The House of Daley

In the Midwest there are tornadoes, but last month a storm microburst, one of politics, commanded pages of Chicago’s newspapers, spewing winds across the country to Washington, DC, where Obama’s Chief of Staff resigned to seek the mayor’s office. Mayor Richard M. Daley (Daley II), tendered a surprise political resignation with his wife, daughters, and son at his side, as his time in office approached the record set by his father, Richard M. Daley (Daley II), who served from 1955 through 1976. Daley I died in his boots, collapsing in his own doctor’s office, felled by a heart attack. Everything in the city stopped that December day as his body was escorted down Michigan Avenue by scores of police cars, to the humble neighborhood of Bridgeport and the bungalow on Lowe Street that was the Chicago White House. Friends of Daley II, aware of the physical toll the office takes, are glad the his son will be able to relax and spend time with his family.

Reigns of Catholic bosses in major United States cities are ending, and are being replaced by persons of new backgrounds. The few Catholic mayors emerging are of Hispanic descent, and may represent the next great impact the Church will have on American culture, if there indeed is a Renaissance in store rather than decline. Every morning Daley I stopped for Mass in St. Peter’s Church, just around the block from his office and subtly practiced a beatitude: he attended the wakes of thousands of Chicago employees, the visits a regular routine many evenings. Of course, there was great political payoff, as tens of thousands remembered the Mayor’s visit when they voted.


“The evil men do,” writes Shakespeare, “lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones.” Daley I was often accused of racism, and when Martin Luther King visited Chicago, he encountered one of the most dangerous and hostile crowds in history. Daley I is also remembered as the leader of what the Kerner Committee called a “police riot” at the 1968 Democratic National Convention. There on national television was the Mayor of Chicago gesturing obscenely at Senator Abraham Ribicoff while the sons and daughters of America, advocates for peace, lay bloodied on Michigan Avenue, waiting to be taken to hospitals.

Richard M. Daley, “Da’ Mares” son, became Mayor in 1988 after 12 years of political disorganization. A micro-manager, even more obsessive and compulsive than his father, he carried a small notebook with him and made notations whenever he saw a pot hole, unseeded park, or unpainted overpass. Obsessed with rusted chain link fences, he declared an ordinance that Chicago’s fences had to be set in permanent black spike and concrete. Chicago, never just an average-appearing sibling, became even more handsome. Millennium Park was the scene for President OBama’s victory speech in the 2008 election. As St. Louis and other Rust Belt cities declined, Chicago became even more gorgeous.

Each Mayor Daley was accused of being dictatorial. Perhaps Daley II’s most imperial moment occurred in the dead of night when, citing national security, he sent bulldozers to destroy Chicago’s lakefront airport. Racism, poverty, and lack of involvement of African Americans in the structure and decision-making apparatus of the city continue to be present, as it was throughout his father’s administration. There is epidemic violence: so many murders, so many high school students killed, and so many home invasions make many clamor for National Guard intervention.

Despite the remembered flaws and verbal criticisms of these two mayors, Chicago stands apart from other Northern cities in its beauty and promise. Historians ranked Daley I as one of the 50 best mayors in United States history (number 6), because he had prevented Chicago from becoming a rust belt city like Cleveland or Detroit. Throughout the 60s and early 70s, Chicago retained an AA Bond Rating, even as major cities such as New York hovered near bankruptcy, and Daley II continued his father’s successes in these realms. Saint Augustine once counseled that if one had great love, other things would fall in line. Mike Royko, Richard M. Daley’s most brutal and consistent critic, lamented a decade after Daley I’s death that he and others had missed the most important point: the tremendous amount of love Mayor Daley had for his city. Both Mayors will be remembered for this, and can any of us hope for a greater legacy in our own endeavors?

William Van Ornum


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8 years 2 months ago
I think the next few years in American politics and culture will prove to be very interesting as more people of Hispanic descent are elected to influential posts.  The next census is reported to show that there are 50 million Hispanics in the US.  The TV company, Univision is now in the #5 spot of TV networks and is growing at a faster  rate than the 4 top English language networks.  Hispanic leaders will surely come  from that population and have a broad reach through Univision.  If they will apply Catholic social doctrine to sthe policies they promote and publically live their faith as Daley I did, is another question.  We can hope so, but it seems in politics we get a mixed bag as illlulstrated by the Daleys.  Currently, Antonio Villaraigoso is mayor of Los Angeles.  He is a non-practicing Catholic with a lot of baggage, ethical and moral.   What I learned from Hispanic friends & associates in my county is that one can't make generalizations about what Hispanics think on issues and how they see government operating.  There are widely different competing views.  Also, there are Hispanic evangelical Christians with their own ideas! 
we vnornm
8 years 2 months ago

I lived there for nearly 30 years, and it's a culture I haven't seen anywhere else. There were incredibly vocal critics, like Mike Royko (whose own identity seemed dependent on having RJD to criticize each night in the Daily News).  But even those who disagreed with RJD, and later RMD, alays had a grudging respect, and Royko as always got it right in his perception and acknowledgement of Daley's great love of Chicago. If you take the train from NY to Chciago and see Buffalo, Cleveland, and then Chicago, Daley's accomplishments are there to see right there in the brigh sunshine. But remember, too, the negative side that was mentioned.....bill
we vnornm
8 years 2 months ago

The varieties of thinking and voting of persons of Hispanic backgrounds is certainly going to be interesting to watch in the future. Perhaps this is a bigger and more important phenomenon than our current republican/democrat/tea party etc. fancyings! best, bill 
we vnornm
8 years 2 months ago

Mayor Daley won many fights-check out the pugilist pose in the photo-I believe he actually did some boxing when he was young.

Her had....chutzpah. He built a 16-lane expressway to separate his Bridgeport neighborhood from the slums across the way. Not exactly exercising a fundamental option for the poor.

Perhaps we are lucky that some persons choose to go into politics so the rest of us don't have to. Of course, some will say "but they are drawn to the power" but I sure wouldn't want the job.

And Daley's tirade at Senator Ribicoff...words that wouldn't be allowed on family television but that's where they occurred.

 I never voted for Da' Mare, and at the time he stood against all my youthful idealisms, but there sure is a lot to learn from studying him, and even a great fondness for him if you lived in Chicago. He is missed.

One of my friends dated one of the daughters...imagine ringing that doorbell, after the police check! But I hear he was a wonderful father and husband....



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