• U.S.

Chicago and the Legacy of the Daley Dynasty

6 minute read
Dawn Reiss / Chicago

Correction appended: Sept.9, 2010

With his announcement that he would not seek a seventh term, Mayor Richard M. Daley gut-punched Chicago and now the city doesn’t quite know where it will turn to next. The stunning “personal decision” was made over the course of months. “I’ve always believed that every person, especially public officials, must understand when it’s time to move on,” said Richard M. Daley, standing by his wife Maggie who has been battling breast cancer for years. “For me, that time is now.”

Just like his father Richard J. Daley, mayor of Chicago from 1955 to his death in 1976, who politicked on behalf of Lyndon Johnson and John F. Kennedy, he leaves an enormous legacy. The current mayor assisted then Senator Barack Obama in his historic run as the second Illinois member of Congress to become President of the United States. (The first was Abraham Lincoln, who was in the House of Representatives.) Says U.S. Representative Mike Quigley, a former Cook County Commissioner: “As powerful as the presidents of the United States are, they have depended on the mayors of Chicago, especially Lyndon Johnson and President Kennedy, to get critical votes in Congress. Usually it is the other way around. They have played extraordinary roles.” Daley, 68, will surpass his father as the Windy City’s longest-serving mayor on December 26 this year.

(From TIME’s Archives: See our 1963 cover story on Chicago Mayor Richard J. Daley.)

There were five mayors between father and son, including a couple of firsts (Jane Byrne, the first woman; and the first African American, Harold Washington). Prior to being elected Chicago’s mayor, Daley served as Illinois Senator, the Cook County State’s Attorney and Democratic committeeman in Chicago’s 11th Ward. After a failed mayoral bid in 1983, Daley ran a successful presidential-style campaign to become Chicago’s mayor in 1989. The names that helped him in that run — and later participated in his administration — would echo into the Obama presidency: David Axelrod and Rahm Emanuel, who both worked on the campaign, and Valerie Jarrett, who was Daley’s Deputy Chief of Staff. Even Michelle Obama worked in Daley’s City Hall as Assistant Commisioner of Planning and Development. “He ran a presidential-style campaign on a mayoral level. It was really different from his father, who led torchlight parades and rally speeches to Democratic precinct workers to gather the party faithful,” says Dick Simpson, a former Chicago Alderman and political science professor at University of Illinois at Chicago.

(See TIME’s photoessay “Chicago’s Daleys: History of a Dynasty”)

The younger Daley transformed the Democratic political patronage machine that his father had set up ward by ward. “What the father built up the son tore down,” Quigley said. “For as much talk as there is about the Chicago machine, it betrayed him several times. This Daley tore down the machine [his father] built.” Instead of precinct and ward captains getting patronage jobs — as his father had doled out — the current Mayor Daley built other coalitions by outsourcing and privatizing city positions to international businesses, technocrats and other politicians, allowing him to circumvent the 1983 Chicago court ruling that prohibited using political patronage in the job hiring process. And so, despite the ruling, says Cook County Clerk David Orr, “Chicago is still an old machine town where there are insider deals and a favored few get the contracts.”

Both Daley and his father helped rebuild Chicago. Richard J. Daley helped re-create a city that was falling into disrepair in a post-World War II era, by rebuilding the downtown Loop, a Skyway expressway system. Like his father, Daley transformed downtown Chicago from a manufacturing-based economy to a service and global capital of the Midwest. The visible legacy of the younger Daley is tremendous. Called “Mayor Daisy” by some for beautifying the city, he added flowers and planters and cleaned up the streets in Chicago’s downtown Loop, renewing its appeal to a whole new generation. “There’s no disputing the fact that he has made Chicago a world class city,” says Alderman Sandi Jackson, who is married to Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr. “He made this one of the greenest and most aesthetically pleasing cities in the world. It’s the first thing visitors say, how beautiful, incredibly clean and efficient this city is.”

(See 10 things to do in Chicago in 24 hours.)

During his tenure Daley oversaw the creation of the 1,500-acre Millennium Park with its Frank Gehry-designed Pritzker Pavilion, public gardens, spouting water fountains and enormous shiny mirrored “Bean” sculpture designed by Anish Kapoor. He created incentives for Hollywood studios to film on Chicago streets and used $86 million in tax increment financing (TIF) to refurbish dilapidated buildings, turning them into world-class theater spaces. He converted the underutilized Navy Pier into a 50-acre tourist attraction with Ferris Wheel, Tiffany glass window gallery, children’s museum, a slew of touristy shops, restaurants, bars and boat cruises. He rerouted Chicago’s scenic Lake Shore Drive to create a walkable Museum Campus and helped spur growth on Chicago’s near southside by moving from his Bridgeport home to a condo in the South Loop. He tried to improve Chicago’s struggling school system and proactively supported green building initiatives, immigration and gay rights.

(See why TIME named Richard M. Daley one of America’s best mayors.)

But support for Daley has dipped, most recently to an all-time low of 35%. Although political observers say Daley would likely have won reelection, there have been mounting fiscal problems and growing public discontent. The “Daley fatigue” comes after Chicago’s failed 2016 Olympics bid, the highest city sales tax in the country — which was voted down from 10.25% to 9.75% in July — and the privatization of parking meters, a 75-year consignment that has led to skyrocketing rates for 36,000 meters across the city. Meanwhile, the $1.2 billion the city took in for the lease has been used up. “The parking meters were the tip of the iceberg,” says Simpson. “There were a series of setbacks that caused public opinion to change.” Those include a number of scandals and problems with public housing, education, crime — and a budget shortfall of nearly $700 million. Whoever becomes the next Mayor of Chicago will inherit a glorious legacy — and a lot of money troubles.

Correction: The original version of this story said Obama was the second Senator from Illinois to become President of the United States, the first being Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln was a member of the House of Representatives.

Read “Rahm Emanuel ‘Thinking Over’ Chicago Mayoral Bid.”

See TIME’s Pictures of the Week.

More Must-Reads from TIME

Contact us at letters@time.com