Friday, May 5, 2017

Mike Royko's Boss

The Boss of this book by Mike Royko is Mayor Richard J. Daley of Chicago. The book came out in 1971, when the first Daley had been mayor for 16 years, and Royko was a reporter for the Chicago Daily News.

Some quotes, for instance on nepotism:
Nobody in the Machine is more family conscious than Chairman Daley...Uncle Martin Daley had a well-paying job in county government he did so skillfully he seldom had to leave his home.
Daley didn't come from a big family but he married into one, and so Eleanor Guilfoyle's parents might very well have said that they didn't lose a daughter, they they gained an employment agency. 
Or on corruption:
Then down to the clerical job at City Hall for more learning. The first lesson is always the same: never repeat what you see or hear, or somebody might get indicted.
 [An old friend of Daley's Louis Wexler says of Daley:] "Even then, he misused the language so that you noticed it. He had trouble expressing himself and his grammar wasn't good." But thirty years later, Daley's grammar was good enough to say "yes" when Wexler appealed to their old school ties, and Wexler became a judge.
Daley's moral code was emerging: Thou shalt not steal, but thou shalt not blow the whistle on anybody who does.
Or on race relations in Chicago:
If the Negro was equal in the eyes of the law, the men wearing badges needed glasses.
I quote Royko primarily because at this point the main virtue of the book is its style. It was meant to reach an audience, and so it has no footnotes, it doesn't much bother with citations in the text, it's even vague on dates, though it's roughly organized by Daley's terms. It's not much use if you want to learn anything about Richard Daley, who for better or worse is now history.

As an example, Royko writes about the Richard Daley objecting because his son William has been assigned a book about race relations in Chicago by his theology teacher. The book (quite accurately) portrayed relations as poor, and Mayor Daley insisted they were good. There was some name calling at a parent-teacher conference. Now Royko only says that the younger Daley went to a Jesuit high school and gives us no further details.

There are two Jesuit high schools in the Chicago area, but no need to look it up: Bill Daley went to St. Ignatius on the near south side. I know because I went there myself about fifteen years later. I was mildly curious who his theology teacher was, because it was possible it was somebody I knew, but Royko doesn't say. Why not? Everybody in Chicago at the time knew of the connection between the Daleys and St. Ignatius, and anybody who could have done harm would have known the priest who taught theology at the time, so Royko wasn't protecting anybody that I can see. He was just being vague.

And that's the problem with the book, what limits its usefulness now. Read it if you like the dry (but maybe heavy-handed) irony of Royko, but don't read it expecting to be a good primary source about Mayor Daley. And even if you like Royko (as I do) I'd read a collections of his columns first, several of which are still in print, or Slats Grobnik and Friends, which isn't.

It used to be easy to find a copy of this in used bookstores in Chicago, because it sold so well. It probably still is. I've been carrying this around since I lived in Chicago, so it's done some traveling of its own. But it is now off my TBR list. My Reader's Block Mount TBR Challenge.

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