The Chicago Way – Richard J. Daley



Richard Joseph Daley (May 15, 1902–December 20, 1976) served for 21 years as the undisputed Democratic boss of Chicago and is considered by historians to be the “last of the big city bosses.” He played a major role in the history of the Democratic Party, especially with his close connections to the Kennedy family.

Daley had two bases of power, serving as a Committeeman and Chairman of the Cook County Democratic Central Committee from 1953, and as mayor of Chicago from 1955. He used both positions until his death in 1976 to dominate party and civic affairs.  Because Chicago dominates Cook County and Cook County (the second most populous county in the nation) dominates the rest of the state, he is generally perceived to have been more politically powerful than the Illinois governors.

Daley’s well-organized Democratic political machine was often accused of corruption and though many of Daley’s subordinates were jailed, Daley himself was never formally charged with any crimes.  In January 1973, former Illinois Racing Board Chairman William S. Miller testified that Daley had “induced” him to bribe Illinois Governor Otto Kerner, who was convicted and sent to prison.

In 1972, Democratic nominee George McGovern threw Daley out of the Democratic National Convention (replacing his delegation with one led by Jesse Jackson). McGovern later made amends by putting Daley loyalist (and Kennedy in-law) Sargent Shriver on his ticket.  (Sargent Shriver is the father of Maria Shriver)

Daley was the prototypical machine politician, and his Chicago Democratic Machine, based on control of thousands of patronage positions, was instrumental in bringing a narrow victory in Illinois for John F. Kennedy in 1960.  Kennedy won Illinois by only 9,000 votes, yet won Cook County by 450,000 votes, with some Chicago precincts going to Kennedy by over 10 to 1 margins.  Many Daley opponents allege that Mayor Daley, JFK, and LBJ stole the 1960 election by stuffing ballot boxes in Texas and rigging the vote in Chicago.

Daley at the 1969 Convention

Daley at the 1968 Convention

During the rioting that followed the 1968 assassination of Martin Luther King, Daley told the press he had ordered the police to “shoot to kill” arsonists and to shoot to maim or cripple anyone looting.  Later he denied giving that order. 

Daley is blamed for the “police riot” that took place outside the Democratic convention that summer.   At the convention itself, when Senator Abraham A. Ribicoff (D-Conn) referred to “Gestapo tactics in the streets of Chicago” an angry Daley tried to shout down the speaker.

Daley’s chief means of attaining electoral success was his reliance on local precinct captains, who marshaled and delivered votes on a neighborhood-by-neighborhood basis. Many of these precinct captains held patronage jobs with the city, mostly minor posts at low pay.  Michelle Obama’s father, Fraser Robinson III, was a precinct captain in the Daley machine.

Each ward had a ward leader in charge of the precinct captains, some of whom were corrupt. The notorious First Ward (encompassing downtown, which had many businesses but few residents) was tied to the local mafia or crime syndicate, but Daley’s own ward was supposedly clean and his personal honesty was never questioned successfully, primarily because he controlled all levels of the government and media that could have questioned him.

In 1966, Martin Luther King, Jr. confronted the Daley machine when King attempted to take the Civil Rights Movement north and encourage racial integration of Chicago’s neighborhoods, such as Marquette Park. Daley called for a “summit conference” and signed an agreement with King and other community leaders to foster open housing. The agreement was without legal standing and ignored. King’s efforts in Chicago were largely unsuccessful, and his failure in Chicago was a serious setback for the Civil Rights Movement.

Richard M. Daley, the current and second longest-serving mayor of Chicago, is his son.

(all sources from Wikipedia)


4 Responses to The Chicago Way – Richard J. Daley

  1. So if Obama has tried to run his campaigns against the Daley machine, he can’t be as corrupt as we think, no? Just asking.

  2. johninca says:

    Can I change my user name to myiqwhatdifferencedoesitmake?

  3. myiq2xu says:


    Obama started out organizing on behalf of Harold Washington. After Washinton died, Obama began developing ties to the Daley machine.

  4. Nijma says:

    There is an anecdote about the Queen of England visiting Chicago. “Is Mayor Daley still alive and does he still run Chicago?” was the question. The answer was “No, and yes.”

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