Richard J. Daley

From Academic Kids

Richard J. Daley
Richard J. Daley

Richard Joseph Daley (May 15, 1902 - December 20, 1976) was an American politician who served as Chairman of the Cook County Democratic Central Committee from 1953 and Mayor of Chicago from 1955, retaining both positions until his death in 1976.

Daley was Chicago's third mayor in a row from the Bridgeport neighborhood. He served in that position longer than any other person. According to Chicago folksinger Steve Goodman, no man "could inspire more love, more hate."

Born near Chicago's south side stockyards in 1902, Daley was the only child of blue-collar Irish-Catholic parents. After attending Catholic schools (where he learned clerical skills) and night school at DePaul University (where he earned a law degree in 1933), Daley spent virtually his entire adult life in city politics. Although Daley was always a Democrat, he was first elected to the Illinois legislature as a Republican, but this was a matter of political convenience, not partisanship. In order to replace Republican David Shanahan upon his death, Daley switched parties long enough to be elected to serve out his term and, immediately after the election, returned to the Democratic party. Daley suffered his only political defeat in 1946 when he lost a bid to become Cook County sheriff.

First elected in 1955, he served six terms as mayor. Known for party politics, Daley was the prototypical "machine" politician, and his Chicago Democratic Machine, based on control of thousands of patronage positions, has been considered by some to have been instrumental in helping to elect John F. Kennedy in 1960. A limited recount at the time showed that while Daley's machine stole massive numbers of votes from state's attorney Benjamin Adamowski, whom Daley was determined to defeat, there were only a small number of questionable votes for Kennedy. This is one reason why Republican candidate Richard Nixon chose not to pursue a recount; also it was alleged that downstate Illinois Republican organizers had stolen votes for Nixon.

Although some big-city bosses were reputed for being inaccessible, Daley was usually open with the press, meeting with them for frequent news conferences, and taking all questions - if not answering all of them. According to his biographer Mike Royko, Daley got along better with editors and publishers than with reporters.

Daley had limited opposition among the fifty aldermen of the Chicago City Council. Except for a small number of Republicans from the prosperous wards on the northwest side of the city and a small number of independents (a group that grew during Daley's mayoralty to represent supposedly disfranchised groups), the aldermen voted his way consistently.

It was often alleged that his administration used questionable tactics to acquire votes, with the ironic phrase "vote early and vote often" frequently used to describe to his method of delivering votes. Daley's conduct in this regard gave Chicago a reputation for political skulduggery that it held for years after Daley's passing.

The main method used by Daley was the precinct captain, who marshaled and delivered votes on a 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. A few wards were tied to the local mafia or crime syndicate, but Daley's own ward was clean and his personal honesty was never questioned successfully.

Major construction during his terms in office resulted in O'Hare International Airport, the Sears Tower, McCormick Place, University of Illinois, Chicago, and other Chicago landmarks. O'Hare was a particular point of pride, with Daley and his staff regularly devising occasions to celebrate its "opening."

1968 was a bad year for Daley, between his order to "shoot to kill" arsonists in the aftermath of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s assassination and the riots which occurred during the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago. At the time, many Chicagoans supported Daley's actions during the DNC; however, a federal commission investigating the events later described them as a "police riot," blaming Daley for inciting the police to commit violence. At one point, he was even heard authorizing the police to "shoot to maim." (In Daley & the Chicago Police Department's defense, Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, and other members of the "Chicago 7" political activists were convicted on Federal charges for the riot, although their convictions were overturned on appeal.)

Daley was known for his tangled tongue. He often said he was exhilarating a program, rather than accelerating it, and called a bicycle built for two a tantrum bicycle, for instance. Reporters gathered after his press conferences to work out just what it was that he had said. One of Daley's most memorable malapropisms was uttered in 1968 in the wake of King's assassination: "Gentlemen, get the thing straight, once and for all: the policeman isn't there to 'create' disorder; the policeman is there to 'preserve' disorder."

At his death in 1976, the public's perception of Daley was the image painted by Mike Royko in Boss—corrupt, racist, cruel, brutish. In light of the later events, such as New York City's fiscal crisis, Daley's reputation has been rehabilitated in the minds of some, as has the reputation of the political machine in general. Daley's ways may not have been democratic, but his defenders have argued that he got things done for Chicago which a non-boss would have been unable to do.

On the fiftieth aniversary of Daley's swearing in several dozen Daley biographers and associates met at the Chicago Historical Society. 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." (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."

Daley married Eleanor "Sis" Guilfoyle in 1936, and they lived in a brick bungalow on South Lowe Avenue in Bridgeport, very close to his birthplace. They had three daughters and four sons. 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.

The definitive biography of Daley is considered to be American Pharaoh.

A week after his death, one of the City Colleges of Chicago was renamed Richard J. Daley College[1] ( in his honor. Template:Wikiquote


  • Cohen, Adam and Elizabeth Taylor, American Pharaoh, Little Brown & Company; 1st edition (2000) ISBN 0316834033
  • Royko, Mike, Boss: Richard J. Daley of Chicago, Dutton; 1st edition (1971) ISBN 0525070001

Preceded by:
Martin H. Kennelly
Mayor of Chicago
Succeeded by:
Michael A. Bilandic

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