The Machine Weakens after Daley’s Death

Daley, Richard J Dies Tribune Headline 1976

With 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.

Health had been a minor issue in Daley’s 1975 mayoral campaign and, the year after his reelection as mayor, the 74-year-old suffered a heart attack in his doctor’s office and died on December 20, 1976. My work on the Singer mayoral campaign had permitted me get to know Dick Simpson better and, just before Daley died, Simpson told me he was interested in promoting the idea of greater citizen involvement in ward zoning decisions. He explained how he envisioned community zoning boards might work and asked me to draft an ordinance that would detail their creation, structure, and operation. While I had written plenty of speeches and press releases by that time, I had never taken my hand at the task of drafting a piece of legislation of this complexity. It struck me as an interesting technical challenge and I told Simpson I’d give it a shot.

This was notwithstanding my own serious doubts about the wisdom of such a radical decentralization of land use regulation in the city. Then and now, the existing primacy of aldermanic prerogatives in zoning gave aldermen what amounted to a practical veto over many zoning decisions and had engendered widespread aldermanic corruption. However, it wasn’t clear whether Simpson’s idea was likely to fix that problem or make it worse by encouraging more parochial NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) decisions that shorted the best interests of the city as a whole.

Simpson was pleased with my handiwork and introduced my draft of his ordinance for consideration by the full City Council in early 1977.  As was usual with any initiative of one of the independent Democratic aldermen, it was never seriously considered.Daley, Richard J. - American-Pharaoh Book Cover

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 for access to the church that winter 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.” 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.