The Machine Weakens After Daley’s Death

Daley, Richard J Dies Tribune Headline 1976With the anti-Daley vote thus split, Daley was reelected in the Democratic primary election in February 1975 with 58% of the vote. Singer came in second with 29%, Newhouse with 8%, and Hanrahan 5%. In a striking change to the usual playing field, Daley’s share of the vote was much smaller than in his earlier races for mayor. And this time, he also won less than half of the African American vote. This portended the fundamental shift that finally occurred when Harold Washington spoiled Jane Byrne’s shot at a second mayoral term and was elected Chicago’s first African American mayor in 1983.

Shortly following Daley’s death mourners had an opportunity to pay their respects by passing his casket as it lay in wake at the Nativity of Our Lord Catholic Church in Daley’s home ward.  The tote added up to an estimated 100,000 who came to this church in Daley’s Bridgeport neighborhood.  The mourners included included political supporters such as Vice President Nelson Rockefeller, President-elect Jimmy Carter and U.S. Senators Edward Kennedy and George McGovern.  Those paying their respects also included political opponents.  Both myself and my then brother-in-law Bill Singer stood in the cold in the long line waiting access to the church that day.

Daley’s death was followed by a six-month interregnum during which a number of City Council aldermen jockeyed for supremacy. The upshot was that Michael Bilandic, the 11th Ward Alderman of Daley’s home ward, was elected later in 1977 to fill out the remainder of Daley’s term of office.

Although Bilandic had inherited Jane Byrne from Daley as the city’s Commissioner of Consumer Affairs, she didn’t last long. When Bilandic supported an increase in taxi fares, Byrne not only refused to say it was a needed adjustment, but she also denounced it as a harmful “backroom deal” that Bilandic had “greased.”

Daley, Richard J. - American-Pharaoh Book Cover

That was it for Jane Byrne, who was promptly fired from her job by Bilandic in November 1977. When Byrne announced four months later that she would run for mayor against Bilandic, almost no one took her as a serious threat to his upcoming reelection bid in the February 1979 Democratic primary.