Washington's Legacy: Daley's History
It was at the point in the interview when Mayor Richard M. Daley leaned forward , his head bobbing as he gestured with an index finger to make his point.
He sounded and looked like a high-def version of his father in one of those 1960's newsreel clips; a sign that Chicago's "boss" for the past 21 years was speaking from the heart.
Daley was talking about the late Harold Washington and explaining to me that if he had not followed the city's first African-American mayor's lead and embraced racial diversity, he would never have been re-elected five times.
On December 26th of this year, Richard M. will surpass his father Richard J. Daley and become the longest-serving and arguably the greatest mayor in Chicago history.
Rich Daley was the Cook County State's Attorney and about to quit politics when Mayor Washington suddenly died in 1987. It was at some time between then and the 1989 special mayoral election that Daley--who grew up in racially intolerant Bridgeport--realized that whites were just another minority group in rapidly-changing Chicago and political success could happen only after a candidate like himself built and sustained coalitions.
Daley told me he was keenly aware that he won the 1989 special election because black voters split between interim Mayor Eugene Sawyer and then-alderman Timothy Evans. Improving upon his 6-7% showing among black voters became the centerpiece of the newly elected mayor's political mission.
That's when Richard M. Daley "discovered" Chicago's thriving black business and professional class or what the legendary sociologist E. Franklin Frazier described in 1957 as the Black Bourgeoisie.
"They have made this city. They are part and parcel of this city. They didn't just arrive here in the 1950's, they'd been here prior to that!", Daley exclaimed during our one-on-one interview Friday.
"People don't realize the millionaires, the middle class, what took place historically in the African-American movement".
Daley, who has been criticized for a lack of outreach to black "grassroots" activists, embraced and some say co-opted the black business and professional community wherever and whenever he could.
After the 1999, 2003 and 2007 campaigns, Daley was re-elected by 70% of voters citywide getting substantially more than single-digits among blacks. And in all five of his re-election campaigns, Daley faced African-American candidates.
One final note:
Think for a few minutes about the list of Chicagoans who became players on the world stage who will tell you their careers either began or were "ignited" during the 1980's "Harold Washington" era:
President Barack Obama. Oprah Winfrey. Michael Jordan. Mike Ditka. Richard M. Daley.
It was an era most often identified by racial strife in the city. But in terms of the larger-than-life people it has produced...
...it was a golden age in Chicago history.