A Giant Died...
by JJCPA, Tue Dec 19, 2006 at 04:18:21 PM EST
(cross posted at www.dailykos.com)
30 years ago, a giant of the Democratic Party died. Hizzoner, Mayor Richard J. Daley died of a heart attack at his doctor's office.
I admit, I don't know much about Mayor Daley. He died before I was even born. But, living in Chicago, I can see his legacy everywhere.
He was a giant in his time. His power extended far beyond the borders of Chicago. He had power everywhere from his home neighborhood of Bridgeport, on the city's near southwest side, to the White House. He controlled the City, the County, heck the Governor, in many ways, was no better than a partner in state politics. He exerted great influence over the national party.
However, Mayor Daley was also a symbol of so much that was very wrong in our Country and in our Party. He upheld Chicago's racial covenants that kept the City one of the country's most segregated. He was heavily responsible for the disaster that became the Chicago Housing Authority. His 'urban renewal' programs destroyed neighborhoods, communities, and concentrated poverty in vertical ghettos. And, of course, there was his heavy-handed police force. 11 people died and 48 were wounded by police as a result of the riots after Dr. Martin Luther King was assassinated. And, of course, there was the 1968 Democratic National Convention.
Daley's Machine also delivered the vote for John F. Kennedy's victory in 1960. His massive public works projects ensured that Chicago did not go into decline as Detroit did, and his budgetary skill and influence over State Government ensured that Chicago remained in the black while New York City went bankrupt (this despite a bloated payroll due to his patronage army). Daley's power and influence over state government resulted in the creation of numerous government entities to ensure that the state and suburbs underwrote the city government, even as jobs and whites fled the city during the tumultous years of Daley's reign.
Daley clearly lived by another great Chicagoan's creed. Daniel Burnham, an architect, city booster, and visionary, once said "Make no little plans; they have no magic to stir men's blood and probably will themselves not be realized. Make big plans; aim high in hope and work, remembering that a noble, logical diagram once recorded will not die." Daley was not one for little plans. When he came into office, before the Eisenhower Interstate bill was passed, Chicago had 53 miles of expressways. By the time Daley left, there were about 560 miles of expressway. Daley oversaw a downtown construction boom, a boom that saw the construction of the Prudential Building, the (later named) Daley Center, McCormick Place, the John Hancock Building, and, of course, the Sears Tower, amongst others. His efforts resulted in the construction of the O'Hare International Airport. He brought the famous Picasso statue to Chicago. And he brought the University of Illinois satellite campus to Chicago, razing a large area of Little Italy to build a brand new campus. Daley was a friend to the unions, ensuring that union labor was used in construction projects all over the city. He was a big supporter of the Great Society. He eventually worked toward desegregation of the city.
Of course, during his time in office, he confronted Martin Luther King, Jr, who came to Chicago to try to end housing segregation - unfortunately, unsuccessfully at the time, though the covenants eventually ended. He battled with Jesse Jackson, most notably at the 1972 Democratic National Convention, where he and his delegation were turned away in favor of Jackson's delegation. And, of course, there was the corruption. While Daley himself was never successfully tied to corruption, he turned a blind eye to corruption in City Hall. He stood idly by while the downtown 1st ward was overrun by the Outfit (Mafia). His Machine dominated Chicago electoral politics for decades, not being broken until Harold Washington became Chicago's first black mayor, and his eventual victory over the City Council in a power struggle.
His legacy can be seen throughout the city. O'Hare, the expressways, the University of Illinois, the recently demolished high-rise public housing projects, the Daley Center, McCormick Place, the skyline, the CTA, and beyond. He was the Last Boss, the last autocratic mayor. He was a power-broker. Of course, his most noticable legacy is his son, who is no where near the mayor that Richard J. Daley was.
Whatever you think of Mayor Daley, he was a giant in the Democratic Party, in Illinois, and in the United States.
As a post-script, if you have a few minutes, click below and take a look at Mike Royko's elegy for Daley, written 30 years ago...