The Rise an Fall of the Machine
Chicago politics had become synonymous with organized crime. Following the years of prohibition, this reputation had become well earned in that control of many municipal functions was influenced in some way by the underground operations. In a city that initially developed by entrepreneurial ambition, it was no surprise that now money was the core influence in policy decisions. By itself, the criminal element had enough of a deterring effect on the city and its image. But when combined with the structure of the citys administration and the distribution of power, a tool which had originally been created for the good of society just did not work the way it should have.
The Chicago Machine had its foundations laid during the brief term (1931-33) of Anton Cermak. The only foreign-born mayor of Chicago to date, he managed to climb the ranks of the Democratic Party, along with Pat Nash, through a quick and skillful mastery of the politics of Chicago's ethnic ghettos. He opposed the Prohibition that was unpopular with immigrant workers, and carefully balanced Democratic slates and platforms among the many ethnic, labor, and business interests. He believed, like Mayor Richard J. Daley after him, that good government was good politics-and good politics was good government. Once in office, he tried to run the city and the party like a business: competence was rewarded, but if you did not deliver, then you were out.
Following Cermaks assassination, it was assumed that Pat Nash would assume the mayoral position, yet he waived it due to his aging and a lack of interest. When Ed Kelly filled the spot, the machine was further developed in the ways that it had been previously fabricated. Now dubbed the Kelly-Nash Machine, the influence of the mayors office grew that much more. And even though the country was going through the depths of the Great Depression, good-hearted men like Cermak and Kelly kept Chicago together.
Such good things were not meant to last. 1943 saw the death of Pat Nash, and soon after came an abrupt decline to the system that worked so well. Differences arose between some Democratic Party members and the fiery-tempered Kelly, and he was asked to step down from campaigning for the office again. When his successor Martin Kennelly took office, he found Chicago in a deteriorating state, and his administration was undoubtedly connected to the underworld. Though not a mediocre mayor, his retreat from political conflicts at times made him seem like one. This political inactivity adversely effected Chicago, no longer was the mayors office home to the boss of the city. Once again, the power was in the wrong place.
Enter Richard J. Daley, the man regarded by many to be not only Chicagos best mayor, but most outstanding of all big city mayors. His actions toward the city council were swift, sharp, and unexpected. By the time his first 2 years of office were complete, he was in complete control of all of Chicagos dealings. No government employee was hired without first being approved by Daley. The city council could not take any action without his consent.
Daley gained the respect that came to him out of his character: he was a devout Irish Catholic with strong family values, and his experience as a ward alderman showed how the community-and eventually the entire city-came to admire him.
As impressively as it started, Mayor Daleys time in office was not without its hardships. The problem most prevalent in Chicago was the growing racial tensions. Racial segregation and public housing issues plagued the mayor for the remainder of his term, and its wearing effect on the mayor was becoming evident.After 21 years in office, Richard J. Daley died in office, and it can be said that the strength he brought to city hall died with him. Daley was Chicago, and the Machine, at its best.
Previous to the Mayors passing, the machines crumbling had already begun in the form of the previously mentioned racial tensions. Daleys focus on supporting the poor in the public housing issues had taken its toll; Ben Adamowski started to turn the majority of the polish community against him in his attempt at acquiring the chair. This was pushed further by the campaigning of William Singer, a democrat, in Daleys last term as mayor.
The machine would soon feel the loss of another major supporting community, Chicagos African-American neighborhoods. Michael Belandic, the adequate stand-in after the loss of Daley, managed to lose the confidence of these peoples throughout his term in office. The victim of inexperience, nature punished Chicago with a mighty blizzard in January of 79, and a somewhat panicy Belandic proved himself to be ineffective. The city that works, for the first time, stopped working. Under the acting mayors order, the CTA ignored a large portion of the black neighborhoods, cutting off service to some of the south and west sides. Neglected, the black community looked for a new leader.
Another aspect of the Machines downfall, one that I thought to be a hefty loss, is its loss of political backing. When the organization, as it was also called, was at its best it was because the stalwart mayors had control over their administration intertwined with their heavy influence in the Democratic Party. This was a major similarity in control exerted by Daley, Kelley, and Cermak. Each of them had amazing influence within political ranks, which in turn supported their authority over the municipal government. When independent Democrats surfaced, and moreover, when they began to draw together a following, it was a definite sign that serious damage had been done to a major element of the Chicago political Machine.
It was no doubt that Michael Belandic was a figurehead of the political machine from which Chicago had earlier prospered. His appointment came with support from plenty of other major players of the machines people. Unfortunately for Chicago, Belandic was not the mayor necessary to carry out the dreams of Chicagos past bosses, though he had a decently comfortable chair at the head of the Organization, it was evident that he couldnt fill the big shoes Daley left behind. It might have been possible to spare some of the Machines integrity had another candidate been given the position, but when Belandic took office, the cracks were already getting bigger.
Jane Byrne defeated Michael Belandic in the 1979 election, an inevitable outcome to his poor performance as mayor in the previous couple years. Truly her inauguration marked the complete downfall of the institution that was the Chicago Political Machine. Her campaign focused on attacking machine politics, city bosses, and the evils of all those involved. What was more surprising to me than anything was that Chicago appeared to welcome the changes Byrne promised to deliver, showing that the people had grown weary of dealing with the politics of the Machine. Byrnes triumph at the polls was the end of a fifty-year saga in Chicago politics.