With reference to Mike Royko's Boss: Richard J. Daley of Chicago, how did Mayor Richard Daley maintain his tight control over the city of Chicago and Cook County?
The late Chicago reporter and columnist Mike Royko was what one could consider “old school.” He covered Chicago politics, a notoriously corrupt and vicious form of politics, for many years. His 1971 biography of the quintessential Chicago politician, the long-serving and enormously powerful mayor of that city, Boss: Richard J. Daley of Chicago, is, as it could only be, a pointed description of what it took for one person, Richard J. Daley, to serve at the pinnacle of Cook County politics for 20 years, and what it took was a combination of patronage and payback, the former to help allies and friends while adding to both categories, the latter to exact a measure of vengeance against anybody who sought to oppose him. In other words, it was a bit of a ‘carrot-and-stick’ approach to politics and governing that was hardly unique to Chicago and Cook County but which was most vibrantly manifested in those particular locales, and Richard Daley was the master. Royko’s biography is replete with discussions of the role of patronage in maintaining control of Chicago, and the late reporter’s discussion of Daley’s predecessor in office, Martin Kennelly, served to illuminate the manner in which Daley would come to control Chicago politics for so many years. Kennelly, who served as mayor from 1947 to 1955, was popular, but not known for being particularly effective. He was neither the reformer his supporters had envisioned, but neither did he make matters worse with respect to corruption and incompetence in city government. At one point, Royko quotes a Chicago Police Department captain as stating about the then-incumbent mayor who had earned his fortune in the furniture moving business before the city council, “[t]he trouble with Mayor Kennelly is that the only thing he ever learned in the moving business is never to lift the heavy end.” Kennelly, Royko notes, made insufficient use of the patronage system that was key to controlling the city and to advancing one’s agenda. As Royko wrote, this was “deadly for a political machine that lives through patronage.”
The flip side to patronage, and the “stick” wielded by Daley, was the threat: The threat to withhold lucrative contracts for city projects and the threat to ignore pressing needs in communities that failed to support him politically. Royko’s biography makes clear that threats were a part of the natural order of business, and that Daley was adroit at issuing ultimatums that helped preserve his and his allies’ positions.
Royko’s biography is, as any good biography should be, a study of context as well as a depiction of the life of its subject. The context in which Richard Daley served as mayor was one of endemic corruption in city government, including in the police department, a major problem about which the mayor did nothing. The police under such a regime serve almost as a praetorian guard for the master that enriches it, and Daley’s control over the city owned more than a little to his willingness to countenance police corruption.
In conclusion, Mayor Daley survived for so many years at the pinnacle of Chicago and Cook County politics because he played the game as much of that city expected of a strong leader. Chicago is series of political fiefdoms, with aldermen and councilors wielding power within their respective fiefdoms. To succeed as king of Cook County for so many years, Daley had to prove adept at manipulating these officials through the system of patronage and threats that he mastered.