Richard M. Daley today announced his candidacy for mayor of Chicago, launching a campaign that will pit him against the remains of his late father's political machine.
Daley, 40, will take on Mayor Jane Byrne in February's Democratic primary. Byrne grew up in the old Daley machine, broke from it after Mayor Richard J. Daley died in 1976 and has feuded with the son ever since.
In his announcement speech today, Daley accused Byrne of running a chaotic administration that has "shaken Chicago's reputation as the city that works." He took her to task for rewarding friends with city contracts, a somewhat ironic charge from a lawyer who got his start doing legal work for his father's city hall.
But Daley's career in public life has been studded with irony. The eldest of four sons, he was groomed from childhood for elective office. He was elected to the state senate in 1972, and for his first few years in the state capital of Springfield he was the ringleader of the "Dead End Kids," a band of regular Democrats from Chicago who scuttled reform measures at the behest of the mayor.
After his father died he began to moderate his politics and spruce up his image. He pushed through social legislation in the late 1970s, and even advocated elimination of the state sales tax on food and medicine, a measure opposed by Byrne.
Like his father, Daley is not the most polished political orator, but this could prove more of a handicap for him in an age of media-oriented politics. Two years ago, for example, when he ran for state's attorney, he refused to debate his opponent. A large billboard soon went up on the edge of the 11th Ward, in which the Daley family has lived for generations: "Come on Richie, debate me," it said. It was signed by his opponent.
Daley has since been taking speech coaching, but would not commit himself today to debating Byrne. His inarticulateness has produced its share of barbs.
"If you listen to him talk long enough, you wonder whether he's got the brains to tie his shoes," veteran Chicago columnist Mike Royko once wrote.
In Byrne, however, Daley is facing a vulnerable incumbent. In her first year as mayor she exhibited an erratic, combative style that had her at war with the city's business, ethnic and black communities at the same time. She labeled her political opponents "a cabal of evil men."
Blacks make up roughly a quarter of the city's voting population, and their political activism is on the upswing. One of the major question marks in the February mayoral primary is whether a black candidate will jump in. Rep. Harold Washington (D-Ill.), considered the most formidable such candidate, is expected to make a decision in a few weeks. Washington dislikes both Daley and Byrne -- he once labeled them Tweedledum and Tweedledame.