He was dead now. In the morning he had been a physical marvel, shooting baskets like a young colt and giggling like a politician who owned the world. But now, early afternoon, his body lay on a stretcher in a fire department ambulance headed south on Michigan Avenue. They had cut open his chest in a desperate effort to save him and now the open wound was covered by a blanket. There would be plenty of time to close him up at the funeral home.

Richard J. Daley had been mayor of Chicago for so long that he finally grew to believe he owned it. Why else do you think he was able to laugh and cackle so openly as the city came ever closer to disaster? You see, the joke was always on us. Dick Daley did own Chicago. And it didn’t matter how the city crept closer and closer to social and financial disaster.

Dick Daley never had to worry about that. He was 74. How long would he have to stick around? The man who would become the next mayor of Chicago would be the one to face that music. Dick Daley had it made.

He knew all along that when he died, he would be eulogized as the greatest mayor of modern times. He knew he had beaten the rap. Alderman Thomas Keene went to jail. Alderman Paul Wigoda went to jail. Otto Kerner went to jail. Eddie Barrett went to jail. Even that poor schlump Earl Bush, the mayor’s press secretary, was convicted. But none of that ever touched Dick Daley. He rode around in his big black city-owned limousine right to the end. He cackled right into the grave.

We are all such sheep that we allowed him to accumulate that much power. In the final years he was as fat and as arrogant as a Roman emperor; he could do anything that Caligula or Nero could. His mere presence on the scene changed everyone’s view of it.

I remember the Illinois Central train crash. I arrived on the scene minutes after it occurred. I walked into one of the trains before the area was cordoned off. Men and women were screaming. Others lay grotesquely mutilated and dead. Before the day was over, they put more than 30 bodies in black body bags and carted them away in fire department ambulances.

But it was on that day that I realized how much power Daley had accumulated. You see, it wasn’t until I looked out the window of the train and saw Daley standing there with his entourage that it finally dawned on me that this would be an important story.

The mere presence of Dick Daley changed things. On that day, he stood watching the firemen fight to save people’s lives for perhaps two hours. He created a traffic jam of newsmen around him. He created a monstrous security problem for the police. Commander Paul McLaughlin for the first district spent all his time nervously moving newsmen from one point of the disaster to another, making sure the mayor had an unobstructed view and sufficient privacy.

Commander McLaughlin was one of Mayor Daley’s neighbors from the 11th Ward. Funny now, how you have to smile when you say that a prominent city official was Mayor Daley’s neighbor. My God, what a wonderful neighborhood that has been for producing city officials. Chief Judge Joseph Power is a neighbor. Poor deluded Matt Danaher was a neighbor. Judge Joe Wosik is a neighbor. How many city workers do you think were neighbors?

It wasn’t much of a neighborhood as those things go. In winter it was dirty and grimy. The houses were small bungalows. But the power was there. The streets were shoveled of snow faster than in any other part of the city. Fire calls were answered more rapidly than in any other neighborhood. And isn’t it strange that no blacks ever thought to move in? Well, that’s not quite true. One black man did move in back in the 1960s. There were the usual displays of temperament by Mayor Daley’s neighbors and then the black man moved out. Certainly, Mayor Daley had nothing to do with that. And how many times do you think Dick Daley cackled over that one behind the doors of his trim little cottage at 3636 Lowe Avenue?

Daley was so powerful for so long that in the end he didn’t know anybody who didn’t wear blue double-breasted suits and black wingtip shoes. Arthur Wirtz was such a friend. So was Patrick O’Malley of the Canteen Corporation and Arthur Rubloff, who owns all the buildings downtown, and Tom Bowler, the builder and … oh, the list is endless. And if they stood for a group picture you’d be hard pressed to tell them apart. They all have the same hard, pinched look around the eyes. We all make a mistake in thinking that because they are rich they are soft. Not this crew. They will take you any way they can get you. If it takes guile, they have that, and if it takes a sucker punch in an alley they’re capable of delivering that, too.

Dick Daley and his friends. They have run this city for so long and they have milked it for everything it had and now it’s on the verge of ruin. Daley wanted to build a crosstown expressway and a new football stadium for his friend George Halas. Daley the Builder. If he lived to be 100 years old there wouldn’t have been a spot of grass left inside the city boundaries.

“Think no small thoughts,” Daley would intone so piously, ‘because they do not capture the minds of men.”

That was from Daniel Burnham, of course. Burnham the Builder. Daley quoted Burnham so often that you would have thought Burnham had lived and died on Lowe Street.

I remember a day in the old LaSalle Hotel when Daley was to speak to the City Club. On that day he would be introduced by Ben Gingiss, the tuxedo rental man. This would be the high spot in Gingiss’s life. He is a man who lives on the fringe of celebrity and is having a big day when he can outfit a person like Forrest Tucker. For him to get close to Daley is like the late bartender at the Old Town Ale House being promoted to maitre d’ at Arnie’s.

Gingiss was complaining about what a stinking little airport Meigs Field was.

“It shouldn’t be there in the first place,” Gingiss said. “They put it there before we built all the high-rises along the lake and before the Stevenson Expressway and the Dan Ryan.

“Later on, when the mayor’s out of office, we’ll change the name to Daley Field.”

A City Hall insider, dressed in uniform double-breasted blue suit, sidled up.

“No, he doesn’t want that. He wants the Crosstown Expressway named for him.”

Then someone else suggested that they might name the new sports complex after Daley.

“No, that’s too small a monument,” anther man said. “Besides, it will have to be named after George Halas. Besides, the life expectancy of a sports stadium is only 50 years. Then they tear it down and build another.

“But an expressway? An expressway is forever. This new Crosstown will cost $1.5 billion. What a monument to Richard J. Daley.”

How fitting. Not only a monument to Daley but a wonderful new contract for the Brighton Construction company and for all the other painting and construction giants that have grown fat and rich over the years at the expense of the city’s taxpayers.

There is so much talk of Dick Daley as the city’s father, but how often do the men in the blue double-breasted suits recall how Daley demanded that his police go out and shoot looters after the murder of Martin Luther King?

Even Daley realized that he had overstepped himself on that one; he tried to bully the reporters who cover City Hall into admitting that he never said it.

But they had long before learned that in order to cover City Hall you had to carry a tape recorder with you at all times. That’ s another cruel joke on the people of this city. Daley was really the idiot figure behind the Wizard of Oz. He couldn’t speak ten words of the English language without his mind garbling it into something that was unrecognizable. That is why, in later years, he never spoke in front of any group without using a text that was prepared ever so carefully by his unimaginative but obedient press secretary Frank Sullivan.

I remember a day at the Conspiracy Seven trial when Daley came to be a witness. They brought him up a back elevator and through the rear entrance of the courtroom, and so he was sitting there in the witness chair when they let the defendants and the spectators in after the luncheon break.

Abbie Hoffman was the first defendant to come through the doors. He spotted Daley immediately. God, Daley really did look like a Buddha sitting there that day in his blue double-breasted suit. Daley’s face turned scarlet as he saw Abbie with his frizzy fright wig of a head of hair and when Abbie smiled, Daley looked uneasy.

Abbie made like a western gunfighter ready for the final shootout.

“Hey Daley,” he said, “why don’t you and I just settle this thing here and now between us.

Daley’s face broke into a grin. The spectators, who had been frightened by Abbie’s mad challenge, finally realized it was all right to laugh, too. Of course the spectators for that day were planted. The hippies didn’t get into the courtroom that day. It had been stacked by City Hall, just as the convention hall had been stacked during the 1968 convention.

It was Daley’s personal tragedy that for the last fifteen years of his life, he never really saw or knew what went on in the city that he ran. He ran it with an iron fist, pounding here and pounding there. But he was pounding like a blind man, because the people close to him never let him see that things weren’t going as smoothly as Daley always told the City Council they were.

They will eulogize Dick Daley this week at City Council. Oh, how they will. Vito Marzullo will weep. So will Mike Bilandic and all the others.

Marzullo will tell us that Daley was the greatest mayor in the history of the world. Bilandic, another neighbor, will have a eulogy that will be endless. And in the end it will all be pointless.

Dick Daley is dead now.

And while the eulogies are being delivered on the council floor, they will be cutting up the power in the back room, deciding who will be the next mayor of Chicago. Perhaps, what is even more important, they will be looking for the gray areas in the rule that makes the president of the City Council into acting mayor.

You see, Wilson Frost, the president pro-tem, is a black man. How do you think the men in the blue double-breasted suits will react to having a black mayor? Even for a day.