Beaten by Harold Washington in the Democratic mayoral primary in 1983, Richard M. Daly threw his hat into the ring one more time after Washington’s death in 1987. But the Daley who had ran four years previously was different writes Keith Koeneman, author of "First Son: The Biography of Richard M. Daley" (University of Chicago Press 2013; $30). He had honed his political and oratory skills and, probably most importantly, he had a new team consisting of bright, combative young liberals who would make a name for themselves in politics – Rahm Emmanuel, David Axelrod and William Daley. This team would go on to help Barack Obama become the first African American president of the United States.
“The campaign team that Daley assembled in 1989 was very talented,” said Koeneman, a third generation Chicagoan who holds degrees from the University of Chicago, Harvard University and Northwestern University where he earned his law degree. “They understood how to do sophisticated polling, create attractive campaign messages, do effective media outreach and raise significant campaign contributions. They also understood that American society was changing and voters were starting to prefer leaders with more progressive social values. The sophisticated skill set of this group of political advisors helped them to give both Daley and Obama very strategic advice.”
Being smart about politics was a Daley family trait. Daley’s father, Richard J., often called Boss Daley, was a tough looking guy with jowls, a blue collar accent (you could have easily visualized him with a lunch pail and a hard hat) and an odd way of phrasing things, odder even than George W. Bush. But he was also Boss Daley, the long time mayor of Chicago and one who was given credit for making the city work. Growing up with such a father must have been like taking an immersion course in politics and making things get done. And Rich Daley learned his father’s lessons well.
"The second Mayor Daley—Rich Daley—was a very astute judge of his father's strengths and weaknesses as a leader,” says Koeneman. After his father died, Rich Daley evolved tremendously as a person and as a professional. This allowed him to break out of the leadership model of his father. The second Mayor Daley really tried to improve public schools in Chicago in a way which has father never attempted to do.”
When Koeneman initially considered writing his book he was promised access to Daley who retired after 22 years as mayor in 2011. When he finally realized that wasn’t going to happen, Koeneman turned instead to everyone he could think of who could offer insight into Daley’s personality. He would ultimately interview over 100 people before writing his book.
If he had gotten the chance to talk to Daley, Koeneman says that his first question would have been “What factors influenced your decision to announce your retirement in September 2010?”
We may not find the answer to that question, but First Son is a very high quality biography of an important historical figure whose story is an important part of Chicago and American history.
As for his unanswered questions?
“If Rich Daley publishes his own memoir,” said Koeneman, “ I will be the first to buy it.”