There is more drama in the reality of Chicago politics than in this pimping out of gratuitous violence. Richard J. Daley was a complex individual. He was not violent. He was inclined toward nepotism, which he did not deny, but real corruption was not his suite. Yes, corruption flourished around him. And early on, Daley realized there was little he could do about it and survive politically. But it didn’t mean he had to get his own hands dirty. By well-placed accounts, he didn’t. His Catholicism was not a political veneer as it is with many a political figure that discovers God with all the sincerity of a con up for a parole hearing. Daley’s religion was his North Star in a world of misdirection.
If corruption meant getting things done, it was the cost of business, but Chicago was not and is not New Orleans, where corruption meant pockets got lined but things didn’t get built. And a complex man trying to stay above the fray of corruption is far and away a more intriguing story line than a violent thug showing his displeasure by taking a leaf from a brutal Iraqi dictator.
Richard J. Daley presided over the beginning of the transformation of the city, a city so rich in architectural splendor that there is a boat tour that focuses on the captivating skyline and its history. His son, Richard M. Daley, transformed the neighborhoods, bringing the middle class and the ex-patriot whites back into the “Fatherland,” as we affectionately call the city. Before the real estate crash, the adage in Chicago was, “The neighborhood you were afraid to walk in last year is the one you can’t afford to live in this year.” And Richard M. Daley’s pragmatism sometimes got the better of him, as when he wanted Meigs Field, a private, downtown airport, turned into a nature preserve, and famously had the runways stealthily bulldozed in the middle of the night. So much for due process standing in the way of progress! But Richard M. Daley had a love for and vision of Chicago that transformed blighted neighborhoods into great places to live.
So, maybe the writer’s of Boss can get beyond the ear chopping and down to some of the great stories of Chicago politics, stories the machine’s historian Milton Rakove, a raconteur par excellence, told with wit and flourish, and which he also set down in two well-received academic works. These are stories laced with humor, pathos, compassion, irony, and, yes, corruption. And there are many new ones since Rakove’s passing. There are stories of who got the lock on the land for the Olympic Village that was never built. and how they are hanging out in the economic cold. There’s “Planet Blago,” the story of former Governor Rod Blagojevich, which could be its own sitcom. And of course there are enough stories swirling around the Obamas and the Chicago machine that could make a subplot for seasons, if the writers of Boss have as much affinity for gonads as they do for ears.
But if the writers continue down the path of unreality in a city where fact is more intriguing than fantasy, even Kelsey Grammer’s acclaimed acting is going to be wasted on a script that people who live in and around the city are going to equate with competition for AMC’s The Walking Dead.