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The Mechanics
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Daley Thu Apr 25 2013

Daley Bio Author Wants Readers To Draw Their Own Conclusions

Keith Koeneman wants the facts to speak for themselves.

When he started writing First Son: The Biography of Richard M. Daley, Koeneman said he wanted to keep his opinions out of it and let the readers decide how to interpret the facts about the former mayor's life and legacy.

"I tried really, really hard to be very, very balanced about his accomplishments and his mistakes," Koeneman said, before he sat down with the Chicago Tribune's Rick Kogan for a public discussion of the book. "I tried to make it an interesting life story."

The book, Koeneman said, is the first biography of the 22-year mayor, though there are many about his father (and also former mayor) Richard J. Daley. He doesn't know why there hasn't been a biography about the younger Mayor Daley until now, though he thinks it could be because potential biographers may have been afraid to upset the mayor while he was still in office.

keith_koenman.jpgKoeneman said he started conducting interviews and gathering information for the book before Daley announced in September of 2010 that he would not seek a seventh term as mayor. He said that while he couldn't be sure, it seemed like the mayor was getting ready to step down.

"He hadn't raised any political money - almost none," Koeneman said.

When he first started his research, Koeneman said it was often difficult to get people who knew the mayor to agree to be interviewed. Once Daley was out of office, that all changed.

"When he retired, a lot of people returned my phone calls right away," Koeneman said.

Koeneman believes that while Daley made several big mistakes during his tenure as mayor (including contributing to Chicago's pension crisis, the destruction of Meigs Field and allowing high levels of crime to persist), his legacy will ultimately be a positive one and he will be remembered most for turning Chicago into a global city that is consistently ranked among the top 10 most important cities in the world.

The last eight year's of Daley's time as mayor were more mistakes than accomplishments and Koeneman believes he probably should have stepped down a term or two before he did.

"If he had retired in 2003, I think he'd be unquestionably the best mayor Chicago's ever had," Koeneman said.

Another major part of Daley's legacy, Koeneman said, is that he was one of the first major political figures to come out in favor of gay rights.

"Rich Daley was the first major political figure of either party in Illinois to attend the [Chicago] gay pride parade," he said, adding that in 1989, being in support of gay rights was almost unheard of.

But Koeneman was quick to reiterate that Daley was far from perfect and that the book points out those flaws. For example, he said, in his first 11 years in office, Daley balanced the city's budget every year, but failed to do so for the last 11 years he was in office. He said the book is also tough on Daley when it comes to Meigs Field, even though some say the land is better used now than it was as an airport.

"How it was done was a violation of the democratic process," Koeneman said.

Koeneman said he made sure to point out Daley's mistakes and accomplishments in the book so that readers can decide for themselves how they feel about his time in office.

"I tried to be really, scrupulously fair," he said. "I think history will be the final judge."

Photo by Bill Mayeroff

 
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