CHICAGO -- Last week's long-range confrontation between Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley and Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin was much more than a personal tiff involving two formidable Illinois Democrats who obviously are not fond of each other. It contrasted Daley's majority Democratic Party of bygone years with Durbin's minority Democratic Party of today.
When Daley in his June 21 press conference referred to Durbin's rancorous comments about the U.S. military as a "disgrace," he was only repeating in public what many old-line Democratic loyalists told me not for quotation. But Durbin's Washington party colleagues defended his comparison of the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo with the bloodiest genocidal regimes in history. Durbin was forced into a grudging half-apology later on June 21 only because Daley spoke out.
Daley sees Durbin as typical of today's negative, Washington-oriented Democratic Party. Daley, a born and bred loyal Democrat, is a builder rather than a political hit man. During 16 years as mayor, he has presided over the transformation of a grimy Rust Belt city into a sparkling jewel on the lake.
Daley has publicly stressed he is Durbin's "friend," but "friend" is an overused word in politics. In 1996 when trial balloons floated for Durbin as Al Gore's running mate, I ran into the mayor at a Washington reception and asked him about his fellow Illinoisan for vice president. He laughed it off, stressing that Durbin was out of the question.
Daley spoke out June 21 in no small part because his 29-year-old son, Pvt. Patrick Daley of the U.S. Army airborne infantry, was visiting at home. Although Durbin now says he did not mean to criticize the Army by comparing interrogation at Guantanamo with mass murder by Hitler, Stalin and Pol Pot, that was how Patrick and his father interpreted it. The mayor's son, who reported for basic training last Dec. 29, resented what the senator said.
If Daley and Durbin truly were "friends," they might have talked on the telephone after the mayor's press conference. Durbin's staffers, not the senator himself, telephoned Chicago to protest. Their boss, they claimed, on June 17 expressed regret if anybody misunderstood him. The mayor refused to retract, and the senator went on the Senate floor later that day, June 21, to offer his version of an "apology." Not until then did the two Democrats talk.