We’re now down to the wire in the closing days of the 22 year reign of Chicago mayor Richard M. Daley. Those familar with his years in office know that he meant it when he called being mayor, “the greatest job in the world”. And he wanted no other. For me, the legacy that he leaves Chicago with will not so much be judged by Millenium Park, the bid for the Olympics, O’Hare expansion, Cabrini Green demolition, his advocacy for handgun control, the corruption at City Hall, the parking meter lease, or even some of his entertaining, volatile press conferences. No, his legacy will be the people whose lives he touched. Whether you met or saw him in person, or on television, he was first a human being and then the Mayor.
It’s hard to believe for people living outside Chicago that for the last 55 years one family has held the mayoralty of Chicago for 43 out of those 55. I grew up with his father, Richard J. “Boss” Daley. The Daley whom many say, but cannot prove beyond a reasonable doubt, swung the 1960 presidential election to John F. Kennedy. The Daley who ruled the City Council with an iron fist and ran the City’s infrastructure as a well-oiled machine. But Daley was also a private family man, an Irish-Catholic, who with his wife, “Sis” raised a family of seven children, who stayed out of the headlines and stayed in Bridgeport.
Richard M. “Richie” Daley, was considered by some early on to be one of the weaker links in the family, having passed his bar exam on the third try. His brother William, now White House Chief of Staff was thought to be his father’s successor. But it was Richie who was elected mayor in 1989, and as the old saying goes, “the rest is history”. While there are similarities between he and his father in style of governance, there are also marked differences. And those differences are what helped him get re-elected, gave him the title of the longest serving mayor in Chicago history, and endeared him to so many, both friend and foe.
Daley’s impact on Chicago was human and personal. He was an extroverted politician who loved to be among people. He had his machine, like his father, but he went a step further and reached out to people of all races, gender and age groups to build a coalition. And always at the base of that coalition was his love for Chicago.
He was an emotional mayor who wore his heart on his sleeve, not only for his own family, but for his Chicago family. Nothing touched him more than when tragedy struck suddenly and unnecessarily, when familes lost loved ones to gang violence, or whether others were struck down in the line of duty. He spoke tributes from the heart and you could hear from his voice and tell from his face, that their losses were his losses. And he made them our losses as well.
My mother used to say, “I wouldn’t want his job. Doesn’t he ever stay home?” And that too, was another side of the mayor. From City parades to neighborhood block parties, school dedications, charity events, Daley always made time for his Chicago family.
There are those who would say, he was just being a politician. But I think people can recognize when someone is genuine and loves his job versus someone who is just doing his job.
In spite of her failing health, she lent her name and support to countless charities and events in Chicago, not to mention the 22 years of spending how many evenings and weekends alone while the mayor attended the block parties, dinners, and other events. I would venture to say both are tired.
Whether you loved Daley, disliked Daley, or were indifferent to him, when you sum up his 22 years in office, and the impact he made on a City and its people, there will never be another like him. He’s the last of his kind.