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William Daley Has Left The Arena

William Daley, who was briefly President Obama's White House chief of staff, has long relished being the guy behind the guy who got elected. So his exit from the Illinois governor's race makes a certain kind of sense.
Paul Beaty

When William M. Daley — son and brother of famous Chicago mayors, former Obama White House chief of staff and all-around Democratic pooh-bah — was President Clinton's commerce secretary, he kept in his office a framed passage from Theodore Roosevelt's " Citizenship in a Republic" speech.

"It's not the critic who counts. ... The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena."

Daley apparently has decided he doesn't want to be that man in the arena, at least if the arena is the Illinois governor's race.

He unexpectedly dropped his bid for Illinois governor on Monday, telling the Chicago Tribune: "This isn't the best thing for me."

Youngest child of Richard J. Daley — Da Mayor of Mayors who from the 1950s to 1970s was the very model of the big city political boss — the younger Daley shocked many with his campaign exit.

Being as close to big-time politics as long as he has, how could he not have known what he was getting into when he entered the governor's race? How could he not have made his peace with all that it entails long before now? How could he have done this after just hiring a campaign manager?

Daley told my old Chicago Tribune colleague, political writer Rick Pearson, he essentially didn't know the nitty-gritty of a political candidacy wasn't for him until he actually got involved in the current race. (Daley had considered running for governor several years ago, but decided not to enter that race.)

Again, that will seem strange, especially to people primed by Chicago political history to think there must be more to Daley's decision than meets the eye.

But there's no reason not to take him at his word. Daley, who has made bountiful sums in the opaque world of investment banking, has long seemed to me most in his comfort zone as the backroom wheeler-dealer who advises the boss, the guy behind The Guy who stood for election. That's who he was as Al Gore's campaign chairman in the 2000 presidential race, or Obama's White House chief of staff.

Back during the Clinton administration, when I would see Daley often, I asked him if he would ever run for elected office. "I wouldn't cross it off," he said. "I would never say never."

That didn't sound like a man itching to place his name before the voters. Instead, it sounded more like someone who enjoyed toying with the idea of keeping the family franchise alive, like his father and then his brother, former Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley. Another brother, John, has been a longtime local political player as Chicago's 11th Ward committeeman and a commissioner on the Cook County Board.

Just one member of the next generation of Daleys, Richard J. Daley's grandson, currently holds elected office. Patrick Daley Thompson won a seat on the Chicago Metropolitan Water Reclamation District last year.

Following Thompson's election, Bill Daley predicted to the Chicago Sun-Times last December that more of his younger family members would follow suit and eventually seek public office.

They can have it, Daley seems to be saying now. He has left the arena.

(Adam Wollner contributed.)

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Frank James joined NPR News in April 2009 to launch the blog, "The Two-Way," with co-blogger Mark Memmott.
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