Daley's Commerce: William Daley Seems to Fit Ron Brown's Shoes - a Master of 'Pinstripe Patronage.'

By Ireland, Doug | The Nation, February 3, 1997 | Go to article overview

Daley's Commerce: William Daley Seems to Fit Ron Brown's Shoes - a Master of 'Pinstripe Patronage.'


Ireland, Doug, The Nation


On the day Bill Clinton announced the appointment of William Daley as his new Secretary of Commerce, Washington Post pundit David Broder enthused on CNN that Daley was a "terrific" appointment because he was a "replication of Ron Brown," an assessment to which Baltimore Sun columnist and TV growling head Jack Germond instantly belched agreement. There in a televised nutshell is everything that's wrong with the source-coddling Inside the-Beltway press corps: Brown, the pricey corporate lobbyist and former Democratic National Committee chairman, was under investigation by a special prosecutor for multiple money crimes and saved from almost certain indictment for his boodling by the plane crash in Croatia that ended his life. And it was Brown who turned Commerce into an adjunct of the Clinton fundraising machine, stuffing it with cash-collecting D.N.C. apparatchiks and fundraisers like John Huang--all of which led to the current and ever-widening scandal over Clinton campaign and Democratic soft-money contributions.

So, if Bill Daley really is Brown's replication, how can anyone who believes in ethics in government find his selection "terrific"? Daley's spectacular fainting spell at his appointment press conference dominated the establishment media's coverage. Scant attention went to his background as a scion of Chicago's First Family: son of the late Mayor Richard Daley, who for nearly a quarter-century ruled the Windy City and the legendarily corrupt Cook County Democratic machine with an iron fist; and younger brother of current Mayor "Richie" Daley, under whose aegis columnists jokingly refer to the scandal-plagued seat of government as "City Haul" and who was described last year as a "benign dictator" by the Chicago Tribune (which added that Richie "is by deed and belief, if not by public word, a Republican").

Bill Daley is, in fact, his brother the Mayor's former campaign manager, chief fundraiser and closest adviser, a highly paid lawyer-lobbyist who is a master of what Chicagoans call "pinstripe patronage," a walking conflict of interest and behind the-scenes dealmaker who leaves few fingerprints.

An affable, nattily dressed charmer whose sentences usually parse, Bill is often contrasted with his rumpled, dour, volatile and tongue-tied brother. Chicago conventional wisdom labels Bill "the smart Daley." The truth is somewhat different: Richie is not all that dumb, and Bill is not all that smart. Bill is a partner in Mayer, Brown & Platt--Chicago's largest law firm--but "someone with Bill's academic record would never have been made a partner if not for the Daley name and clout," says a Chicago legal insider.

Even in the undistinguished halls of John Marshall Law School, Bill fared so poorly that his father got him a tutor; when Bill finally graduated, the late Mayor rewarded his son's tutor with a seat on the judicial bench. Rob Warden, former editor of Chicago Lawyer, says that "the late Mel Lewis, Bill's professor at John Marshall, told me that `If brains were gold and the Pacific Ocean cost only a penny. Bill could buy approximately a cupful.'" Bill passed his bar exam only on his third try.

Bill Daley's career began with a forgery and a fix involving his state license to sell insurance. State insurance examiner Robert Wills was convicted of perjury in 1974 for having lied to a grand jury when he denied altering young Bill's answers to the test for the license (an exam Bill had failed the year before). Testimony at Wills's trial revealed that he had forged Bill's test answers at the behest of State Senate minority leader Cecil Partee, a Cook County Democratic machine stalwart. When Wills was fired by the state insurance department, Partee secured him an appointment as the custodian of state archives. At Wills's trial, a treasury Department handwriting expert testified that answers had been written by two different people, and Daley admitted that at least seven of the answers were not in his handwriting. …

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