Richard J Daley

Fortieth Mayor of the City of Chicago (1955-76)

By far the most famous name in Chicago politics, Richard J. Daley originated from a poor background. Born in Bridgeport on May 15, 1902, Daley rose up the public service ladder very slowly.1 Once he hit the top, however, there was no looking back.

In 1936 Daley was elected State representative under the Republican label, (which he quickly changed), went on to be State senator, county clerk, and the Democratic political leader for the 11th Ward.2 He was known early on as the leader of ethnic politics for the City. In 1953 he sought the Democratic Party chair, ultimately receiving it when his opponent was killed in a car crash.3 Once established in this seat, he moved to consolidate complete control over the party. With Mayor Kennelly falling with the public, Daley defeated him for the nomination in the 1955 mayoral primary. From there he went on to defeat Republican Robert Merrison in the general election on April 20, 1955.4

Daley took charge of the city council, and for what he was able to do for the city in the first half of his career as mayor (1955-63), he is regarded by many as the best mayor in city history.5 Friends and enemies alike had to admit that Daley knew practically everything about how the government operated, and was able to use this knowledge to attack the status quo and incompetence wherever he would find it.6 Reelection in 1959 came easy, as he defeated Republican Tim Sheehan. This term, however, would become overshadowed by race and scandal.7

It was racial politics that would end up influencing the rest of Daley’s political career. The 1963 race saw Daley up against Ben Adamowski. It turned ugly when Adamowski attacked Daley for doing too much for the poor, especially poor blacks.8 Although Daley won, he was the victim of a white backlash, losing many white ethnic wards. It turned him more conservative on racial and other urban issues. This was sufficient enough to win him reelection in ‘67, ‘71, and ‘75.9 Only death was able to remove Daley from office in 1976.

  1. Green, Paul M. “Mayor Richard J. Daley and the Politics of Good Government.“ The Mayors - The Chicago Political Tradition. 3rd ed. Ed. Paul M. Green, Melvin G. Holli. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 2005. Pg. 147
  2. Green, 148
  3. Green, 151
  4. Green, 152
  5. Green, 153
  6. Green, 154
  7. Green, 157
  8. Green, 158
  9. Green, 158
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