By Keith Koeneman, Read by William Coon Length: 12 hours, 24 min[Unabridged]
“Mayor Richard M. Daley dropped the bomb at a routine news conference at City Hall on Tuesday. With no prelude or fanfare, Mr. Daley announced that he would not seek re-election when his term expires next year. ‘Simply put, it’s time,’ he said.” New York Times, September 7, 2010
With those four words, an era ended. After twenty-two years, the longest-serving and most powerful mayor in the history of Chicago – and, arguably, America-stepped down, leaving behind a city that was utterly transformed, and a complicated legacy we are only beginning to evaluate.
In First Son, Keith Koeneman chronicles the sometimes Shakespearean, sometimes Machiavellian life of an American political legend. Making deft use of unprecedented access to key players in the Daley administration, as well as Chicago’s business and cultural leaders, Koeneman draws on more than one hundred interviews to tell an up-close, insider story of political triumph and personal evolution. With Koeneman as our guide, we follow young Daley from his beginnings as an average Bridgeport kid thought to lack his father’s talent and charisma to his unlikely transformation into an iron-fisted leader. Daley not only escaped the giant shadow of his father but also transformed Chicago from a gritty, post-industrial Midwestern capital into a beautiful, sophisticated global city widely recognized as a model for innovative metropolises throughout the world.
But in spite of his many accomplishments, Richard M. Daley’s record is far from flawless. First Son sets the dramatic improvement of certain parts of the city against the persistent realities of crime, financial stress, failing public housing, and dysfunctional schools. And it reveals that while in many ways Daley broke with the machine politics of his father, he continued to reward loyalty with favors, use the resources of city government to overwhelm opponents, and tolerate political corruption.
A nuanced portrait of a complex man, First Son shows Daley to be sensitive yet tough, impatient yet persistent, a street-smart fighter and detail-driven policy expert who not only ran Chicago, but was Chicago.
Praise for First Son
In this ripping political biography, Koeneman portrays the mayor who held office for 22 years and transformed Chicago from a gray working town into a gleaming global city. The story of the second Mayor Daley begins with the first, and Koeneman reveals exactly how the father ushered his oldest son into politics while keeping him on a tight leash. Young Rich, awkward and arrogant, also faced resentment from his peers. But as hostile as his critics are––and Koeneman, who conducted more than 100 interviews, quotes some stinging remarks––there is no denying that Daley underwent a “dramatic personal evolution” or that he cares deeply about people. As Koeneman charts the political calculations intrinsic to Daley’s rise and rule and takes a close look at his inner circle, with its ties to Barack Obama, he contrasts the epic viciousness and corruption of Chicago politics and the mayor’s own failings with Daley’s tenacity, empathy, “humanistic impulse,” and accomplishments. This brisk (though repetitive) portrait of a complex, colorful, and powerful American is a work of valuable living political history. — Booklist
Dynamic, compelling biography of the Daley family that shaped Chicago for nearly half a century. — Publishers Weekly
First-ever biography of Richard M. Daley: Keith Koeneman writes thoroughly researched review of an important career. — TimeOut Chicago
A very high quality biography of an important historical figure whose story is an important part of Chicago and American history. — Northwest Indiana Times
Native son Koeneman colorfully and familiarly details the rise of the Daleys and their imprint on their hometown. . . . A highly focused history of a 20th-century metropolis and a compelling biography of the family that shaped it for nearly half a century. — Publishers Weekly
Koeneman captures the arc of Daley’s reign perfectly—its early successes and later failures, its mix of volatility and insecurity, and the evolution of an insular Democratic-machine prince from Bridgeport into a powerful leader who learned to coexist with intellectuals, culture buffs, and titans of business to build a world-class city. . . . A must-read if you care about Chicago. — Andy Shaw, executive director, Better Government Association
First Son recounts an important era of Chicago’s history ruled over by one of its most powerful mayors. It is a nuanced picture of Mayor Richard M. Daley with all his contradictions and triumphs, failings and successes. Keith Koeneman concludes that ‘history’s judgment [will be] that Daley’s achievements . . . outweighed his mistakes.’ Whether one agrees or not, First Son should be read by all who care about the city, its history, and its politics. — Dick Simpson, author, professor, and former Chicago alderman
Koeneman’s First Son is a satisfying, engaging read for anyone who enjoys modern politics and has a heartstring or two for Chicago. — Kenneth D. Ackerman, Washington Independent Review of Books
A valuable book, admirably fair and balanced, and vastly informative about four colorful and highly eventful decades in the life of America’s third-largest metropolis. — Washington Monthly
First Son is a very high quality biography of an important historical figure whose story is an important part of Chicago and American history. — Jane Ammeson Times of Northwest Indiana
Accessible and well researched, this well-written look at the Windy City’s oft-loved, oft-controversial mayor is a compelling read. — Chicago Book Review
About Keith Koeneman
Keith Koeneman writes about Chicago history, politics, and culture. His book on the recently retired mayor of Chicago, First Son: The Biography of Richard M. Daley, will be published by the University of Chicago Press in Spring of 2013. He also teaches and speaks as an expert on Chicago mayoral politics on television and radio. He holds advanced degrees from Harvard, University of Chicago and Northwestern University, and a liberal arts degree from Carleton College. Koeneman lives in Chicago’s Lincoln Park neighborhood.