A few years after Richard Michael Daley was married, when he was still heir to his father's business of running Chicago and Cook County, he came down with a terrible fever and flu.

His voice was a raspy croak over the phone.

"Honey, I'm sick," he told his wife from his law office phone. "I'm going home."

His young wife, Maggie Daley, rushed home herself, to the couple's converted two-flat in the family's Bridgeport neighborhood of bungalows, two-flats and patronage workers.

Running up the front steps, opening the door, she called his name. He wasn't on the couch in the living room. He wasn't in the bedroom. She raced to the bathroom-not there either. Worried, she got back into the car and drove the few blocks to her in-laws' house, the police squadrol out front marking the home of Mayor and Mrs. Richard J. Daley.

"Where's Rich?" Maggie breathlessly asked her mother-in-law. "Downstairs," Eleanor "Sis" Daley replied.

There was a cup of soup on the night stand. And there in his old bed, smelling faintly of Vicks VapoRub, in the childhood room where he had once dreamed of being a cowboy, was the 33-year-old future president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors and host of the 1996 Democratic National Convention.

"Hi, honey," he whispered as his head sank back into the pillows. Maggie stood in the doorway, hands on hips, shaking her head.

Her husband was sick. He was in his father's house. He was home.


The story always gets a laugh from the mayor's friends, especially when he tells it himself at the dinner table, his face twisted in pantomime as he acts out the parts.

But ask him about it for public consumption and he stiffens like a fish, cautious and afraid, as if he were revealing an exploitable weakness. The reaction is key to understanding the personality of Chicago's mayor.

"Yeah, the Vicks, yeah, that happened," he shrugs, dismissing an innocuous story that puts some flesh and blood into the official image of Daley as Chicago's meticulous bookkeeper.

The eyelids droop and cover. His face becomes a warning sign to aides that someone has stepped into dangerous territory. Walking east on Washington Street toward City Hall, he orders his people back. His palms are at his sides as he moves forward; he pushes his hands back, rapidly, repeatedly, as if he were trying to dog-paddle out of danger.

"Yeah, I went to my dad's, but I don't like to talk about that stuff," he says, his sentence trailing off, trying to change the subject, pointing to a curb he wants fixed, a wastebasket overflowing with hamburger wrappers, the mess he wants to sweep away. Then he gives up, confounded, and bites his lip.

Pedestrians coming across LaSalle Street recognize him, smile, as Daley stands alone on the corner, without bodyguards, a seemingly anonymous man enjoying a warm summer day.

He cuts across LaSalle Street toward the sanctuary of City Hall. To Daley, who grew up shielded, personal means vulnerable, and vulnerable is what gets isolated, attacked and crushed in a city of potential enemies.

He explains that it was driven into him from an early age that people would press those personal buttons to get close, to leverage his name, his father, their politics.

"I'm mayor on the job. At home I'm husband and father. At home I'm myself. You gotta keep things separate; otherwise you'd go crazy, to be very frank."