A Daley for a White House job? Critics lash out at 'Chicago Machine.'

Word that William Daley is Obama's top choice for chief of staff, to replace fellow Chicagoan Rahm Emanuel, have fed the line that the 'Chicago Machine' is taking over Washington.

By , Staff writer

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    Chicago mayoral candidate Rahm Emanuel speaks at a press conference in Chicago. William Daley is said to be Obama's top choice for chief of staff, replacing fellow Chicagoan Rahm Emanuel. Some have complained that the 'Chicago Machine' is taking over Washington.
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Talk that William Daley is President Obama’s top choice as White House chief of staff is reviving a narrative that has trailed the administration since the 2008 election: That the “Chicago Machine” is taking over Washington.

Mr. Daley certainly has the resume to replace former chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, who returned to Chicago in the fall to run for mayor to replace Richard M. Daley, William Daley’s brother. Washington insider Pete Rouse has been acting chief of staff since Mr. Emanuel stepped down in October.

William Daley served as commerce secretary under President Clinton and ran Vice President Al Gore’s 2000 presidential campaign. As Midwest chairman of JPMorgan in Chicago, Mr. Daley would also potentially strengthen and improve the administration’s connections to the global business community.

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But the idea of swapping out Emanuel for Daley was being criticized through some conservative media channels Wednesday. Chicago Tribune columnist John Kass imagined a “Chicago Way White House” and quoted an unnamed Chicago alderman who wondered out loud if the scenario was “some kind of plan.” “Rahm [Emanuel] runs the city. Billy [Daley] runs the White House. I mean, really,” the alderman was quoted as saying.

Using Chicago’s early history of bare-knuckled politics and back-room deal-making is a favored tactic among those outside the region seeking to tarnish the reputations of local Illinois political leaders who rise to the national stage.

In the late stages of the 2008 presidential campaign, Sen. John McCain, the Republican candidate, launched a 30-second television spot titled “Chicago Machine” that told viewers Mr. Obama was “born of the corrupt Chicago political machine.” Listing figures like former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich and imprisoned Illinois power broker Tony Rezko, the spot concluded, “with friends like that, Obama is not ready to lead.”

Dick Simpson, a former Chicago alderman who now teaches political science at the University of Illinois at Chicago, says labeling all politicians from Illinois as connected to the Chicago Machine is often meant as “a slur” and cites former US Sen. Paul Simon and former Illinois Gov. Adlai Stevenson as examples of political leaders who defy the characterization.

“The reform heroes are as great [in number] as the Machine, but it doesn’t always penetrate the media,” Mr. Simpson says.

History of the Machine

The Machine is an actual reference to the Cook County Democratic Organization, which has exerted powerful influence over the running of Chicago since the 1930s. Although it was established two decades before he was mayor, the Cook County organization became successfully entrenched by the Daleys’ father, former Mayor Richard J. Daley, who built an army of 35,000 patronage workers led by ward committeemen and precinct captains who would be tapped to work each campaign season to ensure victory for party loyalists.

The “Chicago Machine” not only became synonymous with the organization, but it also described a political mindset to win at all cost. Aggressive war chests and manpower became the Machine’s twin engines, fueled by a system promising power to ingrained incumbents and permanent exile to party dissenters.

The Machine is famously credited with helping elect John F. Kennedy in 1960, by working to give him the electoral votes needed to achieve a majority.

Simpson says the current Mayor Daley still operates the Machine, but with only 5,000 city workers at his disposal, his army is much less than his father’s. “It’s weaker, but it’s the strongest thing going,” he says.

A modernized Machine

The current Machine is also modernized. Next to financial support from the traditional sources, such as local developers, real estate companies and construction unions, the organization depends largely on contributions from the global sector: international banks and financial, legal, and manufacturing firms.

Their aim: to establish a strong business climate in Chicago, which means making sure the city is stocked with world-class culture, sports and social institutions. The wealth of support from the global economy increased Daley’s power and has allowed him to govern with little or no opposition throughout his six terms as mayor.

These global players “are looking for public policy, they’re not looking for payoffs like city contractors,” says Simpson.

Because of his last name, William Daley is an easy target for those who feel threatened by Chicago Machine politics. Not only is one brother the current mayor, his other brothers also hold key power positions in Chicago. John Daley is a current commissioner on the Cook County Board and is chair of its finance committee, and Michael Daley operates a local law firm that deals with zoning and land-use issues for clients that routinely deal with the city.

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