Richard Joseph Daley (May 15, 1902 – December 20, 1976) served for 21 years as the undisputed Democratic boss of Chicago and is considered by historians to be the "last of the big city bosses." He played a major role in the history of the Democratic Party, especially with his support 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 is remembered for doing much to avoid the declines that some other "rust belt" cities like Cleveland and Detroit experienced during the same period. He had a strong base of support in Chicago's Irish Catholic community, and he was treated by national politicians such as Lyndon B. Johnson as a preeminent Irish American, with special connections to the Kennedy family.
Richard M. Daley, the current and second longest-serving mayor of Chicago, is his son.
Although Daley was a lifelong Democrat, he was first elected to the Illinois General Assembly as a Republican in 1936. 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 David Shanahan. After his election, Daley quickly moved back to the Democratic side of the aisle in 1938. Daley suffered his only political defeat in 1946, when he lost a bid to become Cook County sheriff.
First elected mayor in 1955 with a modest victory margin of 125,179 votes, 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 ruled the city with an iron hand and dominated the political arena of the city and, to a lesser extent, that of the entire state.
Daley married Eleanor "Sis" Guilfoyle on June 17, 1936, and they lived in a modest brick bungalow at 3536 South Lowe Avenue in the heavily Irish-American Bridgeport neighborhood, just blocks from his birthplace. They had three daughters and four sons, in that order. Their eldest son, Richard M. Daley, was elected mayor of Chicago in 1989, and has served in that position ever since. 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. The other siblings have stayed out of public life. Michael Daley is a partner in the law firm Daley & George, and Patricia (Daley) Martino and Mary Carol (Daley) Vanecko are teachers, as was Eleanor, who died in 1998.
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 encourage racial integration of Chicago's neighborhoods, such as Marquette Park. Daley called for a "summit conference" and signed an agreement with King and other community leaders to foster open housing. The agreement was without legal standing and ignored . King's efforts in Chicago were largely unsuccessful, and his failure in Chicago was a serious setback for the Civil Rights Movement.
This statement generated significant controversy. Daley's supporters deluged his office with grateful letters and telegrams (nearly 4,500 according to Time Magazine), and it has been credited for Chicago's being one of the cities least affected by the riots. But others were appalled. Rev. Jesse Jackson, for example, called it "a fascist's response." The Mayor later backed away from his words in an address to the City Council, saying:
Later that month, Daley asserted "There wasn't any shoot-to-kill order. That was a fabrication."
In August, the 1968 Democratic National Convention was held in Chicago. Intended to showcase Daley's achievements to national Democrats and the news media, the proceedings during the convention instead garnered notoriety for the mayor and city.
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. Many conventioneers applauded Ribicoff's remarks but an indignant Mayor Daley tried to shout down the speaker. Daley is said to have uttered antisemitic slurs against Ribicoff, a charge denied by Daley and refuted by Mike Royko's reporting. A federal commission, led by local attorney and party activist 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. Despite a decline in popularity following 1968, Daley was historically re-elected for the fifth time in 1971. However, many have argued this was due to a lack of formidable opposition rather than Daley's own popularity.
In 1972, Democratic nominee George McGovern threw Daley out of the Democratic National Convention (replacing his delegation with one led by Jesse Jackson). This event arguably marked a downturn in Daley's power and influence within the Democratic Party but, given his public standing, McGovern later made amends by putting Daley loyalist (and Kennedy in-law) Sargent Shriver on his ticket.
"you couldn't give that guy a nickel, that's how honest he is."However, in January 1973, former Illinois Racing Board Chairman William S. Miller testified that Daley had "induced" him to bribe Illinois Governor Otto Kerner.
This scandal marked the start of two years of controversy where the integrity of the Mayor and his office was strongly questioned.
On December 20, 1976, Daley suffered a massive heart attack while visiting his doctor's office and died at the age of 74. He is buried in Holy Sepulchre Cemetery in Worth Township, southwest of Chicago.
Daley was known by many Chicagoans as "Da Mare" ("The Mayor"), "Hizzoner" ("His Honor"), and "The Man on Five" (his office was on the fifth floor of City Hall). Since Daley's death and the subsequent election of son Richard as mayor in 1989, the first Mayor Daley has become known as "Boss Daley," "Old Man Daley," or "Daley Senior" to residents of Chicago.
Earl Bush, the mayor's press aide, once chastised reporters, saying "You should have printed what he meant, not what he said."
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 columnist and biographer Mike Royko, Daley got along better with editors and publishers than with reporters.
Daley had limited opposition among the 50 aldermen of the Chicago City Council. For the most part, the aldermen supported Daley and the official party position consistently, except for a small number of Republicans from the German wards on the northwest side of the city and a small number of independents (a group that grew during Daley's mayoralty to represent groups that felt disenfranchised by Daley's policies).
Daley's chief means of attaining electoral success was his reliance on the local precinct captain, who marshaled and delivered votes on a neighborhood-by-neighborhood basis. Many of these precinct captains held patronage jobs with the city, mostly minor posts at low pay. Each ward had a ward leader in charge of the precinct captains, some of whom were corrupt. The notorious First Ward (encompassing downtown, which had many businesses but few residents) was tied to the local mafia or crime syndicate, but Daley's own ward was supposedly clean and his personal honesty was never questioned successfully primarily because he controlled all levels of the government and media that could have questioned him.
On the 50th anniversary of Daley's first 1955 swearing-in, several dozen Daley biographers and associates met at the Chicago Historical Society. 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 and firmly fixing the middle-class in place in the city limits, Daley probably did save Chicago from declining to the extent of the average Rust Belt city. 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."
Aside from the obvious legacy of having an effect on the city of Chicago for twenty-one years as its mayor, Daley is memorialized specifically in the following: