Being the Boss: Richard M. Daley Runs a Seemingly Unstoppable Political Machine That's Figured out How to Win Big Support among Chicago's Black and Latino Majority. but What Has He Done for Them?

Article excerpt

In 1993, Madeline Haithcock was appointed alderman of Chicago's 2nd Ward, a mostly Black area that included up-and-coming neighborhoods on the south end of the Loop. The position was open because Bobby Rush, a former Black Panther and longtime social activist, had just been elected to Congress, and as the ward's reigning political figure, he had dibs on picking a successor. Haithcock wasn't well known, but the choice made political sense. She had proven her commitment by volunteering for Rush's ward organization; she was considered pleasant and pliant; and she was African American--all of which seemingly made her the perfect guardian of Rush's home base.

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Rush had some reason to be protective. Richard M. Daley, four years after his election as mayor, was successfully courting--critics would say co-opting--some of the city's most respected Black leaders, offering city services and contracts to woo ministers, heads of community organizations and even other aldermen, who not long before had sworn they were committed members of the city's independent movement.

No one had to remind Rush that the new mayor was the son and namesake of the old Boss Daley; it was national news, confirmation of a political dynasty in the third-largest city in the United States. But for Chicago's progressives, returning to the rule of another Daley was an unmitigated disaster, a sign that the racially divided city had again reverted to an era when a select few white men, with help from their friends and lackeys, ran the show. Rush, on the other hand, wasn't going to be bought off or cut out; he would control a slice of the city. He would position himself to counter the Daley forces.

But within two years, his plan backfired.

Haithcock resented Rush's attempts to control the ward and to control her--she claimed he ordered her to fax him copies of her daily schedules--and they had a public falling out. In 1995, Rush's sister ran against Haithcock. And when Haithcock turned to Daley for help, the mayor delivered, dispatching city workers to the ward to convince voters to punch the ballot for Haithcock. She won.

A decade later, Haithcock's ward is one of the fastest-developing parts of the city, and she has become a reliable Daley vote in council meetings. Rush doesn't say much about city issues.

And Daley now wins big majorities in Black and Latino wards, just as he does across the rest of the city.

Haithcock said she knows why. "He's different from his father," she said. "It's a different time."

Boss the First and Second

For a while this spring, every passing day seemed to bring another commemoration of the 21-year mayoral reign of Richard J. Daley. The first Boss was sworn in 50 years ago this April, and to honor the anniversary, elected officials, journalists, historians and political scientists in Chicago gathered to reflect on his leadership.

As is customary at those kinds of events, only the highlights were recounted: Daley won the presidency for John F. Kennedy; Lyndon Johnson consulted him regularly; and well into the 1970s, no one would think to make a run for the White House without trying to win his endorsement. At home, Daley's name and face were plastered on signs and public works projects across Chicago, which grew into a world-class city because of his vigor for building highways, skyscrapers and convention centers. Maybe Richard J. Daley ruled Chicago like a satrap, but at least his city "worked."

Far fewer observers brought up the stuff that wasn't quite as flattering, such as the fact that, between 1955 and 1976, the first Mayor Daley evolved into the nation's preeminent symbol of northern segregation. In 1966, he stood down Martin Luther King Jr., insisting that Chicago didn't have any ghettos and implying that the civil rights leader should stay down South where he belonged. Two years later, Daley ordered police to "shoot to kill" when parts of the city exploded in riots after King's assassination. …