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Question of the day

Wednesday, Dec 22, 2010

* From the Tribune

History will remember Richard J. Daley as Chicago’s greatest mayor, his son said Tuesday as he approached the day he will surpass his father’s record of more than 21 years in office.

Asked about the significance of the fact he will take the crown for mayoral longevity on Dec. 26, Mayor Richard M. Daley pointed out it wouldn’t even be a question if his father had lived to the end of his term.

* The Question: Who was the greatest mayor in Chicago history? Explain.

- Posted by Rich Miller        

  1. - Gregor - Wednesday, Dec 22, 10 @ 7:39 am:

    Cermak; he beatthe highly corrupt Big Bill, cracked the Irish domination of the government and made the city more inclusive and progressive.

  2. - washedmyhands - Wednesday, Dec 22, 10 @ 8:00 am:

    Harold…he did that cracking, inclusive, progressive thing himself - against some tough opposition. Very personable - like one of Santa’s helpers running around sometimes.

  3. - One of the 35 - Wednesday, Dec 22, 10 @ 8:17 am:

    Richard M. He made Chicago work in spite of the corruption. Anyone who has been a municipal offical can’t help but marvel at what the current Mayor Daley did to keep Chicago a world class city.

  4. - wordslinger - Wednesday, Dec 22, 10 @ 8:18 am:

    Carter Harrison Jr. cleaned up the Levee district and fought the robber barons like Yerkes.

  5. - Rico - Wednesday, Dec 22, 10 @ 8:25 am:

    Daley survived without getting indicted. That’s a more impressive record, no?

  6. - Beowulf - Wednesday, Dec 22, 10 @ 8:43 am:

    I would think a good case could be made for former Chicago mayor Jane Byrne. She showed the world that (despite not having the backing of the Chicago Democrat Machine) uncontrollable forces (such as lots of snowflakes) combined with an uncontrolled woman (but a “tough as nails” woman) can change the “best laid plans of mice & men” in Chicago’s machine politics.

  7. - huh? - Wednesday, Dec 22, 10 @ 8:49 am:

    Harold Washington, He achieved alot in a very hostile environment.
    Harold tried to be fair to all communities in Chicago.

  8. - Silent Majority - Wednesday, Dec 22, 10 @ 8:52 am:

    Richard J. Daley. Were it not for his skillful balancing of the racial, housing and other situations during his terms, Chicago might have ended up like Detroit or St. Louis.

  9. - LouisXIV - Wednesday, Dec 22, 10 @ 9:03 am:

    Harold Washington probably would have been had he not died so soon. I can’t go with Richard I due to the corruption and racism that were so prevalent when he was mayor. I can’t go with Richard II because it now appears that he bankrupted the city. Cermak seems like a good choice.

  10. - Living in Oklahoma - Wednesday, Dec 22, 10 @ 9:10 am:

    William Hale Thompson

    He was the last republican.

  11. - Reddbyrd - Wednesday, Dec 22, 10 @ 9:21 am:

    Jane Byrne deserves attention for many reasons, but here are just a few of the accomplishment which set the stage for much that followed

    — dealt with the fiscal collapse of the Chicago Public Schools that as crafted by you know who

    — revitalized the arts and festival (i.e.tourist)industry

    – extended the CTA mass transit system to O’Hare and supplied the missing link to the SW side

    — won state support for the Harold Washington Library.

    — Started the development of the North Loop which how has an active theater district

  12. - IrishPirate - Wednesday, Dec 22, 10 @ 9:22 am:

    Burris dropped out, no?

    Ok, assuming he doesn’t win as a write in I would have to go with……..I can’t choose. There are just too many amusing mayoral characters.

  13. - Oh, please.... - Wednesday, Dec 22, 10 @ 9:24 am:

    The Boss. (Richard J.)

    He laid the groundwork to make Chicago the great city it is today. His son is a close second. Though neither were perfect and each made their share of mistakes, they both truly love/d the city - which I believe is a big part of their success.

  14. - Excessively Rabid - Wednesday, Dec 22, 10 @ 9:33 am:

    Bilandic, for commissioning a snow removal plan that has apparently been adopted throughout the EU.

  15. - top of the state - Wednesday, Dec 22, 10 @ 9:33 am:

    Hempstead Washburne. He was a Republican who served between the Harrisons (father/son regime) Washburne prepared Chicago for the Colombian Exposition of 1893. Most notably he said in his inaugural speech in effect that we will be known by our actions and not our words. May that be said of today’s politicians.

  16. - amalia - Wednesday, Dec 22, 10 @ 9:34 am:

    RMD Chicago was drifting despite some good things done by each of the mayors since RJD. RMD combined the strength of RJD with the modernity needed to create a more diverse and inclusive city. Things were stuck in the past and he changed that.

  17. - VanillaMan - Wednesday, Dec 22, 10 @ 9:40 am:

    Damn, that is easy.
    Old man Daley.
    Pro business
    Fiscal genius
    Power party leader
    National leader
    King maker
    Blue collar
    Pro union working class
    City builder
    Picasso enabler
    Skyscraper builder
    Highway builder
    Job creator
    Family man
    Loving husband

    Old man Daley would pistol whip todays wimps in Office today. In a back room. Without leaving marks. By untraceable friends. For the love of Chicago.

    Easy QOTD.
    The longest serving mayor knows what it takes. He knew Dick Daley like a son. He knows more than any of us bloggers.

    Old man Daley made me proud to be a Democrat. Todays Democrats are sniveling embarressments that make me want to punch them.

  18. - Thoughts... - Wednesday, Dec 22, 10 @ 9:41 am:

    I’m with Richard M.

    When the QOTD was something about his legacy, a prescient commenter (can’t remember who) said, “Chicago could’ve become Detroit or Cleveland and he kept that from happening.”

    Really, in spite of any corruption, that frames it perfectly for me. Richard J. is a very, very close second.

  19. - Objective Dem - Wednesday, Dec 22, 10 @ 9:42 am:

    There are two good books on the subject to recommend. One is The Mayors: The Chicago Political Tradition by Melvin G. Holli and Paul Green. The second is The American Mayor: the best & the worst big-city leaders by Melvin G. Holli.

    In the book on American mayors, Richard J. Daley was rated the 6th best mayor in US history. Big Bill Thompson was rated the worst mayor in US history.

    Its interesting to note that one reason Chicago became a democratic strong hold is the last Republican mayor was considered the worst mayor ever.

  20. - AlphaBettor - Wednesday, Dec 22, 10 @ 9:43 am:

    David Orr. Because he knew when to quit.

  21. - Wensicia - Wednesday, Dec 22, 10 @ 9:44 am:

    Father and son have dominated the political scene for so long it’s hard to look at any other mayor objectively. I also don’t think you can choose one over the other. They both achieved great things for Chicago, often at great expense. I guess you’d have to give it to the dynasty.

  22. - cermak_rd - Wednesday, Dec 22, 10 @ 9:44 am:

    Anton Cermak without a doubt. He ousted Big Bill Thompson, he created the multicultural bloc that would come to rule the city for decades. He also took a bullet for FDR. (well OK, or maybe the mob arranged a hit on him for hassling Capone).

  23. - dupage dan - Wednesday, Dec 22, 10 @ 10:07 am:

    =well OK, or maybe the mob arranged a hit on him for hassling Capone=

    Sheeesh - another conspiracy theorist. The assassin was as nuts as LHO - the mob just doesn’t hire psychotics to kill people, they hire psychopaths. Big difference.

    Cermak could have been a great mayor, just like HW. Both died too soon. Both Daleys made the system work - as often for themselves as for others. Richie J was smart enough to include the various ethnic voting blocs in his power structure - probably makes him the best. Jane Byrne? Really? I’d pick Eugene Sawyer ahead of her. No knock on Mr Sawyer - by all accounts a decent man. Just out of his league. Like Byrne.

  24. - Matthew - Wednesday, Dec 22, 10 @ 10:13 am:

    I would have to go with Busse back in the early 1900s. He loved the city and women.

  25. - Yellow Dog Democrat - Wednesday, Dec 22, 10 @ 10:16 am:

    === Richard J. Daley. Were it not for his skillful balancing of the racial, housing and other situations during his terms… ===

    Yeah, ask Dr. King about that skillful balancing…or the commanders Daley gave the order to shoot looters during the race riots…or protesters during the ‘68 Democratic convention.

    Daley gets my vote for Best Dictator, but he served his own will, and the largest beneficiaries of city government were his inner circle, not the public. “Mayor” was a mere honorific title for him.

    Give it to Harold Washington, who unified disparate sectors of our city, even if he didn’t live to undo the de facto segregation of our neighborhoods that manifested under King Daley the First.

    Washington’s years were not a bloodless revolution, but they forever changed the politics and policies of Chicago.

  26. - dupage dan - Wednesday, Dec 22, 10 @ 10:26 am:


    Harold had such potential and had finally beaten the Council but failed to reap the benefits of his victory. Unfortunately, things went right back to BAU once Richie got in. Vothing blocs went right to the Daley machine which he skillfully manipulated for years. The various groups fought amongst themselves for the scraps that the machine doled out. I give Richie J kudos for that. I don’t think he is a great mayor for being open and honest and effective. Just for the effective part.

  27. - just sayin' - Wednesday, Dec 22, 10 @ 10:48 am:

    I agree with Silent Majority:

    “Richard J. Daley. Were it not for his skillful balancing of the racial, housing and other situations during his terms, Chicago might have ended up like Detroit or St. Louis.”

    And who will say the end didn’t justify the means - if that end result could have been Detroit or St. Louis?

  28. - the Other Anonymous - Wednesday, Dec 22, 10 @ 10:52 am:

    As Wencisia points out, the Daleys have served for so long during most Chicagoan’s lifetime, it is hard to think about other mayors. But neither, imo, were the best mayors in Chicago history because their policies created and then maintained a system of racial segregation.

    My vote for best mayor goes to either of the Carter Harrisons, father and son. The were mayors during the time Chicago was the fastest growing metropolis in the world. While both were not completely reformers — especially Jr., under whom a particularly vibrant vice district developed — they at least understood that you have to address inequity.

  29. - just sayin' - Wednesday, Dec 22, 10 @ 10:55 am:

    Richard J. also knew how to deal with Hippies.

  30. - Anonymous - Wednesday, Dec 22, 10 @ 10:58 am:

    Nobody named Daley, if “greatest” means strong accomplishments and relatively minor weaknesses.

    Richard J. created the projects, fomented racial hostility, kept an iron control over the judiciary (alright, it was shared with the Outift) and blackened Chicago’s name with police tactics for the ‘68 convention. Add on his corruption, and the record is far too mixed.

    Richard M. revitalized downtown and cut everybody in on the deals, lowering the racial temperature. But the corruption continued and the city is bankrupt.

    Harold didn’t get the chance, dying too soon.

    You have to be quite a historian to pick a “greatest” in this town.

    Is tomorrow’s QOTD “greatest Illinois governor?”

  31. - Honest Abe - Wednesday, Dec 22, 10 @ 11:08 am:

    In its voter recommendations released before the 1931 mayoral election, the Better Government Association rated William Hale Thompson, Jr., as a more honest politician and public official than Anton Cermak.

    Victors get to rewrite history. Cermak was seriously mobbed up, as was Ed Kelly, but Thompson gets the blame.

  32. - kappakid - Wednesday, Dec 22, 10 @ 11:22 am:

    David Orr. ‘Nuff said.

    Carcetti in ‘11!

  33. - Cheryl44 - Wednesday, Dec 22, 10 @ 11:28 am:

    The Carter Harrisons. Both of them.

  34. - cermak_rd - Wednesday, Dec 22, 10 @ 11:30 am:

    Seriously Big Bill Thompson an honest mayor? He publicly ran on a platform of I will not enforce Prohibition. Just imagine if one of the guys running for Chicago mayor said, I will not enforce the drug laws if elected mayor.

    And everyone knew that if you didn’t enforce Prohibition then the Outfit was going to run the booze racket.

    Remember, before Big Bill you had Devers who actually enforced Prohibition even though he didn’t believe in it. Big Bill ran against him and actually had support by Capone’s organization. Big Bill also taunted Cermak regarding his ethnicity.

    Here’s a handy campaign slogan he used against Cermak (courtesy Wikipedia):

    I won’t take a back seat to that Bohunk, Chairmock, Chermack or whatever his name is.
    Tony, Tony, where’s your pushcart at?
    Can you picture a World’s Fair mayor?
    With a name like that?

    I’m guessing the BGA thought themselves better than the immigrant rabble too.

  35. - The Historian - Wednesday, Dec 22, 10 @ 11:31 am:

    Harold, without a doubt. Given how savvy commenters on this blog are, I’m *very* surprised HW hasn’t drawn at least a plurality. He so transformed how African Americans thought about their city–including a guy who now lives temporarily in D.C.–that his ‘big pond’ ripples far exceed both RJD and RMD, his early death notwithstanding.

  36. - Louis G. Atsaves - Wednesday, Dec 22, 10 @ 11:32 am:

    Harold Washington brought this city back from some of its ugliest selfish moments politically and racially and began the transformation process that revived Chicago and ended the “Beruit on the Lake” label the nationals saddled the city with.

    Richard Daley was smart enough to build on the foundation that Washington left before his untimely demise.

    With a great emphasis on being a visionary, I would give the nod to Harold with a close second to Richard, Jr.

  37. - Honest Abe - Wednesday, Dec 22, 10 @ 11:44 am:

    @Cermak Road,

    Dever also helped to usher in open gang warfare, but trying to enforce Prohibition (the law of unintended consequences). Thompson’s tolerance of speakeasies did not differ too much from the policy of both Harrisons to ignore the Levee, provided it was contained as a segregated vice district and controlled by the politicians and police officials.

    Cermak was a total conflict of interest — take one guess why the Criminal Courts Building and County Jail were relocated to 26th and California — County Board President Cermak approved the deal in which he sold the property to the county and his ward organization got all of the patronage jobs associated with the courthouse and the jail. Cermak’s ties to bootleggers trumped those of many politicians and probably cost him his life. FDR was never seriously threatened by the assassin who seemed to have Cermak clearly in his sights.

  38. - Bubs - Wednesday, Dec 22, 10 @ 12:25 pm:

    Carter Harrison, Sr.

    When informed by complaining temperance leaders that a new gin mill had opened on Clark St., he responded, “I know, I was there last night. It was great!”

  39. - Grandson of Man - Wednesday, Dec 22, 10 @ 12:27 pm:

    I was born in Chicago and lived there all my life. I can’t pick a favorite mayor. I am very unhappy about the chronically-high violent crime rate in Chicago. I don’t believe any mayor in my lifetime did as good of a job as possible to fight this malady. Violent crime is a disease that should be a top priority of any mayor.

    I met Harold Washington 15 days before he died. He presented us with academic acheivement scholarships at the 95th floor restaurant in the Hancock Building on 11/10/87. He was not going to show up, but he came at the last minute and was grumpy. I told him I was very glad that he finally appearned, and he grumpily said, under his breath, “Command performance,” in other words, I was lying to him in my gratitude, which was not true.

  40. - Voice of Reason - Wednesday, Dec 22, 10 @ 12:27 pm:

    Eugene Sawyer - he didn’t stick around long enough to screw things up.

  41. - usedtobeawestsider - Wednesday, Dec 22, 10 @ 12:29 pm:

    I was a kid waiting in the halls of Howe School with our heads down waiting for my mom to come and get us because of the riots and the fires that had started at Austin High. Nobody knew which way the rioters were going to go but the smoke was visible from our schoolyard. When we got home we put the TV on it scared the hell out of us and everyone from the west side. My father and others in or neighborhood rushed home because the of the coverage showing the rioters were going into houses and pulling people out and looting homes. I remember the when Richard J gave the shoot to kill order my parents and grownups said that’s what stopped the rioting. That was one reason J was loved by the neighborhoods and M was a shoo in because of the feelings for Richard the 1st. I voted for Richy because of that, the first time, and have since lost my enthusiasm for number 2.
    As my Dad said at the time if other mayors in Detroit and LA would have done the same thing it would have stopped allot of the loss of property. Drive to west side and still today there are stretches of land that have not been rebuilt.

  42. - Anonymous - Wednesday, Dec 22, 10 @ 12:31 pm:

    Voice of Reason — if that’s your analysis, you’ve got to go with David Orr.

  43. - Vote Quimby! - Wednesday, Dec 22, 10 @ 1:01 pm:

    Gotta go with RJD. Corruption, sure…but as noted above it kept Chicago from declining into other Rust Belt cities. Do you know what the 3rd largest city in America was in 1900? St. Louis. Now it is a pathetic shell of its former self. Even with the problems it has, Chicago is still a great city…one of only two north of the Mason Dixon line (ok maybe add Boston).
    In my opinion his son will go down as the mayor which bankrupted the city, and I wish his successor all the best in maintaining world class status with a HUGE financial monkey on his (or her) back.

  44. - CLJ - Wednesday, Dec 22, 10 @ 1:23 pm:

    William Ogden. He was the first and to his success not the last.

  45. - cermak_rd - Wednesday, Dec 22, 10 @ 2:06 pm:

    Another thing in favor of Cermak. He broke the stranglehold that the blue bloods had on power in Chicago. The poobahs seemed to think it was fine to import cheap labor but got the vapors at the thought that the cheap labor might want to run things, too!

  46. - You Can't Stop What's Coming - Wednesday, Dec 22, 10 @ 2:39 pm:

    Mayor Chuckie finally got something right… it was Richard J.

    And a close second to Harold.

  47. - ANON - Wednesday, Dec 22, 10 @ 2:41 pm:

    ==“Richard J. Daley. Were it not for his skillful balancing of the racial, housing and other situations during his terms, Chicago might have ended up like Detroit or St. Louis.”==

    If by “balancing” you mean shoving it all into a few neighborhoods, being sued and ordered by the Feds to change the city’s public housing, and creating legal headaches for 40+ years, then yes I guess he did balance it.

  48. - Anonymous - Wednesday, Dec 22, 10 @ 2:53 pm:

    =Jane Byrne deserves attention for many reasons, but here are just a few of the accomplishment which set the stage for much that followed
    — dealt with the fiscal collapse of the Chicago Public Schools that as crafted by you know who =

    Valdemort crafted the collapse of CPS?

  49. - Elder - Wednesday, Dec 22, 10 @ 8:22 pm:

    I would have to say Harold Washington.
    He was politically brilliant, able to work with the machine and with the movement. He took on the entrenched machine and won.
    He focussed much more on the neglected neighborhoods than either Richard I or Bilandic. He was much more inclusive of minorities and women, and opened up city government.

    I think Richard II was a much better mayor due to Washington, because he saw how neglecting these kind of things leads to political rebellion.

    Good question.

  50. - Yellow Dog Democrat - Wednesday, Dec 22, 10 @ 10:13 pm:

    @DuPage Dan -

    Daley 1st kept ward bosses happy. His son, following in Washington’s footsteps, has built a coalition of constituencies…there’s a big difference in my mind.


    It’s one thing to use deadly force against arsonists and those using force against others.

    Its quite another to give shoot-to-kill orders for vandalism and stealing t.v.’s out of shop windows.

  51. - Angry Chicagoan - Wednesday, Dec 22, 10 @ 11:04 pm:

    A tie between Harold Washington, Richard J. Daley and Cermak. Cermak for breaking the stranglehold of probably the single biggest crook in the city’s history, William Hale Thompson, and setting the city on a more positive path; Richard J for preparing the city for the global economy, gentrification, downtown living and modern transportation; Harold Washington for coming in at an extremely dicey moment and laying down the law that taxpayers are entitled to services and economic development efforts citywide, not in a few favored locations or one favored ethnic group.

    I think it’s particularly worth noting that some of the most important features of Chicago were decades in the making. River North, for example, depended on massive rezoning by Richard J. in 1973-74; it took 30 years to become what you see now. Washington is particularly impressive on this score because of how much he did in such a short period, but even here it took Richard M’s first two terms to truly make Washington’s fairer approach to city services stick.

Sorry, comments for this post are now closed.

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