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Chicago on the Potomac: When in Trouble, Call a Daley

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

Out with one member in good standing of the Daley machine, Rahm Emanuel, and in with another, this time a Daley himself, as the president's chief of staff. The more things change at the White House, the more things stay the same, if not samer.

It's all in the family this time as the mayor's brother Bill moves to Chicago-on-the-Potomac, where he'll feel right at home. He can order in Chicago-style, deep-dish pizza and generally run the president's office the way it should be. On time, or else. And always friendly. At least at first. Just don't make trouble, pal, and we'll get along fine.

Chicago is the kind of town where the trains run on time. Also, the snow is removed and the trash doesn't pile up on the streets and you play nice or there will be, uh, ramifications. Which is something else that distinguishes Second City from the Big Apple, the way old Maxwell Street used to have better bargains than the Lower East Side.

And you could sink your teeth into a real corned-beef sandwich instead of the kind of confectioner's dream they serve at the Carnegie Deli in Manhattan. And don't get me started on the kielbasa in Chicago, which is not to be confused with the sanitized, deflavored, lo-cal version made for the little old lady in Peoria.

Chicago's got a mayor who's a mayor, one who runs the place like a family business, which it is. Not some retired billionaire who can't decide what party he belongs to. Think of it as the difference between the White Sox and the Mets, and you'll see what sets a Chicago pol apart from a dilettante like Charlie Rangel in New York.

Carl Sandburg dubbed it City of the Big Shoulders, and Sarah Bernhardt said it was the pulse of America. Chicago may have slowed down some since Miss Bernhardt's time, and affected a little polish, which is a shame in its case, but its heart still beats strong, or at least The Machine does.

Things haven't changed all that much since Mayor Daley I elected Jack Kennedy president of the United States, so why not let his youngest save this presidency? It runs in the family.

The president has chosen well this time, if from a limited pool. But why go far afield when you're from Chicago and know just who can do what and how well and where to get it wholesale. The youngest Daley may be the smartest, toughest and business-savviest of the bunch, and that's saying a lot. 'Cause the old man didn't raise no dummies. Or softies. Don't let the JPMorgan Chase manners fool you.

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.

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