Edward R. Vrdolyak was still more than a year away from joining the City Council — but was already the 10th Ward Democratic committeeman — when he sent a note to then-Mayor Richard J. Daley in 1969 seeking a political patronage plum for himself.
“Is there a possibility that I be considered for the position held by MORGAN MURPHY now that he is planning to run for Congress? This position would be ideal for me inasmuch as it is not a full time 40-hour week,” Vrdolyak wrote.
There was no return letter on file from Daley, so it’s unclear whether “Fast Eddie” got his requested sinecure. At the time, Murphy was a hearing officer for the Liquor Control Commission and indeed was elected to Congress in 1972.
I found the note last week in Daley’s files as chairman of the Cook County Democratic Party, part of a treasure trove of historical materials left to the University of Illinois at Chicago.
Tuesday marks the 40th anniversary of Daley’s death on Dec. 20, 1976, which ended his nearly 22 years in office, a formative and sometimes tumultuous period in the city’s history.
UIC and the Daley family are hoping to use the anniversary to prompt more people to discover the Richard J. Daley Collection, which opened to the public in 2013. It is housed inside the Richard J. Daley Library (naturally) on the near West Side campus that the six-term mayor considered among his greatest accomplishments.
Turning up old letters from Vrdolyak, who is currently under federal indictment for the second time, might not have been exactly what they had in mind.
But that’s the beauty of the Daley archive. It’s there to be studied by everyone from serious academics to middle-school students to meddlesome reporters.
On the scholarly side, UIC has brought in historian David Greenstein, who is designing a series of courses based on the collection that will debut this spring.
Greenstein regards Daley in a global context. He finds an old photo of the mayor posing with immigrants from countries then under Soviet control — during something called Captive Nations Week — and sees Daley’s role in projecting American freedom to the world.
I’m just an old political reporter. All I see is Daley trying to get the Lithuanian and Polish vote. I’d probably flunk the class.
If stacked up, the collection of materials covering Daley’s career would measure 700 feet high. I only had time to take a cursory look through the political files.
The Cook County Democratic Machine was in full swing at the time, and the files include a full roster of 31st Ward precinct captains circa 1953, complete with names, addresses, phone numbers and government jobs held as reward for their service to the Democratic Party.
Not much I can do with that list, but I marvel at how much trouble a reporter could have caused with it at the time.
Part of what is striking is that people still wrote actual letters instead of emails in those days — with a carbon paper duplicate for the files.
“You’re just not going to have that stuff going forward,” observed son William Daley, former White House chief of staff, who with the anniversary approaching found himself listening over the weekend to archived audiotapes of phone conversations between his father and President Lyndon Johnson.
Ald. Edward M. Burke (14th) was just a 26-year-old finishing up his first year in office when he sent Daley a fawning handwritten letter in 1970.
Burke needed to return to South Carolina for Army duty and wrote to express his “great sense of disappointment” at being unavailable to vote to re-elect Daley as party chairman the next day and to “respond to what I am sure some of your critics will say.
“Any criticism which might be directed at you tomorrow will eminate (sic) from jealous and frustrated men who are not concerned with the success of our party as much as they are concerned with their own self edification and agrandizement (sic),” Burke wrote.
Daley thanked him in superlatives older Chicagoans will recognize.
“I want you to know how proud I am to see you moving ahead and assuming leadership of the great 14th Ward in the footsteps of your great father, who would be very proud of the fine sentiments expressed to me in your letter,” Daley wrote, referencing Burke’s late-father, Joseph, who preceded him as alderman.
The Daley Collection is a great historical resource.Tweets by @MarkBrownCST