Ald. Leslie Hairston’s announcement that she’s thinking of challenging Mayor Daley next year continues a long Hyde Park tradition of being a pain in the neck of Chicago’s ruling dynasty.
It goes all the way back to 1955, when Richard J. Daley took power. His Republican opponent in that first mayoral election was Robert Merriam. Like Hairston, Merriam was the liberal alderman from the 5th Ward, and a scion of the good government tradition. Merriam attacked Daley over corruption in the police department and the Democratic Party. The Democrats responded by circulating copies of Merriam’s divorce papers in Catholic neighborhoods, and spreading a rumor that his second wife was part black.
Merriam’s replacement on the City Council was Leon Despres, an old acquaintance of Leon Trotsky’s (he had spent time at the Communist’s Mexican villa.) Despres spent the next 20 years as the lone dissenter on countless 49-1 votes, speaking out for civil rights and introduced an open housing bill, which only he voted for.
“We’ve got the only black alderman on the City Council,” Hyde Parkers bragged, “and he’s white.”
Daley cut off Despres’s patronage. Hyde Parkers didn’t want patronage. Hyde Park was always independent of the Machine because Mayor Daley had nothing to offer its doctors and professors. On Election Day, winos got muscatel, poor blacks got a turkey, and white ethnics got a job as a bridge tender. The best Daley could offer a surgeon was a post in the health department, which wouldn’t pay half what he made at a hospital.
Finally, Daley just cut off Despres’ microphone whenever the alderman launched into an anti-Machine rant on the Council floor. In the eyes of Hyde Parkers, who couldn’t stand Daley’s racism and election fraud, that was a medal in the crusade for good government.
When Daley’s son ran for mayor in 1983, he was defeated by Harold Washington, who happened to live in a Hyde Park apartment. Richard M. tried again in 1989. One of his opponents in the Democratic primary was the 5th Ward alderman, Lawrence Bloom, described by the Reader as a “nice, young, idealistic Jewish lawyer from Hyde Park.” Bloom was known as the Council’s “Mr. Squeaky Clean” until he was convicted of taking $14,000 in bribes in Operation Silver Shovel.
Hairston is the latest Daley nemesis from Hyde Park. She’s so reflexively anti-Daley that she even voted against his sale of the city’s parking meters, which passed 40-5. That didn’t win her any points with the mayor, but you can bet it made Hyde Park proud.