Thursday, August 11, 2016

Boss: Richard J. Daley of Chicago - Mike Royko (1971)

I work at the corner of Washington and Clark, across from City Hall.  I've been working there about a year, and the year before that, I worked at the corner of Washington and LaSalle.  Both are (essentially) across the street from City Hall.  And that previous job was for the City of Chicago.  So it should come as little surprise that the history of our fair city holds more than a cursory interest to me.

I also spend my fair share of time at the Richard J. Daley Center, which I have to believe is one of the most horrible places on the face of the earth, an approximation of hell.  But it is what it is and I hope one day that I won't feel like I don't belong there every time I step up in a situation where I have to ask for something besides another continuance.  That or I hope I move onto greener pastures...

For most of my childhood, Richard M. Daley was the mayor of Chicago, and I like to think he did a decent job, except for the parking meter deal.  At this point it may be instructional to list all the mayors of Chicago since Richard J. Daley:

Richard J. Daley: 1955 - 1976
Michael A. Bilandic: 1976 - 1979
Jane Byrne: 1979-1983
Harold Washington: 1983 - 1987
Eugene Sawyer: 1987 - 1989 (I had never heard of him until I looked up this list)
Richard M. Daley: 1989 - 2011
Rahm Emanuel: 2011 - Present

So as you can see, the two Daleys ran this city for a combined 42 years out of the past 61.  Richard M's legacy is still being written, though he is no longer in the spotlight.  It seems fair to say that Rahm will not be re-elected for another term, but I'm sure he's read this book, so maybe he will.  Because Richard J. got through plenty of scandals on sometimes very similar issues and managed to keep winning.  Of course the patronage system has been disavowed, prohibited and excised, but one wonders whether that's really the case or if it's all a surface thing.  Rahm may have to work a miracle or two, but he seems just as ruthless as Richard J.  He also can be quite charming, such as the time he seemed to run up to me personally, standing on the sidelines at the 2015 Pride Parade, and shook my hand excitedly.

Ironically, I just received a second red light camera ticket today.  The first took place on June 25, 2016.  The second took place on June 29, 2016.  In the first, I was following a car that was turning right on a yellow arrow.  The yellow arrow went away, right as I was rounding the corner, and I guess I was technically turning right on a red light where there was a sign that said "no turn on red."  Isn't there usually like, a gap of a second before the opposite light turns red?  Yes, maybe in the suburbs, but not in Chicago!  There was an investigation into the length of yellow lights in the city about a year or two ago and it was found that they lasted about half as long as those in the suburbs.  In the second ticket, I actually stopped at the red light, but it was just past the white line before the crosswalk.  I'm going to contest both of these and will post in the comments the result, when I know.  I am on the hook for $200.  Clearly, the city needs this money more than me!

And that is the problem with Rahm--though I do believe that Richard M. instituted the red light cameras.  Enough about the current state of politics.  The whole point of this book is that Chicago is corrupt.  People have always known it is corrupt, but this book spells it out in extremely sarcastic detail.  It's a great read, hilarious at times and depressing at others.  I'd prefer not to focus on the most egregious violations of good faith and fair dealing, though perhaps the police scandal is worth a mention.  Instead, the story about fire chief Quinn must be relayed, for those that have not already heard it.  Basically, this book makes it seem like Chicago was run by a bunch of lunkheads, like a bush league city, and this story in particular is hilarious:

"Even a pennant won by the Chicago White Sox was grabbed by City Hall as a great civic event--but with disastrous results.  The night the Sox clinched it, Daley's fire chief, Robert Quinn, turned on the city's entire civil defense siren system to celebrate the championship.  However, he had not warned anybody that he was going to do it, so most of the city's 3,700,000 citizens thought the wailing of sirens at 11 P.M. meant they were about to go up in a nuclear cloud.  Thousands of them poured into the streets, called the police and newspapers, prayed, wept, and became hysterical.  Quinn's resignation was justifiably demanded by outraged citizens, but he is Daley's old Hamburg Club pal and was forgiven that and many future acts of inspired stupidity.  He would someday attempt to prove his firemen's fitness by sending them on a ten-mile jog down the center of the Kennedy Expressway at the peak of rush hour, causing one monumental traffic jam." (116)

The police are a major subject in this book, and sometimes, they don't behave like they're supposed to, but it doesn't seem like most people would mind.  I am thinking primarily of the casual bribes they would take for relatively minor traffic violations, to save people a trip to court.  I am sorry that I have never gotten the opportunity to cooperate in such a scheme:

"On the Southwest Side, another policeman stopped a motorist and used a different approach when the motorist didn't gift wrap his license.  He carried wooden pencils in his pocket, and he would announce: 'I have three kinds of pencils which I sell--a five-dollar pencil, a ten-dollar pencil, and a twenty-five-dollar pencil.  I think you need a ten-dollar pencil, don't you?' The pencils were seldom sold for more than twenty-five dollars, because that would have meant somebody had been run over, and fixing that required the cooperation of prosecutors and even judges and was not something that could be arranged on the scene." (109-110)

Other times, they're god-awful, and Richard J. had a scandal on his hands not unlike the one Rahm has had on his hands for more than a year now, both of which resulted in the firing of the superintendent of police.  However, Daley's involved the police engaging in burglary, rather than covering up unnecessary shootings.  He hired Orlando Wilson as the replacement, and perhaps one longs for the kind of change that he was able to make back in the day:

"Wilson took over and the transformation of the Police Department began.  But an even more amazing transformation was already underway.  Daley, who had been content to allow the Police Department to run wild for five years, had become Daley, the zealous reformer of same.  The scandal was off page one, and it was replaced by Daley vowing to whip the council into passing needed reform ordinances; Daley promising Wilson as much money as he needed for higher salaries and modern equipment; Daley going to Springfield to fight for new police legislation; Daley protecting Wilson from the reactionary political forces." (122)

The mention right there of "money" is perhaps the primary reason why that kind of change is unlikely to happen today.  For all the talk of corruption in Boss, there is scant mention of any budgetary issues.  The city's bond ratings were not barely above junk status, like they are now (or are they junk?  who knows, who cares...).

Eventually there are race riots and a contentious showdown with Martin Luther King Jr., which would probably make for a pretty good movie.  But the real climax of the book is its description of the 1968 Democratic Convention, where the police force, after Wilson retires, transforms into a kind of totalitarian mob.  Now I've only heard random things about this moment in history, but to hear Royko describe it, you'd think the world had gone mad.  There are several passages that portray the madness in brutal detail, so I will attempt to find a representative sample:

"One long-haired young man was suddenly yanked from the crowd, dragged into the plaza by several policeman, and flung into the pool.  Then they pulled him from the pool, dragged him across the plaza, and flung him against a wall.  Another man refused to lower his peace sign and was pulled from the crowd and beaten.  Another was knocked down and, while half conscious and thoroughly subdued, was sprayed in the face with Mace.
Some people got across the street and ran into restaurants, hoping to hide over a sandwich and a cup of coffee.  Policemen went in, dragged them out, and beat them.  A long-haired man who had left the rally early to browse in a nearby bookstore came out of the store without knowing what was happening.  He was struck on the head with a club." (176)

The book ends on another scandal that takes place on Daley's 68th birthday, where police raid the Black Panther headquarters and make up a story about a gun battle that was actually pretty one-sided.  Daley wins the election, again, and it ends on kind of an awkward note.  There are also amusing epigraphs to each chapter, with Daley being examined as a hostile witness in some kind of case, but we never learn what the actual case was about.  Maybe this is explained somewhere in the text, but I missed it.

In short, this book is a "classic" for this city, but few others may be interested apart from history students.  I suppose it would be quite interesting for aspiring politicians.  Many things have changed, but in a way they also stay the same.  It is not quite The Prince, but it is similar to it in spirit.  It is a hilarious and depressing book, and a fine, if troubling, portrait of a city that seems like it will always be a little bit troubling.

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