Richard J. Daley: A Separate World

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(Page 9: Daley's Early Political Career)

An excerpt from "American Pharaoh: Mayor Richard J. Daley — His Battle for Chicago and the Nation" by Adam Cohen and Elizabeth Taylor

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4 (Daley's Childhood) | 5 (Daley's Education) | 6 (The Athletic Club)
7 (Racism) | 8 (Irish Politics) | 9 (Daley's Early Political Career)
Book cover for American Pharaoh, Mayor Richard J. Daley

In addition to his position as precinct captain, Daley was now working for McDonough in his City Council office. The job of "secretary" to an alderman was not glamorous. Daley was one of a corps of glorified gofers. But McDonough was a garrulous, old-style politician who liked to spend most of the workday at the saloon or the racetrack.

He was more than willing to have the hardworking and detail-oriented Daley plow through the draft bills and proposed budgets that regularly crossed his desk. Working at the City Council, particularly for such a lackadaisical alderman, gave Daley a chance to observe city government up close. It also put Daley in the political mix, letting him make personal connections with machine politicians from across the city. Daley's work for McDonough fit a pattern he followed throughout his career: he apprenticed himself to powerful men and made himself indispensable by taking on dull but necessary jobs. "I'll tell you how he made it," Daley's friend-turned-rival Benjamin Adamowski once said. "He made it through sheer luck and by attaching himself to one guy after another and then stepping over them."

In 1923, Daley began taking pre-law ad law school classes four nights a week at DePaul University. Getting a law degree while juggling work and political responsibilities would ultimately take Daley more than a decade. "Daley was a nice fellow, very quiet, a hard worker, and always neatly dressed," a fellow student, who would later be appointed a judge by Daley, recalled. "He never missed a class and always got there on time. But there was nothing about him that would make him stand out, as far as becoming something special in life.

Even then, he misused the language so that you noticed it. He had trouble expressing himself and his grammar wasn't good." But Daley succeeded in law school by the same plodding persistence he brought to every task he undertook. "I always went out dancing every night, but Dick went home to study his law books," recalled a friend from youth who later went on to head the plumbers' union. "He would never stop in the saloon and have a drink."

Daley's career progressed as his patron, McDonough, moved up through the political ranks. In 1930, the machine slated McDonough for county treasurer, and when he was elected he brought Daley along as his deputy. As county treasurer, McDonough was even less conscientious than he had been as an alderman. The dry financial work of the county treasurer's office offered McDonough even less remain at his desk. While his boss frequented racetracks and speakeasies, Daley applied the skills he had acquired in the De La Salle counting rooms to the county treasury.

In his new job, Daley learned the intricacies of local government law and municipal finance, and how to work a budget. And he saw firsthand how a government office operates when it is inextricably tied to a political machine. He learned how the machine larded the county treasurer's office with patronage appointees who were hired for their political work. And he saw how it ensured that county funds were deposited with bankers who contributed to the campaigns of machine candidates.

While Daley was toiling away at night law school, he met Eleanor Guilfoyle at a neighborhood ball game. Her brother Lloyd, a friend of Daley's, made the introduction. "Sis," as she would always be known, came from a large Irish-Catholic family in the neighboring Southwest Side community of Canaryville. She had graduated from Saint Mary High School and was working as a secretary at a paint company and caring for an invalid mother when Daley asked her out on their first date, to a White Sox game. "We had a very happy courtship," Sis once recalled. "I used to meet him after law school and go to the opera."

"Of course I knew Dick was bound to succeed — even when I first met him," she would say later. "Anyone who would work in the stockyards all day long, then go to school at night was determined to get ahead." Daley pursued marriage as he pursued everything else in his life — carefully, even ploddingly. Their courtship lasted for six years, until he had finished law school and had begun to establish himself professionally. The couple married on June 17, 1936, when Daley was thirty-four and Eleanor was twenty-eight. It was three years after his graduation, and the same year that he entered into a law partnership with an old friend, William Lynch, the politically minded son of a Bridgeport precinct captain.


Jump to: 1 (Chicago) | 2 (The Neighborhood) | 3 (Irish Immigration)
4 (Daley's Childhood) | 5 (Daley's Education) | 6 (The Athletic Club)
7 (Racism) | 8 (Irish Politics) | 9 (Daley's Early Political Career)

Copyright © 2000 by Adam Cohen and Elizabeth Taylor. All rights reserved. Posted with permission of Click here for ordering information for "American Pharaoh" at