Editor’s note: The weekly Illinois Bicentennial series is brought to you by the Illinois Associated Press Media Editors and Illinois Press Association. More than 20 newspapers are creating stories about the state’s history, places and key moments in advance of the Bicentennial on Dec. 3, 2018. Stories published up to this date can be found at 200illinois.com.
About 20 years before a certain territory along the eastern banks of the upper Mississippi became a state, a man named Maurice Daly tied his ass and cart to a fence in the little Irish town of Dungarvan and set off for America. He added an “e” to his last name along the way — and the die was cast for the most powerful political brand in Illinois’ 200-year history.
The Daleys of Chicago ran the state’s largest city for more than 40 years, watching from the fifth floor of City Hall as the city grew from a thriving but unpolished Midwest railroad hub to a sprawling global metropolis.
Whether it’s the skyscrapers that Richard J. Daley so dearly loved, or the wrought-iron fences and European-style greenery pushed by his son, the legacy of the city’s two longest-serving mayors is impossible to avoid.
There are also things not seen, of course. Like Meigs Field, the quirky lakefront airport that the younger Daley brazenly — and illegally — bulldozed in the middle of the night in 2003. And then there’s a trail of Daley pals either shamed or jailed for various corruption schemes, part of a long-tolerated, wink-and-nod “Chicago way” of doing city business.
The elder Mayor Daley struggled to reconcile his neighborhood tribalism with the growing civil rights movement and anti-war protests. And his son watched grand plans for his city spiral into sweetheart deals and crippling budget deficits.
But the Daley Machine also saw Chicago’s fortunes grow while other Rust Belt cities declined. And they helped elect two Democratic presidents while wielding the kind of statewide clout in Springfield that a small army of Machine-bred representatives and senators can make possible.
Richard J. Daley, great-grandson of Maurice, was born in the city’s Bridgeport neighborhood in 1902, not far from where he lived when he died 74 years later. He rose through the ranks of Democratic politics by building a reputation as both an old-school ward heeler and nimble numbers cruncher. Lacking the oratorical flourish of so many politicians of the day, he prided himself on getting things done.
“Good government is good politics,” he liked to say. And he correctly surmised that few would mind if city payrolls were stocked with Daley Machine foot soldiers, so long as the trash got collected and the streets got plowed.
When he arrived at his desk in City Hall every morning, he was greeted with a list of the names of new city workers, along with their political sponsors. His ride home in the evening often took a wandering path, stopping at various wakes and retirement parties, each visit cementing that particular family’s multigenerational allegiance to the Democratic Party.
While the husband was running the city, his beloved wife, Sis, was raising a growing brood of seven children. Little Richie, the first-born son, came along in 1942. Then came Michael, a prominent lawyer and the only son who stayed away from politics (unless, ahem, you count helping clients win city zoning cases political). Then there was John, a former state senator and state representative who is still a Cook County Commissioner. He is also the 11th Ward Democratic Committeeman, a job that has been in the Daley family since the 1940s.
William Daley, the youngest son, is the only one to have officially stepped onto the national political stage, serving as both U.S. commerce secretary under President Bill Clinton, and White House chief of staff under President Barack Obama.
In 2013, Daley briefly ran for Illinois governor, only to drop out of the race a few months after entering it, citing personal reasons.
But it was Richard M. Daley who made the family name synonymous with big city clout, eclipsing even his father’s run on the fifth floor.
Even as business-hub suburbs like Naperville and Schaumburg sprouted gleaming corporate headquarters, Daley presided over continued growth downtown. And Millennium Park, his crown jewel, remains a source of civic pride, perhaps allowing the memory of his failed Olympic bid to fade.
His administration also was marked by a series of scandals, including the “Hired Truck” scandal, in which the city government leased hundreds of privately-owned dump trucks that did little or no work, wasting $40 million a year. Sun-Times reports about the program fueled a swift-moving federal investigation that led to the indictments of 49 people on public corruption-related charges. All were convicted, except for one individual who died after being charged.
The Daleys in Illinois
- 1902 – Richard J. Daley is born.
- 1942 – Richard M. Daley is born.
- 1946 – John Daley is born.
- 1948 – William Daley is born.
- 1955 – Richard J. Daley is elected to his first term as mayor.
- 1960 – The Daley Machine is credited with delivering key votes to secure the election of John F. Kennedy as president.
- 1968 – Chicago erupts in what would later be described as a "police riot” during the Democratic National Convention.
- 1976 – Richard J. Daley dies in office after serving for more than 21 years.
- 1989 – Richard M. Daley is elected to his first term as mayor.
- 1992 – John Daley is elected to the Cook County board of commissioners, after serving in the Illinois state legislature.
- 1997 – William Daley is named U.S. Secretary of Commerce under President Bill Clinton.
- 2010 – Richard M. Daley serves his 7,917th day as Mayor, passing his father as the longest to serve in the job.
- 2011 – William Daley is named White House Chief of Staff under President Barack Obama.
- 2011 – Richard M. Daley’s wife, Maggie, dies after a long battle with cancer.
- 2011 – Rahm Emanuel is sworn is as Mayor, ending Richard M. Daley’s 22-year, six-term run in office.