Richard Joseph Daley, the grandson of Irish immigrants, was born in the Bridgeport area of Chicago on May 15, 1902. He was graduated from De La Salle Institute in 1918 and worked in the stockyards for several years before studying law. While studying, he worked as a clerk in the Cook County Controller's office. In 1936 Daley married Eleanor Guilfoyle, and the couple had three daughters and four sons. One son, Richard M. Daley, served in the Illinois Senate and as Cook County state's attorney before being elected mayor of Chicago in 1989.
Daley held several elected posts before becoming mayor. He was state representative from 1936 to 1938, state senator from 1939 to 1946, county deputy controller from 1946 to 1949, and county clerk from 1950 to 1955. He also served as state revenue director, an appointed position, under Governor Adlai Stevenson. In these positions, Daley gained a keen understanding of government and a mastery of budgets and revenue sources.
Cook County Democratic party chairman Richard J. Daley, 53, wins the Chicago mayoralty race and begins a 21-year career as mayor of the second largest U.S. city. Daley, the archetypal city "boss," served as mayor from 1955 to 1976. He was one of the last big city bosses. As a Democrat, Daley wielded a great deal of power in this largely Democratic city. He headed a powerful political machine that effectively dominated much of Chicago. He governed by the spoils system, and he delivered many local votes for Democratic presidential candidates. His support was often sought by state and national leaders. Daley gained national notoriety in 1968 when Chicago police brutally subdued demonstrators at the Democratic National Convention. Daley was an important figure in the national Democratic Party.
As the mayor of Chicago until his death in 1976 and as chairman of Chicago's Cook County Democratic Central Committee from 1953 to 1976, Richard Joseph Daley was one of the most powerful politicians in the United States. He easily won reelection to office in five successive campaigns from 1959 to 1975, and during his mayoralty Chicago was the scene of an unprecedented building boom, improvement in city services, and urban renewal programs. Daley ran Chicago when federal government was pouring billions into highways, public transit, housing for poor. He used it to advantage, mounting massive urban renewal and transportation projects. Neighborhoods resisted, but Daley prevailed. He was a builder, developing O'Hare Airport, public housing projects, University of Illinois campus and McCormick Place. A machine politician in the old tradition, Daley will use patronage to control the Illinois state vote and obtain tax breaks and zoning-law favors for real estate interests and others that support him.
Although Daley remained popular and influential during his several terms, his administration was marred by a number of political scandals, by civil-rights disturbances, and by a riot at the 1968 Democratic convention. Daley was among John F. Kennedy's key supporters in the 1960 presidential election, providing him with the delegates who helped him win a first-ballot nomination and a massive Chicago vote that delivered Illinois for Kennedy in his narrow victory over Richard M. Nixon. Daley hosted the 1968 Democratic National Convention at President Lyndon B. Johnson's request. Daley's national reputation was seriously tarnished as the result of violence between anti-Vietnam War demonstrators and Chicago police. Ironically, Daley had been a private critic of the Victnam War and had urged Johnson to withdraw U.S. forces. In 1972, Daley was dealt another blow when the Democratic National Convention refused to seat his Illinois delegation because of noncompliance with new selection rules. In 1976, Jimmy Carter said that Daley's endorsement clinched his first-ballot nomination for the presidency, but Daley failed to deliver Illinois for Carter in the election. Controlling 30,000 patronage jobs and savvy ward organization, he delivered elections for himself and Democratic allies.
Blacks were a major component of the Daley coalition, providing him with his winning margin in his two closest mayoral elections. But his relationship with them deteriorated in the turbulent hours after Dr. Martin Luther King's assassination when Daley issued a shoot-to-kill order in the wake of riots and looting on the city's West Side. He later resented the challenge to his authority as party chairman by black Democratic politicians.
Race riots erupt at Baltimore, Boston, Detroit, Kansas City, Newark, Washington, D.C., and scores of other cities including Chicago following the King assassination. In 1968 protesters staged a demonstration against the Vietnam War in Chicago during the Democratic presidential convention. Daley ordered aggressive police action to quash the protest. Chicago's Mayor Daley gives police "shoot to kill" orders to put down the rioting, 46 deaths result across the country, 55,000 federal troops and National Guardsmen are called out, 21,270 arrests made. The ensuing violence by police led to several days of rioting.
Even The Boss, Mayor Richard J. Daley, wasn't exempt from the FBI's suspicion of being a communist sympathizer, a tool of the mob or an accommodator to civil rights leaders. Under a federal Freedom of Information Act request, the Chicago Tribune obtained 300 pages of Daley's file compiled by J. Edgar Hoover's FBI. The reports span Daley's career from state senator in the 1940s until his death in 1976, the newspaper said in Sunday's editions. The file on Daley, Chicago's mayor from 1955 through 1976, contains a wealth of innuendoes and guilt by association. None apparently rose beyond the level of gossip. "It was typical of Hoover to try to just gather any information he could about powerful politicians as a way of just making sure he maintained his own seat of power," said Ron Kessler, author of "The FBI: Inside the World's Most Powerful Law Enforcement Agency." "It was really sort of a secret police that Hoover operated." The file notes an association between Daley and possible communist elements as an Illinois state senator. It cites an invitation Daley received to speak at an American Youth for Democracy gathering in January 1944 in Chicago. The invitation, which Daley declined, was issued at the instigation of Robert Travis, referred to in the file as a "reported communist." When Daley first ran for mayor, the Communist Party of Illinois "issued instructions to members that Daley must be elected for the Party to retain its strength in labor." The file also alleges organized crime figures found Daley sympathetic to them, at least before he became mayor. Later, mobsters like Sam Giancana complained about Daley's weakening of the ward boss system, which the mob relied on for political favors. Informants told the FBI of Daley's efforts to reach out to black civil rights leaders, including Matin Luther King Jr. In the riotous aftermath of King's assassination, the FBI reported extensively about Daley's "shoot to kill" order aimed at arsonists, a stand the FBI praised.
For twenty-one years, Daley presided over city government and the Democratic organization in his dual role as mayor and party chairman. He cultivated alliances with organized labor and industry that contributed to Chicago's renaissance at a time when other northern industrial cities were declining. He helped build the world's largest airport and tallest office building, a lakefront convention center, a governmental complex that would later bear his name, a Chicago campus for the state university, expressways, and mass transit lines. He is known by many as the best mayor Chicago may ever have.
A series of court rulings against political patronage diminished Daley's clout in his final term, and his political organization declined further in the decade after his death. Chicago's Mayor Richard Daley dies at age 84 after more than two decades of dominating Illinois politics. He died in Chicago of a heart attack on Dec. 20, 1976.