A Dream of Two Chicago Mayors: From the Clout of Mayor Daley to the Many Firsts of Mayor-Elect Lori Lightfoot
Many years ago in Springfield, Illinois, I met Richard J. Daley. I was a young assistant counsel to then Governor of Illinois, Adlai E. Stevenson.
Daley was head of the Illinois Department of Finance when Illinois had a balanced budget and a strong financial reputation. We worked together and became friends.
In 1955, Daley was elected Mayor of Chicago with over 700,000 votes. He served as Mayor for 21 years until his death in office in 1976, and became a legendary national leader of the Democratic party and a confidant of Presidents Kennedy and Johnson.
I came to Chicago in 1946 after military service in World War II to go to college and law school, and have a long love affair with our city. Now in my 94th year, I have a long perspective about Chicago Mayors, having known each of Mayor Daley’s seven successors.
The other night, Richard J. Daley appeared to me in a dream to ask, “Newt, what’s going on in Chicago?” I told him we had just elected a new mayor. “Originally 21 candidates announced they were running and that 14, including your son Bill, got on the ballot but no one got 50 percent of the vote, which led to a runoff of the two with the highest votes.” I told him that his son did not make it to the runoff; and he said he regretted that because Bill would have been a great mayor. He asked about the two finalists.
“Mayor,” I told him, “both finalists for mayor were are African American.” He gave me a look of amazement. “Then it sounds like the civil rights and voting rights laws I worked with President Kennedy and President Johnson to pass are having some effects. “
“What about women?” he asked me. “ Remember, my mother was a suffragette
who fought for the rights of women to vote.” I replied, “Mayor, your mother would be proud. Remember those two African American candidates I told you about?
They were both women.”
“You’re kidding,” he said. “I’d better sit down.”
“And that’s not all. One of them is openly gay. She is legally married under laws passed after your time, and they have a beautiful child, an eleven year old daughter with a lot of charm.”
Mayor Daley was speechless for a minute and then said, “Happy families are the strength of America.”
I went on. “Mayor Daley, our mayor elect is named Lori Lightfoot. She is highly educated, a graduate of the University of Chicago Law School and was a law partner in a fine firm, the same firm where Bill was a partner. After Bill lost and did not get to the runoff, he called and suggested I vote for Lightfoot, which I did. She won in a landslide with 73 percent of the vote, carrying all 50 wards, and the majority of every racial, ethnic, and diverse group. She didn’t get as many votes as you did in your first term, but she has a chance to unite our city and bring us all together.”
Mayor Daley replied: “ I wish Mayor elect Lightfoot every success. I believe in democracy and accept the voters’ decision. When I was mayor, I did not welcome the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King to Chicago as I should have, but I have talked to him and he forgave me. Up here we know that while most of us arrived here in different ships, we are now all in the same boat. We should all salute the new Mayor, remember that Chicago is the greatest city in the world, with the best resources, the best people, and the best spirit. I now have to leave you and give Jane Byrne and Harold Washington the big news.”