Mayor Richard J. Daley:
His Battle for Chicago and the Nation

by Adam Cohen & Elizabeth Taylor

Little, Brown


614pp/$26.95/May 2000

American Pharoah

Reviewed by Steven H Silver

"Richard J. Daley was the mayor of our town
'Til that cold day in December
When they laid him in the ground."*

Adam Cohen and Elizabeth Taylor have provided a balanced examination of Chicago's Richard J. Daley, who served as mayor through turbulent times from 1955 until his death in 1976.  Their book makes it clear that the two authors have a respect for Daley's works even as they identify his shortcomings, many of which were a product of his time and place.

"He was always known as the working man's pal
He grew up in Bridgeport and studied law at De La Salle."

The opening chapter details Daley's life prior to his election as mayor.  Bridgeport is depicted as a rowdy, working class area, completely given to support the politicians who could do the most for them.  Politics, it is clear, is one way to move out of the area and make a success of yourself.  Perhaps unintentionally, Cohen and Taylor's depiction of the political-social clubs, such as the Hamburg Athletic Club Daley belonged to, come across as similar to the early version of the Nazi Party, a parallel which is only heightened by the H.A.C.'s involvement in the race riots of 1919.  Cohen and Taylor point out that Daley's role is not known, but he could have been involved.

"He was first elected mayor in 1955
when half the people here tonight
were not as yet alive."

The first chapter ends with Daley's political life getting underway.  His rise is rapid and Cohen and Taylor show him laying the groundwork for his life as mayor and the manner in which he will handle details and people.  Their depiction of Daley isn't flattering, but shows him making use of people as long as they serve his purpose.  However, they show that Daley did have a purpose.  He knew what he wanted to do and how to do it.  His reliance on polls was merely a means to determine what needed to be said and done in order to achieve his own ends.

"When John Kennedy wanted to be President
he knew just what to do.
He called up Richard Daley
because he was Irish, too."

The authors' coverage of Daley's role in the election of John Kennedy, and subsequent presidents, demonstrates Daley's desire.  He was corrupt, but not in a manner generally considered corrupt.  While Daley's associate, Alderman Thomas Keane, and many others around Daley, used their positions to acquire money, Daley used his various positions to acquire something more intangible:  power.  He had Chicago completely under his thumb, and the one thing he couldn't forgive was someone trying to take that power from him.  His only direct foray into politics outside of Chicago, as a representative in Springfield, ended with the chance to gain more power by returning to Chicago and Cook County.  Daley seems to have been content to be Mayor of Chicago because he realized that he would never be able to move to the top of the heap in a different setting.

"When it came to building big buildings
no job was too tough
Daley built McCormick Place twice
because once was not enough."

One of Daley's goals was to build Chicago into a world class city.  Cohen and Taylor frequently point out that many of Midwestern cities were in decline during this period, but Daley managed to keep Chicago growing in population and construction throughout the period.  His projects ranged from the University of Illinois-Circle Campus (now U of I-Chicago) to the Sears Tower and McCormick Place.  Naturally, a lot of time is spent discussing the Chicago Housing Authority and the methods it used to create Black ghettos throughout the city.  The racism which flourished in Chicago, which Cohen and Taylor unconvincingly try to distance Daley from, was a major part of Daley's term in office, only beginning to be broken with the election of Harold Washington.  Despite that, Daley knew how to handle the Black vote, creating a Black submachine to work for him, but having no compunctions about replacing Black aldermen, ward leaders, and congressmen when they became a threat to Daley's power.

"There never was another man
who could inspire more love or hate
If you were in the park and it was 1968."

The year 1968 saw the Martin Luther King riots in Chicago and Daley's remarkable about-face concerning the Civil Rights leader he had sparred with so many times in the years immediately before.  Daley's decision to name a major thoroughfare after King is demonstrative of the graciousness Daley could exhibit when a threat to his power was removed.  Similarly, although Daley agreed with the voiced concerns of the protesters during the Democratic National Convention, he saw the protesters themselves as a threat to his power and the well-being of the city and treated them accordingly.  Cohen and Taylor don't try to excuse Daley and Chicago's reaction to the protesters, but they put it into context as a threat to the Mayor and the police not wanting to be seen as allowing rioting, as happened in April following King's assassination.

"It would be funny if Heaven
was just like the 11th ward
and you had to know the right people
to receive your just reward."

Cohen and Taylor's study ends with the death of Daley.  Rather than attempting to sum up his achievements or personality, Daley's works and deeds are presented through the book.  Neither do the authors try to show where the city went after Daley's death.  Daley's successor, Michael Bilandic, is not mentioned anywhere in the book.  Despite this, the book has a complete feel.

* All quotes taken from "Daley's Gone," by Steve Goodman, c1977 Big Ears Music, Inc., Red Pajamas, Inc & Cracken Music Co.  ASCAP

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