The Mob + the Daley Democratic Machine: Lessons Learned And Now In Practice By Democratic Leadership In Washington, D.C.
by Daniel T. Zanoza, Executive Director
AUTHOR'S NOTE: I first wrote and posted this column in January of 2009. Little did I know at the time my commentary about Chicago-style politics and its influence on the Obama administration would be so prophetic. From the Louisiana Purchase and the Nebraska Corn Husker Kickback, which helped to pass the Health Care Reform legislation, Washington, D.C. has seemingly become a mirror image of how things have been done in Chicago for nearly a century.
The city of Chicago is one of the few major metropolitan areas which runs away from its past at every opportunity. Yet, indeed, the very construction of the city led to the term "underworld." And with rampant corruption controlled by infamous individuals like "Big Jim" Colosimo, Al Capone, Paul "The Waiter" Ricca, Murray "The Camel" Humphrey and Tony "Joe Batters" Accardo, Chicago can hardly bury its past--no pun intended.
Since the turn of the 20th century, what Carl Sandburg referred to as the "City of Big Shoulders" was perhaps the center of organized crime in the United States. Though New York had its Syndicate and Detroit had the Purple Gang, many believe true power in America's underworld was concentrated in something called the Outfit.
With the election of Barack Obama will come a great deal of history-laden baggage which will make the movie "The Godfather" seem like a Walt Disney cartoon. Have you noticed? It has started already. The Rod Blagojevich story is just the tip of a giant iceberg which won't melt away any time soon.
And if you think Obama has separated himself from the political swamp which he eminated, you're wrong.
From David Axelrod (Obama's chief political handler during the election), who was nurtured on the Daley Machine, to the political organizing which Barack Obama so proudly claims a lineage, Chicago's brand of one Party politics may be a model for the Obama administration in Washington, D.C.
It is no mistake the President-elect joined Rev. Jeremiah Wright's southside Chicago church. Obama wanted to learn the ropes of power politics and how it was played in the Windy City. There were no better teachers than Mayor Daley and his cadre of obliging Aldermen who responded to the cracking of the political whip. A failure to do so would quickly leave them on the outside looking in--without protection from the media, the law and any other threat which loomed on the horizon.
The question is not whether Obama will use the lessons he learned in Chicago as President. The question is: How much of that lesson will become the modus operandi for the Obama adminstration? Some say it might become Chicago on the Potomac, when referring to the political mechanism Obama may surround himself with. If so, it will be our nation's darkest nightmare come true. And combined with the Clinton-brand of Arkansas politics, there may truly be a new day in our nation's Capitol.
Now, if you're thinking the Chicago mob is long dead and buried, you're mistaken. In fact, some of Al Capone's descendants have significant interests in a thoroughbred race track in Cicero, Illinois--an old haunt for Chicago mobsters. That's right, I'm talking about Scar Face, the man who controlled the Chicago underworld during the Roaring 20's and left a legacy of mobster-run activities which lasts 'til this very day.
But how did the Daley Machine take root in Chicago? A book titled, "The Outfit: The Role of Chicago's Underworld in the Shaping of Modern America" written by Gus Russo and published in 2001 gave Americans a frigthening glimpse into the Daley Machine and how it got its start.
After Capone left power, due to his conviction on tax evasion charges in the early 1930's, it was Ricca, Humphrey and Accardo who truly called the shots in what many refer to as the Mafia. Even "Lucky" Luciano and Meyer Lansky, originators of organized crime in New York would not make a move without consulting the Chicago Triumvirate whose innovation and power criminologists say was matched by none.
Since the hay-days of mob activity in Chicago, the city has done everything possible to shed its dark past. But its reputation lives on--despite the efforts of the current Mayor, Richard M. Daley. In the early century, individuals like "Big Jim" Colisimo controlled gambling and prostitution in the city. With the advent of Prohibition, organized crime found its true calling through the sale of bootleg alcohol, combined with the pandering trade. Added profits were topped off by a very lucrative illegal gambling racket.
After Capone's departure, the mob moved into the numbers game--which had made millions for underworld entrepreneurs in the African-American community. Union corruption--which was master-minded by Murray "The Camel" Humphrey--brought great fortune to the Outfit as well. Eventually, the mob moved into the illicit drug trade. Until the early 1960's, the Chicago Outfit was ruled with an iron hand by Ricca, Humphrey and Accardo. Though in later years, more flamboyant underworld figures, such as Sam "Mooney" Giancano and lesser players, including Joseph "Joey Doves" Aiuppa, and the Spilotro Brothers of the movie "Casino" fame, controlled organized crime in Chicago, the FBI virtually wiped out mob activity in the city--although remnants of the Outfit still exist today.
Chop shops and vending machines (poker, cigarettes, etc.) are still reported to be controlled by criminal entities. But the glory days of the Chicago Outfit are said to be long gone. Yet the public doesn't have to look far to find reminders of those wild times gone by.
Indeed, Chicago's current Mayor Richard M. Daley may not hold that office if not for the influence the Outfit had when it came to the election of his father, Richard J. Daley. Perhaps the Daley link with organized crime is one of the reasons why the city does all it can to obscure Chicago's dark and corrupt history. You will not find city-sponsored tours of famous gangland hang-outs. Even historical landmarks, like the site of the St. Valentine's Day massacre at 2122 North Clark Street, though an empty lot, are nagging reminders of a bygone era which City Fathers would rather forget.
The Outfit played a significant role in Richard J. Daley's coming to power. Hizzoner "The Boss" was the protégé of 11th Ward Committeeman, Hugh "Babe" Connelly whose ties to the mob go way back to the days of the "Moustache Pete's" who included prominent underworld figures like Johnny Torrio who first brought Capone to Chicago. Daley took over Connelly's 11th Ward seat in 1947. In league with people like 11th Ward Alderman "Big Joe" McDonough, by 1955 the Mob was grooming Daley to be Mayor and, with the help of the Outfit, his election became a reality. For example, in the very mobbed-up 1st Ward, Daley won a plurality of votes by a staggering margin of 13,275 to 1,961. After his election, Daley moved to solidify the Outfit's power in the city. In 1956, Daley disbanded "Scotland Yard" an intelligence unit which had compiled reams of detailed records about Chicago crime figures. All this was to the grief of the Chicago Crime Commission who believed Daley's election had set the city back a decade--as far as the prosecution of organized crime.
Perhaps Richard M. Daley received much of his education from his Father whose political coffers were stuffed with mob cash, according to the FBI. And perhaps the free rein given to organized crime by the Father implanted ideas in the mind of the son regarding possible revenue expansion through alternative sources. It's possible today's Chicago Mayor learned a very important lesson from Tony "Joe Batters" Accardo who secretly financed the Rivera Hotel in Las Vegas in 1955, the same year Richard J. Daley was elected Mayor. For nearly a quarter of a century afterward, the Chicago mob skimmed literally hundreds of millions of dollars out of Las Vegas casinos--while operating with near impunity in Chicago, their home base.
Richie Daley had to see the unlimited amounts of cash that could be directed into city coffers through the expansion of gambling in Chicago. And though most of what used to be underworld crime has been incorporated into white collar America, gambling becomes even more seductive, no matter what memories of Chicago's past may be dredged up in the process.
Related article: Blagojevich, Daley, Obama: Peas From The Same Rotten Pod
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