Former Commerce Secretary and White House Chief of Staff Bill Daley has long been one of the important people in the room where it happens—whether that was plotting strategy for major political campaigns or observing the mission to capture Osama Bin Laden.
Now that there’s a surprise opening for an office that members of his family have held for nearly 44 years combined, he’s not throwing away his shot to take the job for himself.
On Monday, the 70-year-old Daley formally launches his campaign to succeed Rahm Emanuel as mayor, hoping to follow in the footsteps of his father, Richard J. Daley, and oldest brother, Richard M. Daley.
“It’s something obviously growing up with a father who was mayor and a brother who was mayor, they kind of crowded me out for a while there,” Daley told the Sun-Times on Sunday in one of series of interviews with local news media that will serve as his announcement.
“So I think it’s something that if you grew up in Chicago and you were around government and around politics, being mayor was much more important than being governor or senator or president,” he said.
That answer should go a long way to explain to doubters who have watched Daley explore numerous bids for public office through the years only to later back out why this time is different and why he says he’s in it to stay.
Daley said he’s putting together a campaign team, which he never had in his aborted 98-day bid for governor in 2014, and is raising the money necessary to “have a serious race for a serious office.”
“And you know, at this stage of my life, this is what I’d like to do for maybe the next four to maybe eight years. If people don’t accept it, I think I’ve had a great life. I’m lucky. But to be mayor, that would be the greatest,” he said.
Daley is still polishing up his answer as to why he should be elected.
“That’s the ultimate question for the voters to decide in the end,” Daley said. “I think my life – and what I’ve tried to do both in the private sector and in the government service that I’ve done – indicate a seriousness and a sense of bringing people together. I love the city.”
Daley has no formal event to announce his candidacy, not even a campaign video. He said he decided to jump right in and start campaigning.
“I’m going to try to do it differently than people think, be out in communities,” he said, noting he has quit his investment banking job and plans to campaign full time.
Daley offered no specific solutions to the city’s most vexing problems, saying he plans to spend much of his campaign listening to voters for their ideas.
As he seeks to become the latest Mayor Daley, Bill Daley admits he doesn’t know whether the Daley brand carries as much weight as it once did.
“I think there’s some people who like us, some people who don’t like us. I’m not going to change my name at this stage. But we’ll find that out, to be frank with you,” he said.
“I wasn’t shocked, knowing how tough that job is and the toll it takes on not only the mayor, on his wife and the family. But I was surprised.”
Daley said he never considered running against Emanuel, who he calls a friend despite their occasional public differences, the latest of which involved him telling the mayor to “put on his big-boy pants” and stop blaming his brother for the tax increases needed to solve the city’s pension crisis.
“I would not do that to a friend,” he explained of why he didn’t enter the racer earlier.
Daley said he hadn’t spoken to Emanuel “in a while” before talking to him in recent days to wish him and his wife well with the next phase of their life.
At that time, Daley said he informed Emanuel of his intention to run but did not ask for his support. Emanuel’s response?
“Good luck,” Daley related.
Asked what Emanuel did right and wrong as mayor, Daley credited the mayor with stabilizing the city’s short-term finances and making improvements in the schools. He offered no criticism.
“I’m not looking back over the last four or eights years, or 40 years. I think the people of Chicago are at a point right now where they’re saying, ‘OK, what about the next four years?’” he said.
But Daley said he understands people will be asking him about his brother’s role in the city’s long-term financial problems, which he agreed remain a serious concern.
“I’m the first to say Rich Daley did not solve the pension problem at the city of Chicago. Rahm Emanuel didn’t. Harold Washington didn’t. Nobody has,” Daley said.
But he said he thinks when all factors are weighed, most people would say his brother’s tenure as mayor was a plus for Chicago.
In addition to the city’s finances, Daley cited violence among his top concerns.
“Nothing else works unless we can get a handle on this safety issue,” he said, then praised Chicago police and emphasized the need to support them.
Daley said his brother’s advice about running for mayor was simple: “If you want to do it, just go do it.”
“Rich is not going to be looking over my shoulder, whispering in my ear,” he said. “I will ask him for advice like any brother would ask a brother whose got some experience at some of these things. But if I have the honor of being mayor, it will be Bill Daley’s administration.”
One difference: he said he will have a policy that members of the Daley family will not be allowed to do business with the city or its sister agencies, taking note of a Sun-Times story about the large loss to city pension funds from a real estate investment involving one of his nephews.
“That sort of thing will not happen in my administration,” he promised.