Richard Joseph Daley, the grandson of Irish immigrants, was born in the Bridgeport area of Chicago on May 15, 1902 less than a block from where he later lived as mayor. An only child born to first and second-generation Irish immigrants, Richard J Daley graduated from De La Salle Institute in 1919. As a member of the Hamburg Social and Athletic Club, a local social club/street gang, Daley began his political career with the help of former members Tommy Doyle and Joe McDonough. At twenty-one, he was a precinct captain in McDonoughs ward organization and a member of the Hamburgs. Then he became McDonoughs personal ward secretary and protege.
Daley supposedly worked in the stockyards before studying law. That is just so much bull, he got on a public payroll almost as soon as he was able to vote, and hes been there since. (Royko 39) Daleys first City Hall job came as a clerk in the City Council. In 1923 William Dever, a Democrat was elected a reform mayor. When all the firings were finished, there was Daley, with a patronage job. In 1936 Daley married Eleanor Guilfoyle, and the couple had three daughters and four sons. Daley held several elected posts before becoming mayor. He was state representative from 1936 to 1938. On November 4, 1936 Daley had won his first elective office.
The only thing that kept the victory from being perfect was that David Shanahan, who died as speaker of the house in Illinois, had been a Republican, running unopposed. So Daleys name had to be written in on the Republican side of the ballot. Richard Daley was elected to his first public office as, of all things, a Republican. (Royko 46) This made for a rough start for Daley in Springfield. Daley served as State Senator from 1939 to 1946, county deputy comptroller from 1946 to 1949, putting Daley on two public payrolls, the county and the state, and assured him of an adequate income.
County clerk from 1950 to 1955. He also served as state revenue director, an appointed position, under Governor Adlai Stevenson. In these positions, Daley gained a keen understanding of government and a mastery of budgets and revenue sources. Not to mention the cardinal rule, never repeat what you see or hear, or somebody might get indicted. (Sullivan 92) In 1955, Cook County Democratic party chairman Richard J. Daley, 53, won the Chicago mayoralty race and began a 21-year career as mayor of the second largest U. S. city. Daley, the archetypal city “Boss,” served as mayor from 1955 to 1976.
He was one of the last big city bosses, in one of the last big city machines. As a Democrat, Daley wielded a great deal of power in this largely Democratic city. He headed a powerful political organization that effectively dominated much of Chicago. He governed by the spoils system, and he delivered many local votes for Democratic presidential candidates. His support was often sought by state and national leaders, and was seen as a ticket to election. Daley gained national notoriety in 1968 when Chicago police brutally subdued demonstrators at the Democratic National Convention.
It was later uncovered that Daley himself had ordered the police to behave in this manner. Daley was an important figure in the national Democratic Party as well, the case has been made that if not for the intense backing by Daley and his delegates, John F. Kennedy would never have been elected president in1960. As the mayor of Chicago until his death in 1976, and as chairman of Chicago’s Cook County Democratic Central Committee from 1953 to 1976, Richard Joseph Daley was one of the most powerful politicians in the United States.
He easily won reelection to office in five successive campaigns from 1959 to 1975, and during his mayoralty, Chicago was the scene of an unprecedented building boom. A noticeable improvement in city services, and urban renewal programs. Daley ran Chicago when federal government was pouring billions into highways, public transit, housing for poor. He used it to advantage, mounting massive urban renewal and transportation projects. Neighborhoods resisted, but Daley prevailed. He was a builder, developing O’Hare Airport, public housing projects, University of Illinois Chicago campus and McCormick Place.
A machine politician in the old tradition, Daley freely used patronage to control the Illinois state vote and obtain tax breaks and zoning-law favors for real estate interests and others that support him. Although Daley remained popular and influential during his several terms, his administration was marred by a number of political scandals, most notably, civil-rights disturbances, and the riot at the 1968 Democratic convention. Towards the late 1960s Daley was beginning to lose touch with the changing times.
Daley was among John F. Kennedy’s key supporters in the 1960 presidential election, providing him with the delegates who helped him win a first-ballot nomination and a massive Chicago vote that delivered Illinois for Kennedy in his narrow victory over Richard M. Nixon. In 1968 Daley hosted the Democratic National Convention at President Lyndon B. Johnson’s request. He achieved his greatest national fame, and infamy, for defending and even celebrating the almost barbaric violence his police force inflicted on anti-Vietnam War protesters outside.
Ironically, Daley had been a private critic of the Vietnam War and had urged Johnson to withdraw U. S. forces. But in Daleys worldview, this stance was perfectly compatible with brutally crushing anti-war demonstrations before a national television audience; he saw both the Vietnam conflict and the New Left that arose to protest it as threats to his authoritarian rule over the Cook County Democratic Party, his personal fiefdom. (Cohen 56)
In 1972, Daley was dealt another blow when the Democratic National Convention refused to seat his Illinois delegation because of noncompliance with new selection rules. In 1976, Jimmy Carter said that Daley’s endorsement clinched his first-ballot nomination for the presidency, but Daley failed to deliver Illinois for Carter in the election. Controlling 30,000 patronage jobs and savvy ward organization, he delivered elections for himself and Democratic allies, to whom he pleased.
Blacks were a major component of the Daley coalition, providing him with a winning margin in his two closest mayoral elections. Keeping the city racially segregated, required a delicate balancing act because the Democratic machine depended on black voters almost as much as on the white ethnics. Richard J. gave lip service to racial equality and open housing when the occasion demanded but did his utmost to keep blacks trapped in the South Side and West side ghettos, where his armies of patronage workers and precinct captains could most easily control them.
Richard J. Daley was motivated partly by racism but mostly, as usual, by pragmatism: Integration, Daley feared, could drive whites to the suburbs, unleash unpredictable forces in the black community and destroy the democratic machine. (Kennedy 69) Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. s 1967 open-housing campaign began in Chicago. It was intended to be the civil rights leaders first major foray into the urban North, but King was caught off guard by the vicious mobs of white Chicagoans he met, Worse than anything that I had encountered in Mississippi or Alabama.
Sullivan 103) and by the astonishing number of black politicians in Daleys pocket. The canny Daley refused to play the villain in Kings drama, eventually out waiting, and outwitting him and sending him back to Atlanta with a list of apparent concessions that were fatally vague and unenforceable. The machine had won, at least for the time being. His relationship with them further deteriorated in the turbulent hours after Dr. Martin Luther King’s assassination when Daley issued a shoot-to-kill order in the wake of riots and looting on the city’s West Side.
He later resented the challenge to his authority as party chairman by black Democratic politicians in the wake of the violence. Once again showing his age and incompatibility, an out of touch Daley took it on the chin. Today Even The Boss, Mayor Richard J. Daley, wasn’t exempt from the FBI’s suspicion of being a communist sympathizer, a tool of the mob or an accommodator to civil rights leaders. Under a federal Freedom of Information Act request, the Chicago Tribune obtained 300 pages of Daley’s file compiled by J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI.
The reports span Daley’s career from state senator in the 1940s until his death in 1976, the newspaper said in Sunday’s editions. The file on Daley, Chicago’s mayor from 1955 through 1976, contains a wealth of innuendoes and guilt by association. None apparently rose beyond the level of gossip. “It was typical of Hoover to try to just gather any information he could about powerful politicians as a way of just making sure he maintained his own seat of power,” (Kessler 62) “It was really sort of a secret police that Hoover operated. Kessler 63) The file notes an association between Daley and possible communist elements as an Illinois state senator.
It cites an invitation Daley received to speak at an American Youth for Democracy gathering in January 1944 in Chicago. The invitation, which Daley declined, was issued at the instigation of Robert Travis, referred to in the file as a “reported communist. ” When Daley first ran for mayor, the Communist Party of Illinois “issued instructions to members that Daley must be elected for the Party to retain its strength in labor. Kessler 40) The file also alleges organized crime figures found Daley sympathetic to them, at least before he became mayor.
Later, mobsters like Sam Giancana complained about Daley’s weakening of the ward boss system, which the mob relied on for political favors. Informants told the FBI of Daley’s efforts to reach out to black civil rights leaders, including Martin Luther King Jr. In the riotous aftermath of King’s assassination, the FBI reported extensively about Daley’s “shoot to kill” order aimed at arsonists, a stand the FBI praised.
For twenty-one long years, Daley presided over Chicago city government and the Democratic organization in his dual role as mayor and party chairman. He cultivated alliances with organized labor and industry that contributed to Chicago’s renaissance at a time when other northern industrial cities were declining. He helped build the world’s largest airport and tallest office building, a lakefront convention center, a governmental complex that would later bear his name, a Chicago campus for the state university, expressways, and mass transit lines. He is known by many as the best mayor Chicago may ever have.