Ward Room
Covering Chicago's nine political influencers

What Richard J. Would Say About Daley

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Richard J. Daley returned to City Hall on Friday, for the first time in 35 years. It was his son’s last day in office, and one ex-mayor wanted to share the moment with another.

    The younger Mayor Daley was pounding his City Council gavel on the desk one last time when his old man walked in.

    “Richie,” the old man said. Richie looked up, startled. He recognized the hard, authoritative voice even before he saw the pale, heavy figure standing in the doorway.

    “When I died, they said I could come back for one day. I wanted it to be the day you left office, so I could see what kind of job you did. Of course, if you’d left office like me, I wouldn’t have had to come back. I’m glad you’re getting a retirement. I never got one.”

    “It wouldn’t have been you, Dad,” Richie said. “Your life was in this office.”

    “Too much of it,” the old man said. “A good leader should know when it’s time to quit. I hope you’re passing the city on to a good man.”

    “His name is Rahm Emanuel.”

    “A Jewish guy?”

    Richie nodded.

    “Well, Jake Arvey and Abe Marovitz helped put me in this office. It’s about time we had a Jewish mayor.”

    “We had two black mayors before that,” Richie said.

    The old man was silent.

    “We have a black president, too. He’s from Chicago.”

    The old man was still silent.

    “Well, let’s see what you did with the city I left you,” he said.

    Father and son walked together up Michigan Avenue, as they’d done 40 years before, except now Richie’s stride was as slow and stolid as the old man’s. Richie was proud of all he’d built but didn’t want to show up the old man by bragging. Dad would notice. Dad had always noticed every detail of life in Chicago.

    “Look at all these new office buildings,” Richard J. said, leaning back to stare at the towers crowding the sky.

    “They’re not office buildings, Dad. They’re condominiums and apartment buildings.”

    “People are living down here now?”

    “Rich people, Dad. Some of these condos sell for $10 million.”

    The old man shook his head.

    “It used to be people with that kind of money couldn’t wait to move to Lake Forest,” he said. “This was a blue-collar town. Meat packers, steelworkers.”

    “The slaughterhouses and the steel mills are gone, Dad. We got rid of the housing projects, too.”

    It was after 6 o’clock, but the Daleys squeezed past tourists, shoppers, bar-hoppers and diners.

    “It used to be lonely downtown after work hours,” the old man said. “You did a hell of a job with this city, Richie. I haven’t seen so much life here since the ’20s. Every father hopes his son will do better than he did, and you have.”

    “Dad, you’re the one who kept Chicago alive,” Richie said. “There wasn’t a single new building in the Loop from the Depression until you became mayor. All the other cities let their downtowns disappear, but you knew this was where we’d start to rebuild Chicago. Our times in office, we were one mayor, separated by 13 years. I just finished what you started.”

    When the two men arrived at 900 N. Michigan Ave., Richard J. said, “This was the doctor’s office where I died. This is where I gotta go back. It’s all shopping and condos now, like you said.”

    “Patrick and I are going to open an office here,” said Richie. “He just got out of the Army. We’re gonna bring in foreign investors for construction projects.”

    “That’s good, Richie,” the old man said. “You gotta look after your boy. You know what I always said: ‘If a man can’t put his arms around his sons and help them, then what's the world coming to?’”