The Obama White House has occasionally been refereed to as the 51st Ward, a fictitious (and evidently far flung) section of the Chicago political map. While this dubious honor probably was not meant to paint the White House as beholden to the political masters of Chicago, it does speak to the mentality and methodology of the largely Chicagoan staff and their political potentate of a president.
So the appointment of William Daley, scion of the legendary Daley Clan, Chicago’s preeminent power brokers and kingmakers, as President Obama’s Chief of Staff should have been a perfect fit. Obama and his people all cut their political teeth in Daley’s backyard and the addition of William to the team should have been the icing on the Democrat cake.
But it wasn’t.
Rumors now coming out of Washington are that Daley was disorganized and ineffective as a leader, unable to gain the respect of his underlings and inflexible in his wish to impose a hierarchy on those around him. So when Daley, fresh back from a holiday vacation, tended his resignation almost a full year before his previously announced retirement, the Obama camp was shocked – but they shouldn’t have been.
The reason this supposed match made in heaven failed so horribly is because the White House really IS the 51st Ward. Obama’s inner circle has learned the lessons of holding power, Chicago-style, remarkably well.
Political clout in Chicago was long ago crystallized around the Daleys. For 43 of the last 56 years a member of the Daley family was Mayor of Chicago. Patriarch Richard J. Daley (often referred to as The Boss) built his Machine, a model of patronage that rewarded loyalty to his family with political positions and lucrative contracts. The Machine (still alive and kicking) gave rise to a small, but impossibly tight-knit group of political players through which any deal needed to pass. There is no way to join this club; one has to be invited.