Father and son
In 1955 I was two years old and a guy named Daley was elected mayor of Chicago. He was Da Mare until his death on December 20, 1976. Just over 21 years. In 1989 I was 36 years old. A guy named Daley was elected mayor. He will retire this year after over 21 years, bypassing his father by five months.
For over 42 years a guy named Daley has been mayor of Chicago. We will be seeing the inevitable stories about comparisons between father and son, and other forms of nostalgic musings from the media.
The father took over the reigns of power when urban America had nowhere to go but up. The son took over when urban America was past decline. The father was a firm believer in power politics. The son believed in the power of coalition politics.
Both men had their merits and their foibles. They were easy to poke fun at or get mad at. At the end of the day they had one thing in common. They were in charge. They led, they ran, they managed. For better or worse.
Father and son knew the value of practical politics. Neither were raging liberals or conservatives. They were pragmatists. It was never a matter of what you thought, it was a matter of what you did and who you knew. And you better get something done.
They were doers. They both did whatever it took to accomplish things. Maybe they did some harm along the way. But, that is the human condition. No one is perfect. Not one of us can say we are angels or demons. In the end they both loved Chicago and did what they thought was best. Sometimes what they thought best was not the best decision.
They governed in different times and different political worlds. But one thing remains clear. Father and son went through turbulent times. Both held the city together and refused to let it fail. When New York was crumbling and nearly bankrupt, Chicago thrived. While Detroit turned into the equivalent of a third world country, Chicago survived. We are still standing, even though things are being held together with baling wire and bubble gum.
Their real problem was speed. Both were fast to build, improve, beautify, and create an urban oasis. Move. Get it done. Now. Both were slow to solve problems. Problems they were aware of. Problems were only solved when scandals forced them to do something. Things went along merrily until the next scandal.
Father and son were brash, bold, and tried to execute big ideas. The father had buildings erected and built the most powerful Democratic machine in history; a power felt on the national level. The son oversaw a modern building boom, brought new kinds of businesses to Chicago and built a smaller, more efficient machine focused on political, racial, ethnic, social, and cultural coalitions. Both men worked well with presidents and powerhouses of both parties. That is how things get done.
We will never know which man was greater. Which did the most good or the most harm. That will be left to historians. Father and son shared equal amounts of praise, condemnation, and ridicule. Both were temperamental to the point of apoplectic rage. When they laughed- cackled- others laughed too. With them and at them.
For a total of forty six years a guy named Daley has been the mayor of Chicago. That in and of itself is a major accomplishment. For better or worse.