Ken Burns has a new film about Prohibition. One of the forgotten players in that comedy-drama was a Chicago mayor. His name was William E. Dever.
Dever was born outside Boston in 1862. He came to Chicago at 25, worked as a tanner on Goose Island, and studied law at night. In 1890 he became a lawyer in the teaming West Town neighborhood.
Soon Dever was active in the clean-government wing of the Democratic party. He was elected 17th Ward alderman, and became one of the most visible and effective members of the City Council--even then, newspapers were touting him as a possible mayor. In 1910 he was elected to the Municipal Court.
Being a judge was a nice job, but it was a political dead end. The public forgot about Dever. Then, in 1923, Democratic leaders were looking for a squeaky-clean candidate to run for mayor against scandal-ridden Big Bill Thompson. They chose Judge Dever.
Thompson saw the way the wind was blowing and decided to retire. Dever won an easy victory. He took office saying he "wanted to be associated with something big in the history of Chicago."
He immediately launched a massive public works program.