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First Son

The Biography of Richard M. Daley

"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.

See a website for the book. Listen to an audio interview with the author.

392 pages | 24 halftones, 2 tables | 6 x 9 | © 2013

Biography and Letters

Chicago and Illinois


“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

“A ripping political biography."


"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

Table of Contents

Cast of Characters


Part 1. A Kid from Bridgeport

1. Dick Daley

2. Every Happy Family Is the Same

3. Chicago Visions

Part 2. The Second Generation

4. From Father to Son

5. Darwinian Evolution

6. Mayoral Election of 1983

Part 3. Political Calculus

7. All Hell Breaks Loose

8. Restoration

9. Chicago, 1989.

10. A New Era

Part 4. Plugger

11. Crime and Grime

12. Takeover of Chicago Public Schools

Part 5. Civilizing Richie

13. Has Chicago Had a Sex Change?

14. Housing without Hope

15. Bill Daley

Part 6. Pride Is the First Deadly Sin

16. Crossing the River

17. The Two Faces of Richie Daley

18. Millennium Park

19. Corruption Tax

Part 7. Legacy

20. Global City, Parochial Council

21. One Too Many

22. Sisyphus

23. Bloodlines

24. Sunrise, November 29, 2011

Appendix A. Chicago Mayors since 1900

Appendix B. Election Results of Daley’s Political Campaigns

Appendix C. Timeline




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