He was the sixth greatest American mayor of the century, at least according to a poll of experts done by Melvin Holli, a history professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago.
Yet 23 years after Richard J. Daley’s death, the records of his administration are still a mystery. Chicago Sun-Times political columnist Steve Neal recently dropped a contract to do a book on Daley’s mayoral years when Daley’s widow, “Sis,” refused to open whatever records are stored at the family’s home on South Lowe.
Officials at UIC hope Daley’s archives will go to their library, which was named after him in an elaborate ceremony this October. After all, Daley built the university. But so far there’s no formal agreement with the Daley family.
This year brought us no nearer to Daley’s records. But we did get more audiotapes secretly recorded by presidents Lyndon B. Johnson and Richard Nixon, both of whom dealt often with Daley. Here are some notable excerpts from the new Johnson and Nixon tapes, along with some conjecture about what we might see when the Daley archives are finally opened.
JOHNSON: To an FBI official investigating a 1964 whispering campaign of sexual allegations against LBJ: “That’s an excellent job. Thank you again. Now, you make this for my security officer standpoint, my representative–you get together in your little file where you got ’em available, these other two or three or four similar stories about me…. All of these supposedly blackmails, you keep ’em.”
NIXON: “There are times, you know, when, good God, I’d authorize any means to achieve a goal abroad … [including] the breaking-in of embassies and so forth.”
On Senator Edward Kennedy: “I’d really like to get Teddy taped.”
DALEY: Perhaps the Daley archives will include a description of the Chicago Herald-American’s endorsement of Daley’s first mayoral bid, in 1955. His Republican opponent, Robert Merriam, recalled in Milton Rakove’s We Don’t Want Nobody Nobody Sent, “The newspapers divided three to one in my favor. The Sun-Times, the Daily News and the Tribune supported me. The Herald-American was in very bad financial condition, and the story…was that the Democratic precinct captains agreed to go out and take subscriptions for the Herald-American in return for their support, and the deal was made.”
JOHNSON: Complaining about the war’s cost: “The average military is always trying to spend money. They got 15 people on White House communications putting phones in every filling station where I take a leak.”
On the day of his landslide election victory in 1964: “I’m afraid of Vietnam.”
To a senator who warned that Vietnam was a “civil war” in danger of becoming a “second Korea”: “Yeah, I’m afraid of that.”
NIXON: Ordering aides to leak secret documents supposedly implicating President John F. Kennedy in the 1963 murder of South Vietnamese president Ngo Dihh Diem and the bungled 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba: “Kennedy was the one who got us in the damn war…. Now, listen, this government murdered [Diem]. I know it, and you know it too.”
DALEY: Much as Daley hated antiwar protesters, his archives will probably show him opposed to the war. According to Dan Rostenkowski, Daley privately told LBJ to get out of Vietnam. He also expressed antiwar feelings privately to Chicago attorney Newton Minow, though publicly he called only for diverting Pentagon money to cities.
JOHNSON: To Martin Luther King Jr. on black voter support for Johnson in 1964: “A great tribute to the intelligence and the judgment and the patriotism of the Negro people.”
NIXON: Italians: “Untrustworthy.”
Mexicans: “Wetbacks,” “dishonest,” although “they don’t live like a bunch of dogs, which the Negroes do live like.”
African-Americans: “I know they’re not going to make it for 500 years.”
Gays: “I can’t shake hands with anybody from San Francisco.”
Jews: “They’ll turn on you.”
DALEY: Who knows what we’ll find on this topic. In Mike Royko’s Boss a Democratic Party leader describes Daley raging about Martin Luther King Jr. in 1966: “He called him a dirty sonofabitch, a bastard, a prick. He said: ‘King came here to hurt [Senator Paul] Douglas because Rockefeller gave him dough….He’s a rabble-rouser, a troublemaker.”
JOHNSON: To crony John Connally: “I’m afraid to go to church [from the LBJ ranch]. Every time I go they [reporters] say I was driving 100 miles an hour. I did have a paper cup full of beer, but they got it up to 100 miles speeding and cans of beer being thrown out and stuff.”
NIXON: To aides who expressed confusion over two New York Times reporters named Smith: “Doesn’t make a difference. None of them is any good.”
DALEY: The press isn’t likely to fare any better than Martin Luther King Jr. in Daley’s archives. Whenever Mike Royko’s name came up, Daley pretended he’d never heard of him. When aldermanic salaries were raised from $8,000 to $17,500, Daley told reporters, “Surely you can’t keep a fella honest–you fellas couldn’t be paid $8,000 a year and be honest in your jobs. Some of you aren’t doin’ it on the salary you receive!”
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Johnson photo/Yoichi R. Okamoto.