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On the eve getting a new mayor, a visit with the first Mayor Daley, his artifacts at UIC, and the Chicago of his time

By Rick Kogan, Contact Reporter
Chicago Tribune

By Tuesday’s end, there will be a new Chicago mayor. She will be the first African-American female mayor in the city’s long and raucous history and so, hungry for historical perspective and eager for enlightenment, I decided to commune as best I could with a former mayor who was most assuredly not female or African-American.

That is what I was doing one afternoon last week on the third floor of a building on the sprawling University of Illinois at Chicago campus, staring at an Illinois license plate with the number 708-222. It was encased in a plastic box and is one of the thousands of items that comprise the Richard J. Daley Collection housed inside, appropriately enough, the Richard J. Daley Library.

“In many ways it is not what you expect,” says Dan Harper, special collections assistant archivist. “Yes, there is a great deal of material about the man himself but also lot of things that help give perspective to and understanding of the time in which he lived and worked.”

At the moment, we do not know how many people will vote in Tuesday’s mayoral election. Since 553,180 votes were cast for the 14 candidates in the Feb. 26 primary it seems highly unlikely that either candidate will top 708,222, which was the total number of votes Daley received when first elected mayor in 1955, defeating Republican Robert E. Merriam. Those numbers were affixed to Daley’s license plate until his death a few days before Christmas in 1976.

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