"Call me Phil, Ma'am, I am at your service all day!" So said the driver of the mayor's mobile office. I'd had an appointment earlier with one Richard M. Daley, the last of the so-called 'Tammany Hall' politicians and mayor of Chicago. The City Hall stood in its own block, the entrance marked by an ornamental square which in turn housed a most remarkable sculpture in copper by Picasso. It certainly encompassed many of the attributes and personality of the incumbent who had ruled with a rod of iron in that famous city of Chicago.
It's a long way from Deniliquin to Chicago, USA. It was July 1969, the time of the flower people and unrest on university campuses. Men were en route to the moon and the concept of the United Nations was beginning to waver. In Chicago the blacks and hispanics were fighting a losing battle with poverty and unemployment.
I had asked to see some of the social welfare policies in action, and His Worship, Richard Daley, treating me with the greatest of courtesy, made available to me his mobile office and a driver to take me wherever I wanted to go in the city. He accompanied me to the Cook county building where the policy makers of the Social Welfare Department were housed and here he handed me over to the director with orders to call the driver who would deliver me back to the City Hall when I was exhausted.
From here I was to go on a tour of the new housing development, passing through an area where only days before there had been a riot. Here the stores and shops were boarded up, some barred, no-one was abroad, and the breeze kicked up bits of paper and leaves with the dust - an eerie experience. As we passed slowly through this area I was amazed ro see Phil (the driver) produce a gun and put it handy on the seat between us. I almost collapsed with fright and asked him what he though he was going to do with that 'thing'. "I am really a police officer and I have been ordered to guard you for every minute of this day. Police are always armed here in the USA - is this not so in Australia?" He was fascinated by my reply in the negative, and seeing how shaken I was, made amends by switching over to police calls on the radio, from there to the fire department and to other departments, all of which were connected by radio to the mayor's mobile office. At no time when the mayor was moving about this huge city did he lose touch with these departments which seemed to be directly under his control.
At the next stop a social worker joined us and we visited a ghetto where Puerto Ricans, mostly single mothers and their children, eked out an existence on welfare, where the children sat in their cots, picked holes in the plaster walls and ate it, where rats ran unmolested through the broken drains and garbage. It was an unending scene of depression and hopelessness. What a contrast to the area I had seen previously. From here we went to a bank in the centre of Chicago where six mothers from the area we had just left had been taking part in what appeared to be a most successful experiment. They, with their children, had been moved to another area of the city, their children taken care of in a creche while they underwent a training program (sponsored by the bank) for six weeks in accounting machine operation. They were then employed by various branches of the bank. Life changed dramatically for them from then on - six months later they had left the ghetto and had made their own arangements for themselves and their children.
As an ongoing project in social development, the Welfare Deparment were actively seeking sponsorships from corporations and other private enterprise organisations. Some service clubs - Rotary and Lions clubs - were also co-operating in sponsorships of a similar kind. As we travelled back to City Hall through the city which was undergoing lots of redevelopment, in between answering all sorts of questions about Australia, I wondered about the legend abroad of this giant of local government, Richard M. Daley, mayor of Chicago, first elecetd in 1955 and one of the most powerful political leaders in the USA. He served until his death in 1976, he headed the Cook County Democratic organisation, advised Presidents Kennedy and Johnson, and under his leadership reorganised the Chicago Police Department, encouraged the production of many major buildings in the city area, and pushed through an urban renewal and rebuilding program that removed many slums.
I was duly delivered to the office of this remarkable man in June 1969 who, with a great sense of humour, was taking no chances on this day of anything untoward happening to his Australian visitor.