WHO'S THE BOSS? RICHARD DALEY
AND THE CHICAGO POLITICAL MACHINE
Richard Daley v. Robert Merriam, Mayor, Chicago, 1955
In the movie The Untouchables, which is about fighting crime during prohibition-era Chicago, the Sean Connery character turns to Kevin Costner (Eliot Ness) and explains, "They put one of yours in the hospital, you put one of theirs in the morgue! That's the Chicago way!" Although the Daley era in Chicago didn't involve sanctioning murder and gangland violence, it involved pretty much everything else.
Chicago is a tough city, and through most of the 20th century, it was run by a political machine the likes of which this country has rarely seen. There have been lots of big-time political bosses in America's large cities—George Washington Plunkitt of Tammany Hall in New York in the 1800s and, more recently, Marion Barry of Washington, D.C. But for pure political muscle and unashamed strong-arming of every official in the way, none match Mayor Richard J. Daley, who ran Chicago from 1955 until his death in 1976.
His election in 1955 set the stage for a brutal twenty-year reign. But first he had to dispense with his opponents in the election. His victory over his Democratic primary opponents and then Republican nominee Robert Merriam is remembered as a vicious struggle for the heart and soul of Chicago.
Daley was born and bred in the city's politically powerful Eleventh Ward, which produced not only Daley but the three mayors preceding him. The machine system that Chicago's power brokers used to run city services, elect their preferred candidates, and intimidate potential adversaries was brutal. Either you produced, or you were replaced.