Paul Greenberg

When this president needs the kind of Wall Street fat cat he likes to denounce in election years, he knows where to go looking for one, and it's not on Wall Street. 'Cause in Chicago, on State Street, that great street, they do things they don't do on Broadway. But if you're high enough up in the organization, you needn't dirty your hands. Not even your fingernails. At least by the time you get to the third or fourth generation, Kennedy-style.

It was Bill Daley, as I recall, and indeed will never forget, being one of those editors who got a friendly call from him, who lined up just about every editorial page in the country behind the NAFTA free-trade agreement. That's when he was Bill Clinton's secretary of commerce and chief enforcer. The press fell in line like voters in the 11th Ward or customers at the Billy Goat Tavern under North Michigan Avenue. (Enter at your own risk.)

The Billy Goat was where the late, great Mike Royko usually drank lunch. He remained the one bright spot on the old Chicago Daily News as the lights went out one by one. As a young editorial writer, I'd watch him worshipfully, not daring to interrupt his boilermaker. You don't interrupt a Chicagoan when he's doing something important, like thinking about what he's going to write or placing a bet, which are not entirely different enterprises.

Royko was not only an acerbic newspaperman with Chicago writ in his every word, including and and the, but the biographer of the one and only, original His Honor Richard J. Daley of blessed memory and every pork-barrel project in town, many of which may still proclaim his name in big letters.

It was Royko who recognized the Boss' organizational and operational genius in his fine work, titled, of course simply "Boss." Everybody knew whom he meant. At least at one time. Political bosses aren't quite as well known these days. Not because they've grown more genteel, but because the press has, more's the pity.

By now Mayor Daley II (Richard M.) has been in office even longer than No. 1, or any other mayor in the city's history, for that matter, though he's about to leave, or rather abdicate. The spirit of Hizzoner goes a-marchin' on, generation after generation, only in better suits. And with a vocabulary that's been cleaned up for display purposes, although traces of the old Daley syntax remain visible, like unerasable DNA. ("The police are not here to create disorder, they're here to preserve disorder!")

Da Mare, as they pronounced it in The Windy City when I worked there, was a rhetorician of the first muddy water whose perorations couldn't be topped, or was it bottomed? ("They have vilified me, they have crucified me; yes, they have even criticized me!") If his words were tangled, his outrage was direct and his sense of honor as keen as Ashley Wilkes' in "Gone With the Wind," only he didn't demand satisfaction when insulted; he just took it. He was as direct as his city's grid plan. Just don't cross the Outer Drive and you'll be all right, pal.

Hizzoner had no patience with what he once called "insinuendo." He didn't have time for it; he had elections to win and a city to run, roughly in that order, and he did one heckuva job at both. Maybe that's why he had no time for the finer points of etiquette, which may be of only limited usefulness when what you really need is bail money.

To quote Mike Royko's magnum opus: "And if somebody in City Hall saw a chance to make a fast bundle or two, Daley wasn't given to preaching. His advice amounted to: Don't get caught." -- "Boss," Page 7.

It wasn't that Richard J. was a hard man. He certainly wasn't, at least if you didn't cross him. Indeed, he was a most forgiving type. He believed in rehabilitation: City Hall was full of ex-cons on the city payroll.

The man could forgive almost anything except Republicanism. A latitudinarian of the highest sort when it came to how his underlings ran their wards, all he asked was that they just get their people to the polls on election day, early and often, dead or alive. His boy Bill has since grown into a pillar of the (banking) community, but we wouldn't cross him, either. Barack Obama will be well taken care of. If he knows what's good for him.

Running the Daley machine was not unlike running a small Latin country, only in a colder clime, much colder, and even more lucrative. That's the family business Bill grew up in, and it took. He'll surely be the nicest guy in the White House, on the surface, but I wouldn't advise anybody -- Democrat, Republican, Independent or freelance -- to tangle with him. They could wind up regretting it. Deeply. Don't make him hurt you.

L'envoi: Thursday afternoon, when news of the Daley appointment got out, I heard one of the indistinguishable twits on NPR, which is just the kind of goo-goo operation the Daleys always despised, at least inwardly, offer what she must have considered high praise. Politics in Chicago, she assured listeners, is a great training ground for the rough-and-tumble of Washington. Uh-huh. As usual, NPR had got it exactly backward: The rough-and-tumble of Washington is great training for the real stuff in Chicago.


Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.