(Literary Masterpieces, Volume 17)

Himself! The Life and Times of Mayor Richard J. Daley is neither recommended for hard-core Daley haters nor for those who would ask for a completely balanced account of “the life and times” of this most controversial of American mayors. While purporting to be “even-handed,” author Eugene Kennedy, professor of psychology at Loyola University in Chicago, actually is a Daley enthusiast; his vision of the man about whom he writes says as much.

To Kennedy, Mayor Daley was best seen as an Irish chieftain along the lines of mythical Cuchulainn, surrounded by fanatically devoted warriors and retainers who would do virtually anything for their strong-willed lord. As chieftain, Daley loved his tribe (Chicagoans), his native soil (Chicago), made all the big decisions for that tribe and “native land,” yet never forgot from whence he had come (the humble Bridgeport area in central Chicago) or those humble folk who helped him become chief. Although perhaps overused throughout the book, Kennedy’s image of Daley-as-Chieftain does hold water: after all, Daley was all of those things that made up the image. Born to parents having real ties with Ireland and living in the midst of Irish-Americans on the South Side, Daley learned to trust members of his “tribe,” later looking to them for both emotional and political support and giving them high offices in City Hall as mayor. Moreover, Chieftain Daley gave his total allegiance to the city’s Irish Catholic groups and promoted their interests.

To be sure, Daley was almost born to the office of mayor, having been involved in the political infighting of a city known since he was a young man for ferocious political struggles. His inspired leadership established real emotional links with white ethnic Chicagoans, and created a sense of community among peoples of many backgrounds. While he often labored mightily with the English language (to the delight of the “North Shore liberals”), what he said was manna to most Chicagoans—a fact attested by the present-day way many conversations about the city begin: “I remember what late Mayor Daley used to say about that. . . .”

The Mayor knew all there was to know about stirring up his constituents at party rallies; after the parades, food, musical salutes, and the rest of the introductory hoopla, he would let the people know he was with them, rather than the bank presidents downtown, by talking about their neighborhoods, their children, and their values: homelife, religion, and patriotism. (And yet he would not find it difficult to address the bank presidents the following day, letting them know he supported their enterprises.) As Kennedy observed, Daley really did believe in what he told the people of his city, and his belief in traditional values made him Chicago’s most-loved father figure. If Chicago is what poet Carl Sandburg termed the “City of the Big Shoulders,” then Daley could be called the “Mayor of the Big Shoulders.”

A thoroughgoing pragmatist who could easily lapse into sentimentality, a big city boss who ruled absolutely yet fairly, a backroom dealer who was deeply religious, Daley was, as Kennedy points out, one of those complicated and wholly unique politicians who wielded real power yet had the nearly unanimous consent of the governed. In short, he was something of an Irish chieftain and something of a twentieth century American political dynamo.

Unfortunately, Kennedy pushes the Daley-as-Chieftain notion too hard and too long, making one wish he would concentrate more on Daley-the-Chicagoan or Daley-the-Midwesterner rather...

(The entire section is 1474 words.)


(Literary Masterpieces, Volume 17)

Best Sellers. XXXVIII, July, 1978, p. 118.

Critic. XXXVII, August, 1978, p. 2.

Saturday Evening Post. CCL, September, 1978, p. 90.