OR http://NowPublic.com/scrivener RE: "GESTAPO USA"

Posted by: scrivener50 | September 24, 2009 3:09 PM | Report abuse

Daley was a great politician with many positives but also many negatives that lowered his net worth, much like Richard Nixon.

I'm more inclined towards politicians who succeed while bucking the local political machines, which is why I'm still favoring LaGuardia. I'll have to see what Chris digs up for his case for/against and compare it with Daley's.

The most oppressive thing I remember LaGuardia attempting was trying to ban organ grinders because people kept asking him where his monkey was.

(And no, that's not a euphamism.)

Posted by: Gallenod | September 24, 2009 2:59 PM | Report abuse

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