The Daley Years: Building coalitions

September 8, 2010 2:43:59 PM PDT
When Mayor Richard M. Daley first ran for mayor, Chicago was a racially divided city in a power struggle.

Rev. Jesse Jackson said any mayoral candidate needs "the capacity to build a coalition." There's a good example of that in Daley.

"He showed the people that Chicago was a city that belonged to the people. He didn't put any community over another community," said Ald. Ed Smith, 28th Ward.

Chicago's covered a lot of territory since 1983 when Richard Daley and former mayor Jane Byrne lost the Democratic mayoral primary to Harold Washington.

Washington went on to become the city's first African American mayor. And a racially divided City Council battled in what was known as 'council wars,' a political fight over who would control the city. It was gridlock.

When Harold Washington died in 1987, he had finally achieved the balance of power he needed in the council to actually implement his programs.

But the city power struggle was on again.

David Orr - then an alderman - was appointed to fill the mayor's role. Then-alderman Eugene Sawyer was appointed as interim mayor. Until Richard Daley, the Cook County state's attorney, defeated Sawyer in a primary election and then went on to win the mayor's office in 1989, the office that he holds to this day.

"He's been very clear and very simple at wanting to bring the city together," said Ald. Ricardo Munoz, 22nd Ward.

What Richard Daley did - over time - was reach out to the diverse communities in our city - African Americans, Hispanics and others - engaging them, listening to what they wanted, spending on what they wanted.

"Building things like firehouses, senior homes, schools and parks," said Munoz.

"This Daley had to bring people into his cabinet, dollars, contracts. He made the city employee ranks diverse and had to encourage strong people of color to run as aldermen and other elected officials," said Laura Washington, DePaul Univ. Prof. & Sun-Times columnist.

By doing so he earned their support. Not everyone's, of course, but enough to make Daley politically unbeatable - at least until now.

"This still is Chicago. This is a city that have to run, you have to manage with coalitions," said Munoz.

The person who can successfully pull that coalition together, along with the campaign money and the credibility to provide answers to difficult economic questions, has a good chance to be Chicago's next mayor.


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