Richard J. Daley

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Richard Joseph Daley (May 15, 1902 – December 20, 1976) was the second longest-serving mayor of Chicago, 1955-1979. For 23 years (1953-76) he was the Democratic Party boss of Chicago and Cook County, where he selected candidates for the state legislature and Congress, and had a voice in state and national decisions. Historians call him the "last of the big city bosses." His son Richard M. Daley was the mayor of Chicago from 1989 to 2011.

Daley played a major role in the history of the Democratic Party, especially as a leader of the Irish Catholics and supporter of John F. Kennedy in 1960 and of Hubert Humphrey in 1968.

Daley had two bases of power, serving as Chairman of the Cook County Democratic Central Committee from 1953, and as mayor of Chicago from 1955. He used both positions until his death in 1976 to dominate party and civic affairs. Daley's well-organized Democratic political machine was often accused of corruption and though many of Daley's subordinates were jailed, Daley was never personally accused of corruption. He built a remarkably prosperous downtown, as well as the nation's largest airport in the suburbs. He helped Chicago avoid the declines that some other "rust belt" cities like St. Louis and Detroit experienced during the same period. His base of support in Chicago was the white Catholic vote, turned out by an army of precinct captains and ward bosses, who depended on city jobs.

His Democratic political machine was widely known to be corrupt, a legacy that Chicago and all of Illinois still carries today. Daley also led the catastrophic 1968 Democratic national convention, which was marked by riots, violence, brutality and lasting anger.

Early life

Born on Chicago's South Side near the stockyards in 1902, Daley was the only child of blue-collar, immigrant Irish Catholic parents. Daley attended Catholic elementary and high schools (where he learned clerical skills) and took night classes at DePaul University College of Law to earn a Juris Doctor in 1933. Daley, however, never practiced law and instead spent his career in politics, starting as a budget specialist.

Political career

Early career

Daley came from an upwardly mobile Irish family in Bridgeport; he was a good student, took college and law degrees, and became a budget specialist in state government under the Kelly-Nash machine. Although Daley was a lifelong Democrat, he was first elected to the Illinois legislature as a Republican. This was a matter of political opportunism and the peculiar setup for legislative elections in Illinois at the time, which allowed Daley to take the place on the ballot of the recently deceased Republican candidate. After his election, Daley immediately moved to the Democratic side of the aisle. Daley suffered his only electoral defeat in 1946, when he lost a bid to become Cook County sheriff in a year of republican landslides. By 1951 he used his Irish network to displace Jake Arvey the Jewish chairman of the Cook County Democratic Central Committee, which became his power base.

First elected mayor in 1955, Daley was re-elected to that office six times and had been mayor for 21 years at the time of his death. During his administration, Daley was a hands-on manager of all city departments, emphasizing efficiency in government operations as even more important than patronage decisions on promotions and assignments.

Daley married Eleanor "Sis" Guilfoyle in 1936, and they lived in a modest brick bungalow on Lowe Avenue in the heavily Irish-American Bridgeport neighborhood, just blocks from his birthplace. They had three daughters and four sons. Their eldest son, Richard M. Daley, was elected mayor of Chicago in 1989 and served six terms before deciding not to run for re-election in 2010. The youngest son, William M. Daley, served as US Secretary of Commerce from 1997-2000. Another son, John P. Daley, is a member of the Cook County Board of Commissioners.

Major construction during his terms in office resulted in O'Hare International Airport, the Sears Tower, McCormick Place, the University of Illinois at Chicago campus, numerous expressways and subway construction projects, and other major Chicago landmarks. O'Hare was a particular point of pride for Daley, with he and his staff regularly devising occasions to celebrate it.

In 1966, Martin Luther King, Jr. confronted the Daley machine when King attempted to take the Civil Rights Movement north and demanded racial integration of Chicago's neighborhoods, such as Marquette Park. King's efforts in Chicago were largely unsuccessful, and his failure in Chicago was a serious setback for the Civil Rights Movement.

1968 and later career

The year 1968 was a momentous year for Daley. Following King's death in April massive rioting and looting erupted on the West Side. Daley cracked down hard. In August, the 1968 Democratic National Convention was held in Chicago.

With the nation divided by the Vietnam War and with the assassinations of King and Robert F. Kennedy earlier that year serving as backdrop, the city became a battleground for anti-war protests who vowed to shut down the convention. In some cases, confrontations between protesters and police turned violent, with images of this violence broadcast on national television. Later, radical activists Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, and three other members of the "Chicago Seven" were convicted of crossing state lines with the intent of inciting a riot as a result of these confrontations, though the convictions were overturned on appeal.

At the convention itself, Sen. Abraham A. Ribicoff, D-Conn., went off-script during his speech nominating George McGovern, saying, "If George McGovern were president, we wouldn’t have these Gestapo tactics in the streets of Chicago." Ribicoff also tried to introduce a motion to shut down the convention and move it to another city. Some conventioneers applauded Ribicoff's remarks but an indignant Mayor Daley tried to shout down the speaker.[1] A federal commission, led by local attorney and longtime Daley foe Daniel Walker, later investigated the events surrounding the convention and described them as a "police riot." Daley's supporters challenged Walker's credibility because of his well-known opposition to Daley and Chicago machine politics; Walker's credibility was later destroyed when he went to federal prison.

In 1972 Democratic nominee George McGovern threw Daley out of the Democratic National Convention (replacing his delegation with that of Jesse Jackson). McGovern later made amends by putting Daley loyalist (and Kennedy in-law) Sargent Shriver on his ticket.

On December 20, 1976, while at work Daley suffered a massive heart attack and died at the age of 74. He is buried in Holy Sepulchre Cemetery.

Speaking style

Daley was known for his tangled tongue—as when he was exhilarating a program, rather than accelerating it. One of Daley's most memorable malapropisms was uttered in 1968 while defending what the news media reported as police misconduct during that year's violent and confrontational Democratic Convention. "Gentlemen, get the thing straight once and for all — the policeman isn't there to create disorder, the policeman is there to preserve disorder." Pundits laughingly agreed when he promised, "We shall reach greater and greater platitudes of achievement."

Democratic machine politics

Known for shrewd party politics, Daley was the prototypical "machine" politician, and his Chicago Democratic Machine, based on control of thousands of patronage positions, was instrumental in bringing a narrow 8,000 vote victory in Illinois for fellow Irish Catholic John F. Kennedy in the 1960 presidential election.

Daley was usually open with the news media, meeting with them for frequent news conferences, and taking all questions — if not answering all of them. According to hostile columnist Mike Royko, Daley got along better with editors and publishers than with reporters.

Daley, as party boss, worked well with the regular Democrats who comprised the majority of the 50 aldermen of the Chicago City Council. For the most part, the aldermen supported Daley and the official party position consistently. Opposition came from conservative Republicans from the German wards on the northwest side of the city, and a band of liberal white independents (a group that grew during Daley's mayoralty to represent groups that felt disfranchised by Daley's policies). The black South Side comprised a submachine of its own, allied with Daley. He helped the bosses there repress the leftists and agitators typified by Jesse Jackson.

Daley relied on his ward bosses and they relied on their hundreds of precinct captains, who marshaled and delivered votes on a block-by-block basis. Many of these precinct captains were rewarded with well-paid patronage jobs with the city, mostly minor posts. Each ward had a ward leader in charge of the precinct captains. The notorious First Ward machine was tied to the local mafia or crime syndicate, but Daley's own ward was clean and his personal honesty was never questioned successfully.


At his death in 1976, the liberal Democrats' perception of Daley was the image painted in dark hues by Mike Royko in his 1971 biography, Boss—corrupt, racist, cruel, mean, brutal. In light of the later events, such as New York City's fiscal crisis, Daley's reputation has been rehabilitated, as shown by a poll of 160 historians, political scientists and urban experts. They ranked Daley as the #6 best mayor in American history.[2] Daley's ways may have been rough, but his defenders have argued that he got positive things done for Chicago which a non-boss would have been unable to do. While detractors point out that he helped develop what became known as the most segregated city in the nation, others argue that he was acting on behalf of his constituency, who did not want an integrated Chicago.

On the 50th anniversary of Daley's first swearing in several dozen Daley biographers and associates met to evaluate his career. Historian Michael Beschloss called Daley "the pre-eminent mayor of the 20th century." Chicago journalist Elizabeth Taylor said, "Because of Mayor Daley, Chicago did not become a Detroit or a Cleveland." Many feel that by revitalizing the downtown area with skyscrapers, apartment buildings, museums, and a strong upscale shopping district and firmly fixing the middle-class in place in the city limits, Daley probably did save Chicago from decline or collapse. Historian Robert Remini pointed out that while other cities were in fiscal crisis in the 1960s and 1970s, "Chicago always had a double-A bond rating."

Daley is memorialized specifically in numerous buildings including one of the City Colleges of Chicago Richard J. Daley College.

  • The "Richard J. Daley Civic Center" is a 32-floor office building completed in 1965.
  • The "Richard J. Daley Library" serves the University of Illinois at Chicago [1]
  • "Richard J. Daley Park: is on the lakefront he loved so much


  • Biles, Roger. Richard J. Daley: politics, race, and the governing of Chicago (1995), important study by leading historian
  • Cohen, Adam and Elizabeth Taylor. American Pharaoh: Mayor Richard J. Daley: His Battle for Chicago and the Nation, (2000) the standrad scholarly biography.
  • Goodman, Barak (director) "Daley: The Last Boss" PBS documentary (1995)

Royko, Mike (1971). Boss: Richard J. Daley of Chicago. New York: Dutton. ISBN 0-525-07000-1. 

Academic studies

  • Biles, Roger. Richard J. Daley: Politics, Race, and the Government of Chicago (1995)
  • Green, Paul M. "Mayor Richard J. Daley and the politics of good government," in Paul M. Green and Melvin G. Holli (eds.) The Mayors: The Chicago Political Tradition (1995), pp 144–59
  • Holli, Melvin G.. The American Mayor: The Best and the Worst Big-city Leaders (1999), praises Daley
  • Peterson, Paul E.. School Politics, Chicago Style (1976)
  • Rakove, Milton L.. Don't Make No Waves—Don't Back No Losers: An Insider's Analysis of the Daley Machine (1975) ISBN favorable
  • Simpson, Dick. Rogues, Rebels, and Rubber Stamps: The Politics of the Chicago City Council from 1863 to the Present (2000) hostile

External links


  1. Royko p. 189
  2. Holli 1999