Wednesday 11 January 2012

Richard Daley

I was in Chicago recently, and the politics of that city is intimately entwined with two men named Richard: Richard J. and Richard M. Daley. As you probably knew (or guessed) these two are father and son. Together they have instrumentally shaped Chicago in the late twentieth century. Father Richard J. is the second-longest-serving mayor in Chicago history; son Richard M. is the longest serving.

Richard J. Daley was mayor from 20 April 1955 to his death on 20 December 1976. He was one of the last big city bosses, which means he ran Chicago like a political machine. If you remember high-school history, think “Boss Tweed” of nineteenth-century New York. When you run a political machine, you get stuff done, but corruption can often taint the process. Surprisingly, though, Richard J. was never charged with corruption (however, the same cannot be said about some of his subordinates).

An Irish-American Catholic from Chicago’s South Side, Richard J. Daley is generally credited with doing much to prevent Chicago from declining. In essence, he kept Chicago from becoming a cesspit/brunt of frequent jokes, the fate which has befallen both Cleveland and Detroit (and other Rust Belt cities). Much as I love Detroit (let’s go Red Wings!) and hate to see it derided, I admit that Chicago wins. I know plenty of people who have vacationed in Chicago (and I have even been one of them), but I can’t think of anyone who has “vacationed” in Detroit. In fact, my brother claims he had “the worst day of his life” in Detroit, although I believe that was more because he was in an art museum than because he was in Detroit.

Despite saving Chicago from the fate of Detroit, Richard J. didn’t make Chi-Town all flowers and sunshine. Between 1940 and 1960, Chicago became the most segregated city in the North, in terms of housing. [This is chronicled in the book Making the Second Ghetto by Arnold R. Hirsch. Although I have not read this work, I have heard amazing things.] In 1966, Martin Luther King, Jr. came to Chicago to try to integrate housing. Although Richard J. gave lip service to King’s project, nothing really came to pass. Chicago remained extremely segregated, a great blow to the Civil Rights Movement.

Richard J. was a huge figure in Democratic politics, although he lost some power near the end of his life. For instance, George McGovern tossed Richard J. out of the 1972 Democratic National Convention and replaced him with Jesse Jackson. Despite some setbacks, Richard J. was still going strong in politics when he died of a massive heart attack (which happened at his doctor’s office) in 1976. He was 74.

Richard M. Daley, the eldest son of Richard J. Daley, was born on 24 April 1942. While he has been a Marine, a lawyer, and an Illinois state senator, Richard M. is most famous for being mayor of Chicago (just like his father). Richard M. is Chicago’s longest-serving mayor, holding the post from 24 April 1989 (aww, his birthday!) to 16 May 2011. His twenty-two years as mayor narrowly edged out his father’s twenty-one years.

Like all politicians, Richard M. has good and bad points. He seems to favor businesses over neighborhoods, but he also has some decent liberal cred. He favors immigration reform and gay rights (including same-sex marriage). He also believes in gun control, and apparently threatened, with a rifle, a reporter who questioned Chicago’s hand gun ban, saying “If I put this up your butt, you'll find out how effective it is.” (See Wikipedia for source). He helped create Millennium Park (which apparently used to be an old rail yard), as well as turn Navy Pier into a tourist hot spot (formerly it had been a glorified garage sale).

The first time I ever went to Chicago, I was in a car approaching from the east. As we left Indiana, we were greeted with a sign proclaiming, “Welcome to Chicago! Richard M. Daley, mayor.” Shortly afterwards, we saw a sign welcoming us to Illinois (courtesy of whoever was governor then). Although I have no proof, I feel like that pretty much sums up Chicago/Richard M. Daley’s attitude towards the rest of Illinois.

Fun Fact: the William M. Daley who just quit as Obama’s White House Chief of Staff is Richard M. Daley’s younger brother!

Arnold R. Hirsch, Making the Second Ghetto: Race and Housing in Chicago 1940-1960

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