During the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago, Illinois, Jewish Senator Abraham Ribicoff stood at the podium and declared: “With George McGovern, we wouldn’t have Gestapo tactics on the streets of Chicago!”
These “Gestapo tactics” were the Chicago police beating a group of protestors led by Jewish revolutionary Abbie Hoffman. Ribicoff’s words were directed toward Chicago Mayor Richard J. Daley, the leader of the Democratic Party.
Daley stood and yelled back: “Fuck you, you Jew son of a bitch, you lousy motherfucker, go home!”
Daley was the last of the Irish Catholic mayors known as the “big city bosses”. He built a political “machine” of Catholic followers that dominated Chicago.
Daley was tough, strong, disciplined, and too stubborn to be pushed around by anyone. He was born in Chicago’s Irish community in Bridgeport and a devoted member of the Nativity of Our Lord parish.
Bridgeport was a working-class Irish-Catholic neighborhood in a city run by wealthy Protestants. Although some of his wealthy neighbors relocated to the suburbs into more “prestigious” neighborhoods, Daley never moved out of his neighborhood and spent his lifetime defending it.
In “American Pharaoh”, Jewish author Adam Cohen wrote that “despite all sense and logic, Daley’s family, and later Daley himself, remained intensely loyal to their small Irish-Catholic village.”
Later in life, after he had taken control of Chicago, Daley spoke at an Irish dinner in the Conrad Hilton Hotel. Daley said, “I can’t help thinking of your mothers and fathers and grandparents who would never have been allowed in this hotel.” The lace-curtain Irish crowd laughed, but Daley did not. He replied, “I want to offer a prayer for those departed souls who could never get into the Conrad Hilton.”
Daley attended Nativity of Our Lord Catholic School and earned decent grades, but was not particularly gifted. His teacher, Sister Gabriel later claimed he was “a very serious boy, a very studious boy. He played when he played. He worked when he worked. And he prayed when he prayed.” One classmate remembered him as “a hard worker . . . maybe a little above average.”
In 1916, Daley continued his Catholic education in High School at the De La Salle Institute. He later claimed this was the place that taught him “to wear a clean shirt and tie and put a shine on your shoes and be confident to face the world.” As mayor, Daley often made national top ten-best-dressed lists. He rarely appeared in public in anything less formal than a suit, and almost never removed the jacket.
Daley worked after school and on the weekends. He spent much of his limited free time at the Hamburg Athletic Club, where he joined a youth gang that defended his neighborhood from the blacks. His gang participated in the Chicago Race Riots of 1919, while “white gangs roamed the South Side, attacking blacks indiscriminately, and whites drove through the Black Belt shooting at blacks out of car windows.”
In all, 23 blacks and 15 whites were killed during the riots. Another 537 were injured, two-thirds of them black. In “American Pharaoh”, Cohen writes: “The seventeen-year-old Daley was, at the very least, extremely close to the violence. Bridgeport was a major center of riot activity: by one estimate, 41 percent of all the encounters occurred in and around Daley’s neighborhood. South Side youth gangs, including the Hamburg Athletic Club, were later found to have been among the primary instigators of the racial violence.”
Whites from the ethnic neighborhoods believed that Daley was a “youthful defender of the South Side color line”. Many later claimed that Daley was involved in the riots and “pictured him in the pose of a brick-throwing thug.”
After graduating from the De La Salle Institute in 1919, Daley took a job with Dolan, Ludeman, and Company, a stockyards commission house. He woke up at 4:00 a.m. each day to walk from his parents’ house to the yards, and moved cattle off trucks to weigh them.
In 1923, Daley began taking pre law classes four nights a week at DePaul University. Getting his law degree while working took Daley more than ten years. A classmate later recalled that “Daley was a nice fellow, very quiet, a hard worker, and always neatly dressed. He never missed a class and always got there on time. But there was nothing about him that would make him stand out, as far as becoming something special in life.”
However, Daley succeeded in law school with “the same plodding persistence he brought to every task he undertook”. A friend later remembered “I always went out dancing every night, but Dick went home to study his law books. He would never stop in the saloon and have a drink.”
While Daley was working through night law school, he also met Eleanor Guilfoyle. She came from a large Irish-Catholic family on the Southside of Chicago. Daley “pursued marriage as he pursued everything else in his life — carefully, even ploddingly.” Their courtship lasted for six years and the couple married in 1936. They eventually had seven children together.
Daley’s political career began with the typical duty of “machine politics”, which included knocking on doors, registering voters, and taking complaints. In 1936, he was elected to the Illinois House of Representatives. Two years later, he was elected to the Illinois State Senate.
After developing a positive reputation in state government, Daley returned to Chicago in 1950 to be closer to his family. He was elected as Cook County Clerk and quickly took control of the political “machine”. Eventually, Daley was elected Mayor of Chicago in 1955.
As Mayor, Daley “appointed no blacks to any positions of consequence”. Jews “were also largely excluded from the upper ranks of the Daley administration”. Frank Sullivan, the mayor’s press secretary later claimed that Daley “was not comfortable with blacks and Jews.”
Every day, Daley “woke early and attended morning Mass at Nativity of Our Lord Church”. The Daley home “was decorated with a large picture of Christ on a living room wall and a statuette of the Virgin and Child on the dining room sideboard”.
Daley was re-elected six times and served as Mayor for 21 years. He ruled the city with an iron fist and his “political machine” dominated local and state politics. He protected Chicago from the economic struggles that “rust belt” cities like Buffalo, Cleveland, and Detroit were experiencing during the same period.
As Mayor, Daley oversaw the construction of the O’Hare International Airport (world’s largest airport), the Sears Tower (world’s largest building), McCormick Place, the University of Illinois at Chicago campus, and many other significant projects.
In addition, Chicago also built the largest public housing development in the country to segregate the blacks from the ethnic Catholic neighborhoods. The Robert Taylor Homes were 28 high-rise buildings with 16 stories each, with a total of 4,415 units, stretching for two miles. About 96 percent of the residents were black.
The Robert Taylor Homes were filled with narcotics, violence, and poverty. 95 percent of the residents were unemployed and listed welfare as their only income source. 40 percent of the households were single-parent, female-headed households earning less than $5,000 per year. The buildings were only designed to hold 11,000 residents, but totals eventually reached 27,000.
In 1962, Chicago also built the Dan Ryan Expressway, a fourteen lane highway that separated the Robert Taylor homes from the ethnic Catholic neighborhoods. Mayor Daley constructed many other barriers to defend his city from these black ghettos.
In 1966, Martin Luther King Jr. came to Chicago to promote “racial integration” and destroy Chicago’s ethnic Catholic neighborhoods. MLK’s protests were met with fierce opposition and he later claimed “the people of Mississippi ought to come to Chicago to learn how to hate.”
Eventually, Mayor Daley defeated the protestors. He signed a vague agreement to “integrate” Chicago that he never had any intention of following.
Two years later, MLK was killed and riots broke out across the country. Mayor Daley allegedly ordered the police should “shoot to kill any arsonist or anyone with a Molotov cocktail in his hand”. He also declared police should “shoot to maim or cripple anyone looting.”
The controversial statement was criticized throughout America but praised in Chicago. Daley’s supporters flooded his office with grateful letters for protecting their city. Later, Time Magazine determined Chicago was “one of the cities least affected by the riots”.
However, “Civil Rights” leader Jesse Jackson was outraged and claimed Daley’s orders were “a fascist’s response.”
Later in 1968, the Democratic National Convention was held in Chicago. The convention quickly turned into a tense power struggle for control of the Democratic Party. Mayor Daley and the ethnic Catholics were challenged by liberal Protestants, blacks, and Jews.
Meanwhile, Jewish protestors led by Abbie Hoffman gathered outside of the convention and were beaten by Chicago police officers. The national media was outraged, but Daley received strong local support. Within Chicago, people displayed bumper stickers that said “We Support Mayor Daley and His Chicago Police”. 80-85 percent of Chicago residents supported the attack on the protestors.
Four years later, Daley and his Illinois delegates were blocked from attending the 1972 Democratic National Convention in Miami, Florida. Democratic Senator George McGovern introduced new rules that required a percentage of delegates to be women and minorities.
Daley and his Illinois delegates were rejected because they did not have enough “diversity”.
Instead, McGovern accepted a group of Illinois delegates led by Jesse Jackson, filled with blacks and women Jackson had selected (Although Jackson was not even an elected official and had no legal authority to attend the convention or choose delegates).
Therefore, 1972 was the year that Catholics were illegally forced out of the Democratic Party. Although some stayed, they were controlled by radical liberals.
McGovern’s new rules requiring a percentage of delegates to be women or minorities also changed the topics discussed at the convention. Issues previously ignored like abortion and gay rights were suddenly up for debate.
McGovern later acknowledged the consequences of these new rules when he admitted “I opened the doors of the Democratic Party and 20 million people walked out.”
In the 1972 Presidential election, Richard Nixon defeated McGovern 60.7%-37.5% in one of the worst defeats of all time.
Among Catholics, Nixon defeated McGovern 52%-48%. This was significant because the 1972 election was the first time that a majority of Catholics voted for a Republican candidate.
Four years later in 1976, Daley suffered a massive heart attack and died in the hospital. When his wife heard, she looked at her children and calmly said “Now, we all have to kneel down and thank God for having this great man for forty years.” She took out her rosary and led the family in prayer.
During the funeral at Nativity of Our Lord Church, Father Gilbert Graham told how Daley “had gone to church almost every day of his life, including the day he died”. He also told how the mayor claimed he never needed sleeping medication because “he always had his rosary, which calmed and prepared him for rest, no matter what the problems of the day.”
When Daley died, Father Graham said, his wallet contained pictures of his family and “a dozen well-worn prayer cards which he used every day.” Father Graham said it best:
“May God rest this beautiful man’s soul…”
This article is part nine of the “Catholic Power: Irish American Politics” series:
Introduction: Jett and Jahn Media Presents “Catholic Power: Irish American Politics”
Al Smith: New York Governor
Father Charles Coughlin: Catholic Fascism?
John Fitzgerald: Boston Mayor
Joe Kennedy: America’s Royal Family?
James Michael Curley: Massachusetts Governor
Frank Hague: Jersey City Mayor
Joe McCarthy: Wisconsin Senator
John F. Kennedy: United States President
Richard J. Daley: Chicago Mayor
Martin P. Mullen: Pennsylvania State Congressman
Conclusion: Modern Catholics & Politics