The Chicago Daley News


There’s lots of excitement these days regarding Chicago politics. And up until Rahm-a Drama, recent Chicago politics is all about the Daley family.

Richie not seeking re-election has opened the door for pundits to evaluate his mayoral legacy…as well as track a tumultuous race for his job.
Little brother Bill, the Brain, is the only Daley who speaks English. He is back in Washington D. C to help make things better for Obama’s 2012 run.
And from all around the world, observers have been trying to make sense of the Daley brand of politics, and the family that created the brand.

Richard J. Daley, the patriarch, will always be known as the Boss. That moniker is cemented by legendary Chicago journalist Mike Royko in his 1971 unauthorized biography Boss.

Richie M, the son, has carved out a reputation as the Bully.

Between father and son, they have run the city for what seems like 171 of the last 178 years.

Daddy Daley, who elevated patronage politics into a science and an art, made the city that worked for him — into the city that works. He put those funny London Bobby checkered hat bands on the headwear of Chicago police. He put snowplows on garbage trucks. And he put the Chicago Bears into Soldier Field.

Son Richie was vilified for that fateful 2003 night at lakefront Meigs Field. Of course he didn’t single-handedly tip a couple of Cessnas into the brine before taking control of a bulldozer and carving Runway 18-36 into oblivion. But his ordering of the raid sullied his reputation among many Chicago residents and the FAA. http://www.aopa.org/whatsnew/newsitems/2003/03-1-157x.html

For many observers, the Meigs Field raid defines Richie Daley’s bully-boy legacy. I disagree.

I was involved with a gentler, less rambunctious Mayor Daley. I saw a Mayor who loved airports, loved Chicagoans and visitors to Chicago, loved the private sector and who in my experience with him was not a bully at all.

The new O’Hare International Terminal opened in 1993. It was a symbol for Richie’s never-ending quest to shape Chicago into a true International City. The new Terminal Five was badly needed. It replaced the old Terminal Four that had signage announcing “Welcome to Chicago” but felt more like “Welcome to the Gulag.”

The new terminal has clean, gently arched lines, and is contemporary, classy, and tasteful. But its interior was as sterile as a TV-show morgue, and that was a problem. The City began receiving comments (OK – complaints) from visitors about the blankness, the interminable boredom, of the sleek 21-gate edifice.

At the time I was an executive at Chicago-based Citigroup Diners Club, the global Travel & Entertainment charge card that created the multi-use card industry. I fielded a call from a stained glass collector named E. B. Smith, who had received a quiet request from the Mayor’s office to lend some of his collection to warm up the new terminal. Smith needed a sponsor to fund the framing, transfer and installation of the pieces to Terminal Five. He asked me whether Diners Club would be interested in being that presenting sponsor.

I met with David Mosena, who was then Chicago Department of Aviation Commissioner, and his staff, who provided traffic and volume data and also pledged full cooperation for the project. The opportunity made branding and economic sense for Diners Club and I was able to sell the sponsorship internally.

Terminal Five, the International Terminal at O’Hare International Airport

Soon the terminal began to look like a gallery. We installed a delightful variety of 45 stained glass pieces from around the world. The collection expressed a cheerful welcome, and a colorful goodbye, to international travelers coming in and out of Chicago. Complaints dropped off. The Mayor was happy and that made the Aviation Commissioner even happier.

In 1995, Mayor Daley invited me and my boss, Diners Club Chairman Bob Rosseau, to a private meeting in the Mayor’s office at City Hall. There was no media, no photo opps, just four people – the Mayor and his Chief of Staff, Bob and me. Small talk ensued, then The Mayor expressed his heartfelt gratitude to us for helping convert a public challenge into a cultural and commercial success.

A couple of days later, a vividly hand-painted wooden bench arrived in our offices on W. Bryn Mawr Avenue. It had been created by Chicago grammar school kids (part of another Mayor’s office initiative for the airport) and sported a brass plaque commemorating the sponsorship.

I don’t know where that cherished artifact is now. I left the company in 2002 and the Diners Club brand has been sold off piecemeal by Citi to Discover Card and the Bank of Montreal since then.

Nor do I know who will be the next mayor of Chicago.

But I do know that my experience with Mayor Daley and the International Terminal was a stellar example of the private sector working with a municipality. We both benefitted from the enterprise. It could not have been handled more elegantly by Mayor Daley.

How do you think Mayor Richard M. Daley should be remembered?

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  • Great story, Walter. I wonder, though, how many companies have both the money and willingness to offer such support today.

  • Laura Mandell

    Great ‘back in the day’story. No matter what, Daley gets the top prize for beautification of this city.

  • Todd Elliott

    I cheered when Daley ordered the bulldozers in the dead of night to tear up Meigs Field. I won’t argue the legality, although the fact nothing came of it speaks volumes, but it was right for the greater good. He was simply fulfilling the ideals held by Chicago civic leaders since Burnham – the lakefront belongs to all the people of Chicago.

  • Emma

    Really interesting piece, and funny to boot. The Brain, the Boss, and the Bully.

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