Chicago’s political history sometimes reads more like a House of Cards script than it does a civics lesson. Terms like “Chicago-style” politics and “the machine” have become ubiquitous nationwide to evoke corruption, quid pro quo arrangements, and nepotism. Of course “the machine” is not actually a machine—it is a shorthand for the relationships and strictly enforced loyalties that allowed the Democratic party to consolidate power in Chicago over the course of the twentieth century. While the machine enjoyed its heyday under the father-son duo of Mayors Richard J. and Richard M. Daley, many of today’s elected officials remain beholden to this power structure or employ its tactics: rewarding supporters with contracts and city jobs, intimidating dissenters, and backing legislation which will line their own pockets.
To help voters prepare for February’s municipal elections we’ve assembled a map of mayoral candidates who are implicated in Chicago’s machine, through their relationships with the Democratic party’s head honchos.
ILLINOIS SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE MIKE MADIGAN
He’s the longest-serving House Speaker of any state legislature in the country, but that lofty distinction doesn’t even begin to adequately describe the reaches of Mike Madigan’s influence. He has garnered a wide reputation as a hard-nosed partisan whose shrewd maneuvers and bottomless financial warchests allow him to wield influence in just about every election or legislative battle in Illinois. He is the president of the Illinois Democratic Party, he goes way back with the Daleys, and has poured campaign funds into the pockets of Alderman Ed Burke.
One of his more “notable” legacies? The gerrymandered electoral map that now governs the state, all but guaranteeing Madigan’s re-election into perpetuity unless newly elected Governor Pritzker makes good on his pledge to establish an independent redistricting commission after the 2020 census.
FORMER COOK COUNTY ASSESSOR JOE BERRIOS
The Chicago Tribune once referred to Joe Berrios as the “classic somebody somebody sent.” As assessor, he was investigated by the county Board of Ethics for hiring close friends and family members to senior positions in his department. Berrios is responsible for creating a discriminatory property tax system that overvalued properties owned by minority and low-income residents and undervalued properties owned by their white, wealthy counterparts. In other words, the system gave tax cuts to the rich and put a tax burden on the working class. Berrios also accepted eye-popping financial contributions from the tax appeal lawyers who make a living by helping clients take advantage of that same system. Illinois voters had enough and voted him out of office in March 2018 during the Democratic primary, but he leaves behind a network of appointees, protégés, and business people who all share a vested interest in the status quo.
MAYOR RAHM EMANUEL
Many argue that Mayor Emanuel represents a break from the old machine politics, or at least a very different iteration thereof. Emanuel’s power stems from a different set of relationships: with the Obamas and downtown finance types rather than old political families. Still, there’s no question that Emanuel presides over a power structure which rewards obedience, as evidenced by city council’s tendency to cheerfully “rubber stamp” the mayor’s legislative agenda. And like the bossmen of old, Rahm has a habit of brokering deals that wind up benefiting his pals. (The Lincoln Yards development, for example, was initially supposed to include an entertainment district run by Live Nation, whose board includes Emanuel’s brother Ari.)
RICHARD J. DALEY
The elder Daley was the city’s longest-serving mayor. He didn’t invent machine politics but he may have perfected the art, building an efficient political organization through patronage—trading government jobs and services for votes and campaign cash. Although he died in 1976, Daley Sr. left behind a strong culture of pay-to-play that lives on.
RICHARD M. DALEY
As the son of the original bossman, Daley Jr. was bound to follow in his father’s footsteps. During his tenure as mayor, Richard M. Daley surrounded himself with a small circle of fierce supporters whose political future was entangled with his own, bartered with administration jobs, and cemented unwavering support from deep-pocketed developers by exchanging splashy downtown projects for campaign contributions.
14th WARD ALDERMAN ED BURKE
Burke more or less inherited his place at the helm of the 14th Ward from his father Joe Burke and is the only sitting alderman who was around during the tenure of Daley number one. He remained an ally to the family throughout both Daley administrations, and was among the coalition of white aldermen who organized to strip power from Chicago’s first Black mayor, Harold Washington, during the “Council Wars” in 1983. As a tax appeal lawyer, he’s benefitted from the county’s unfair property tax system (overseen most recently by Joe Berrios) and has stirred controversy in recent years by helping the Trump Tower get out of paying $14 million in taxes. His side hustle has resulted in numerous conflicts of interest; the Better Government Association recently reported that Burke has had to recuse himself from City Council votes 464 times in the last eight years—more than all other aldermen combined. The FBI just booked Burke on federal extortion charges for allegedly shaking down a Burger King franchise.
ED BURKE: The disgraced alderman has been pay-rolling Preckwinkle’s political pursuits since she became 4th Ward alderman in 1991. That includes a fundraiser at Burke’s home last year that raked in $116,000, some of which allegedly came from Burke’s Burger King shakedown. Preckwinkle vows to return this money and has attempted to downplay her tenured relationship with Burke. Still, she hired his son for a county job that paid nearly $100,000 in December 2014, even with a pending internal investigation into his alleged sexual misconduct at the Sheriff’s office hanging over his head.
JOE BERRIOS: Sure, he oversaw a property tax system that disproportionately targeted lower-income minority homeowners, while giving downtown office buildings a break. But even after a damning series of investigations into Berrios’ office by ProPublica and The Tribune, Preckwinkle stood behind Berrios and endorsed him for his failed re-election bid in March.
RAHM: Mendoza has had a close relationship with Emanuel since her time as City Clerk; she served as co-chair on Rahm’s re-election campaign in 2015. Ink hadn’t dried on the November ballots that elected her comptroller before Mendoza was reportedly reaching out to Emanuel strongholds for mayoral campaign cash.
ED BURKE: Even if you put aside the thousands of dollars Burke and his cronies have raised or donated to Mendoza’s campaigns, there’s still a years-long personal connection. Most notable? Perhaps the fact that she and her husband were married in Burke’s home by the alderman’s wife, who is a state supreme court judge and Mendoza’s longtime mentor.
MIKE MADIGAN: She’s a self-proclaimed Madigan “protégé,” and since her entrance into public office, Mendoza has received hundreds of thousands of dollars whether from the powerful house speaker or from one of the many PACs he uses to fund favorable campaigns.
RICHARDS M. AND J. DALEY: Bill Daley is… a Daley! He is the son of Boss Daley, Chicago’s longest-serving mayor who perfected machine politics, and the younger brother of Richard M. Daley, our second Daley mayor. Bill has taken some steps to distance himself from his brother, criticising the fumbled parking meter deal and mishandled pensions.
ED BURKE: The Daley and Burke families go back generations, each having made financial contributions and pledges of fealty to the other many times. But in October, before the FBI’s investigation of Burke came to light, Daley publicly called for Burke’s retirement, hinting at some love lost.
RICHARD M. DALEY: Chico served as Daley Jr.’s chief of staff for three years before the then-mayor appointed him as president of the Board of Trustees of the Chicago Public Schools, a position which he held for six years.
RAHM: After losing to Emanuel in the 2011 mayoral race, Chico endorsed the incumbent mayor wholeheartedly in 2015.
ED BURKE: Burke’s been around so long that he sat on the City Council Finance Committee when Chico had just entered public life as an aide. Chico served as chief of policy for Burke’s Committee during the “Council Wars.” The two have had a close personal relationship since, and Burke endorsed Chico in the race for mayor. Like everyone else, Chico is now trying to distance himself from the alderman. After the FBI bust he announced he would no longer accept Burke’s support.
RICHARD M. DALEY: Some argue that Enyia got her political start when the outgoing mayor hired her as a policy analyst in 2009.
RICHARD M. DALEY: Although Joyce Jr. is relatively new on the scene, he’s the son of an infamous political operative, Jeremiah Joyce. During his time as 19th Ward alderman and state representative, Daddy Joyce regularly allied with Daley. Describing his ubiquity as a political counselor, a 1966 Chicago Tribune headline said of Joyce Sr., “Like God, You Know He’s There.”
RAHM: Emanuel appointed Lightfoot as head of the Chicago Police Board twice before naming her co-chair of a police reform panel after the Laquan McDonald shooting. Though her ties to Emanuel complicate her fiercely anti-establishment platform, she has been critical of the mayor—especially his record on police reform—since launching her run.
RICHARD M. DALEY: Lightfoot held multiple positions within the Daley Jr. administration. Most notably, Daley tapped Lightfoot to lead CPD’s Office of Professional Standards—which reviewed cases of police misconduct and recommended disciplinary action. This office was later reformed after public scrutiny—including a Tribune investigation—led to questions about its effectiveness and its lenient treatment of officers.
RICHARD M. DALEY: Daley first appointed Vallas as budget director of the Illinois State Legislature. Later, Daley created a new role—CEO of CPS—and appointed Vallas to the post, where he served for six years. Vallas received national recognition for his success in balancing the budget and creating summer school and after-school programs; locally, however, he received pushback for expanding charter schools in the district and for his school reconstitution policies, which involved firing or reassigning a school’s entire staff and starting from scratch.
Carly Graf is a contributing editor to the Weekly. Most recently, she contributed to the Holiday Gift Guide.