Thorner: The Rich Daley story (Heartland Author Series – “First Son” by Keith Koeneman)

May 23, 2013

Before introducing Keith Koenman, Jim Lakely, Heartland’s Communications Director, in holding up a magazine with Heartland splashed across its cover, assured those present that this publication about  trucks and heavy equipment was not a Heartland publication!  After “breaking the ice,” Lakely went on to explain five happenings of merit at Heartland, both past and future.

1.  The Milt Rosenberg show has returned as a podcast which will feature long-form interviews with authors, journalists, economists.  Milt’s first guest was author and conservative pundit, Mark Steyn.  It was done at Heartland’s headquarters in Chicago. – 69k –

2.  James Taylor, J.D., Senior Fellow and Managing Editor of Environment and Climate News, continued his lecture push against states having mandates for renewable energy use.

3.  Jay Lehr, Ph.D, Science Director, appeared on Good Morning America during a three minutes segment devoted to “No Need to Panic about 400ppm CO2.”  Jay managed nine seconds of talk time.

4. The short film, “I Pencil” is being presented on Tuesday, May 21 from 6:00 p.m. – 7:30 p.m. as a joint venture of The Heartland Institute and the Competitive Enterprise Institute at the the Union League Club of Chicago.

5.  Peter Roskam will be featured on Wednesday, May 29, and will speak about Medicare Part D at the Union League Club of Chicago.

To keep in touch with these and future Heartland activities log on to: or

In Jim Lakely’s introduction of Keith Koeneman, the author was described as a third generation Chicagoan and an expert of Daley and Chicago politics.  Koeneman hold advanced degrees from Harvard, the University of Chicago, and Northwestern University and is a contributor of articles to the Huffington Post on Chicago politics, history and culture.

Keith KIoenman presented his book through the narratives of:  1 ) The process through which the book was written; 2) Daley’s rise to mayor through his life story; 3) Daley’s accomplishments; and 4) Daley’s mistakes.

Process through which First Son was written:

It was 20 years ago when Koeneman first thought about writing a biography of Richard M. Daley after finding that no one else had done so.  Time passed by.  About three and one half years ago the thought of writing Daley’s bio became a reality for Koeneman.  By that time Daley had already been in office for four decades.  Koeneman also found that during the interim of 20 years between thought and action, a bio of Daley had yet to be written.

First Son was written in keeping with what was described by Koeneman as the “very Chicago thing to do.”  Koeneman used networking with friends of Daley for acquiring 20 or so interviews.  It was also through persistence that Koeneman had success.  He would call individuals as many as 20 and even 40 times, until it became uncomfortable for those individuals not to respond to his calls.  Koeneman also found that by calling at 7:00 a.m. or 7:00 p.m., the individuals he wished to speak with would often answer their own phones, making it difficult for them to say “no” to Koeneman.

Most of Koeneman’s interviews were rather long.  Most of the interesting information also come at the end of Koeneman’s interviews, that is, if the interviews lasted for more than an hour.  According to Koeneman, either an interview would end after an hour during which time lying was apparent, or it would continue well past an hour when truth was revealed.  How so?  It took time for individuals to determine whether KIoeneman was someone who was honest and trustworthy and with whom they could feel at home with.

In all Koeneman conducted a total of 140 interviews for his book, some on the record, some off the record, and some a mixture of on and off the record.

In writing First Son, it was Koeneman’s goal to present Daley’s mistakes and accomplishment in a bi-partisan way,  thereby enabling readers to make up their own minds.

Daley’s rise to mayor through his life story (Highlights of Daley’s Life):

  • Grew up in the Irish-Catholic section of Bridgeport.
  • His favorite activity in high school (De LaSalle Institute) was playing basketball.
  •  Interesting time for young Daley was when his father (elected to office in 1968) had to deal with the race riots.  The then 26-year old Daley experienced the grief directed against his dad by protesters, many of whom were upset about the Vietnam War and who were of an age closer to that of the young Daley.  Daley’s dad represented the old generation to the protesters.
  • By 1974 Daley the elder had become very powerful and was instrumental in helping elect his son to the Illinois Senate.The nickname given by Daley’s Senate colleagues in the 1970’s was “Dirty Little Ritchie.”
  • First real accomplishment for Daley was his election to State’s Attorney General in 1980 at age 38 (The elder Daley died in 1965.).  Daley won despite 48 of 50 aldermen backing Edward Burke, one of few the Democrats to win in 1980, the year of the “Regan Revolution.”
  •  Campaign of 1983 a nasty one in which Harold Washington defeated Jane Byrne and Richard Daley for mayor, with Daley coming in third in this Democrat primary.  Daley angered his political base for splitting the white vote.
  • The 1980’s were known for its council war.  It was a low point for Chicago, sometimes referred to as “Beirut on the Lake.”
  • Elected as Chicago’s mayor in 1989 with a convincing victory.  Daley ran a different campaign from his 1983 mayoral attempt.  He vowed to be ” mayor of all people.”
  • Keys advisers for Daley’s successful 1989 campaign were David Axelrod, Rahm Emanuel, David Wilhelm and brother Bill Daley.
  • Daley served 22 years as Chicago’s mayor, the longest in Chicago’s history.


Keith Koeneman described the job of mayor as a very difficult one because of the high expectations for mayors. Example given were fixing pot holes and clearing streets of snow in a timely way.   Problem solving by mayors was then noted by Koeneman as similar to solving a Rubik cube. The first one might be relatively easy to solve, but successfully resolving all that follow becomes a much more difficult task and even an impossible one.

Daley’s Accomplishments:

1.  Strengthened race relations in Chicago.

2.  Took a big risk to improve schools and public housing in 1995, although Koeneman realizes that opinions do vary.  Koeneman lauded Daley for taking responsibility but did admit that Daley’s leadership in following through wasn’t all it should have been.

3.  Provided two decades of stability to the political and business communities.  From 1976 to 1989 there had been five different Chicago mayors.

4.  Considered the most important: The transformation of Chicago to a global city.  By 2010 Chicago ranked 6th in global cities after New York, London, Tokyo, Paris and Hong Kong.

Daley’s Mistakes:

1.  Decade-long, large structural budget deficits starting in 2001.  From 1989 to 2000 every budget was balanced. 2001 brought about Daley’s first operating budget deficit.

2.  Flawed parking meter deal was just a symptom of Illinois’s pension crisis and its large structural budget deficit.  It was done as a way to come up with a a quick fix.

3.  Failure to take on unions has contributed to Illinois’s insurmountable billions of pension debt and deficit accumulations.

4.  The midnight destruction of Meigs Field.

5.  Tolerance for political corruption, i.e., 48 went to jail in the hired truck scandal.

6.  Supported inapt political candidates for office like Todd Stroger and Rod Blogovitch.

7.  Allowed a high level of crime to persist.  Although much of the crime was beyond Daley’s control, he could have done more toward the end of his term.

Regarding the relationship between Mayor Daley, Barack Obama, and other Chicago players, Keith Koeneman began this account with Obama’s move to Chicago in 1980:  1.  Obama grew up in a political sense during Daley’s reign.  Both kept each other at  arm’s length.  It was perceived that Obama had in mind to replace Daley as mayor until Obama was elected on his own as an  Illinois senator in 1996.  2.  Upon Obama’s  election to the presidency in November of 2008, Obama took with him to the White House two “Chicago Boys,” Rahm Emanuel and David Axelrod.  3. In announcing his retirement as mayor, it was highly unusual for Daley to have endorsed Rahm Emanuel as his replacement.

Random thoughts expressed by Koeneman, many during the question and answer period:

  • For 22 years, from 1989 – 2003, Richard Daley was a good mayor, but from 2003 – 2011 he made lots of mistakes.  Explanation:  A  person remaining in office for too long — whether be a politician, school principal, or a CEO — is bound to get too comfortable in the job, whereas keeping power and being re-elected become paramount and leads to corruption.
  • There is a parallel between Mayor Daley and Mayor Emanuel.  Both assumed office with great intensity.  Rahm Emanuel likewise appears to be giving his all to the job, but the “whole movie” must be seen first before judgment is made.
  • Chicago will not go like Detroit because of a $460 billion economy in the greater Chicago area.

President and CEO, Joe Bast, applauded Koenemen for writing a book which doesn’t have an ax to grind.


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