WBEZ | Chicago mayors http://www.wbez.org/tags/chicago-mayors Latest from WBEZ Chicago Public Radio en Anton Cermak: Chicago's first 'Boss' http://www.wbez.org/blogs/john-r-schmidt/2013-02/anton-cermak-chicagos-first-boss-105346 <p><p>It&rsquo;s the first episode of Kelsey Grammer&rsquo;s <em>Boss</em>. On the roof of Chicago City Hall, fictional mayor Tom Kane is talking about one of his real-life predecessors.</p><p>&ldquo;When Cermak was mayor, he used to come up here all the time. He was a Bohemian, an immigrant. He utterly lacked charisma, but he formed the first truly dominant political force this country had ever seen, because he understood something basic about people&mdash;they want to be led.</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/2-18--Cermak LofC.jpg" style="width: 255px; height: 348px; float: right;" title="Anton Cermak (Library of Congress)" />&ldquo;They want their disputes settled, they want their treaties negotiated, their jobs dispensed, their mutinies punished&mdash;and they want their loyalties rewarded. To those who lead them to all they want, they give power.&rdquo;&nbsp;</div><div class="image-insert-image ">&nbsp;</div><div class="image-insert-image ">Anton Cermak did those things. And, of course, he took a bullet for FDR.&nbsp;</div><div class="image-insert-image ">&nbsp;</div><div class="image-insert-image ">Born in what&rsquo;s now the Czech Republic in 1874, Cermak grew up in the coal town of Braidwood, Illinois. He had about two years of formal education, and went down into the mines at 12. A few years later, when the mines began to play out, the family moved to Chicago.</div><div class="image-insert-image ">&nbsp;</div><div class="image-insert-image ">The Cermaks settled among the other Czechs in South Lawndale. Soon&nbsp;noted for his skill with his fists and his high capacity for alcohol, Anton became leader of a local &ldquo;saloon gang.&rdquo; He started the first of many businesses, selling kindling wood from a horse-drawn cart.&nbsp;</div><div class="image-insert-image ">&nbsp;</div><div class="image-insert-image ">He also went into Democratic politics. Over the course of thirty years&nbsp;Cermak worked his way from the ground up--assistant precinct captain, precinct captain, ward committeeman, state rep, alderman, municipal court bailiff, alderman again. His businesses prospered. He became rich.</div><div class="image-insert-image "><div class="image-insert-image ">&nbsp;</div></div><div class="image-insert-image "><div class="image-insert-image ">And as Prohibition descended on the land, Cermak became head of the United Societies for Local Self-Government. This was a lobbying group of great influence&mdash;an NRA for booze instead of guns.</div><div class="image-insert-image "><div class="image-insert-image "><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/2-18--Cermak Home.JPG" style="width: 290px; height: 217px; float: left;" title="Cermak Home--2348 S. Millard Ave." /></div><div class="image-insert-image ">&nbsp;</div><div class="image-insert-image ">Cermak was elected President of the Cook County Board in 1922. He&nbsp;had become&nbsp;a&nbsp;political force&nbsp;to be reckoned with. He wanted to be Mayor of Chicago, but he hadn&rsquo;t yet consolidated his power. Meanwhile, he arranged to have the new Cook County Courthouse&nbsp;located in his South Lawndale neighborhood, at 26<sup>th</sup> and California.&nbsp;</div><div class="image-insert-image ">&nbsp;</div><div class="image-insert-image ">In 1920 Cermak built a splendid brick residence at 2348 South Millard Avenue. He lived there less than ten years. After his wife died in 1928, he found it more convenient to stay&nbsp;at the Congress Hotel&nbsp;downtown, to be closer to his work.&nbsp;</div><div class="image-insert-image ">&nbsp;</div><div class="image-insert-image ">Cermak became chairman of the Cook County Democratic Party in 1928. This is often described as a revolt against Irish domination of the party&mdash;an explanation <em>Boss</em> repeats. It&rsquo;s not that simple, but this isn&rsquo;t the place to argue the matter.</div><div class="image-insert-image "><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/2-18--Cermak funeral at Stadium.jpg" style="width: 290px; height: 193px; float: right;" title="Cermak funeral at Chicago Stadium (Chicago Daily News)" /></div></div><div class="image-insert-image ">&nbsp;</div><div class="image-insert-image ">Anyway, Cermak was finally ready to run for mayor in 1931. The Depression was getting worse, and the city was tired of Big Bill Thompson. Cermak won easily.</div><div class="image-insert-image "><div class="image-insert-image ">&nbsp;</div></div><div class="image-insert-image ">Less than two years later, he was dead.&nbsp;</div><div class="image-insert-image ">&nbsp;</div><div class="image-insert-image ">That&#39;s right. Despite his looming presence in the history of Chicago politics, Cermak didn&rsquo;t get a chance to do much as mayor. At this writing Rahm Emmanuel has held the office about as long as Cermak did.</div><div class="image-insert-image ">&nbsp;</div><div class="image-insert-image ">So&nbsp;many people wanted to pay their respects to the martyr mayor that Cermak&rsquo;s funeral was held in the Chicago Stadium. An estimated 150,000 were on hand to witness his entombment at Bohemian National Cemetery. A few days later the city council changed 22<sup>nd</sup> Street to Cermak Road.&nbsp;</div><div class="image-insert-image ">&nbsp;</div><div class="image-insert-image ">In 1962 political scientist Alex Gottfried wrote <em>Boss Cermak of Chicago</em>. Although some of Gottfried&rsquo;s interpretations are controversial, it&rsquo;s still the best study of Cermak&rsquo;s rise to power.</div></div></div></div><p>&nbsp;</p></p> Mon, 18 Feb 2013 05:00:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/blogs/john-r-schmidt/2013-02/anton-cermak-chicagos-first-boss-105346 80 years ago today: 'What if . . .' http://www.wbez.org/blogs/john-r-schmidt/2013-02/80-years-ago-today-what-if-105365 <p><p>Sooner or later, we all play the What If game&ndash;what if I had done such-and-such a thing differently? Some historians are big on this. Personally, I&rsquo;ve always wondered, &ldquo;What if the Bears had won the coin flip for the first draft pick in 1970, and we had gotten Terry Bradshaw?&rdquo;</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/2-15--FDR 1933 (Time).jpg" style="width: 225px; height: 273px; float: right;" title="President-elect Roosevelt, 1933 ('Time')" />Anyway, one of the most important What Ifs in history happened on this February 15, exactly eighty years ago. And it has a Chicago connection.</div><div class="image-insert-image ">&nbsp;</div><div class="image-insert-image ">The country was in the Great Depression. Franklin D. Roosevelt had been elected president the past November, but wasn&rsquo;t in office yet&ndash;back then, Inauguration Day was March 4. He was down in Miami on a fishing trip, before going to D.C. to start his new job.&nbsp;</div><div class="image-insert-image ">&nbsp;</div><div class="image-insert-image ">It&#39;s evening. FDR is at Bayfront Park in an open car, and a crowd is there to hear him speak. Suddenly, this little guy in one of the front rows climbs up on a folding chair and starts shooting.&nbsp;</div><div class="image-insert-image ">&nbsp;</div><div class="image-insert-image ">The shooter is Guiseppe Zangara, an anarchist. He gets off five shots. He misses FDR. But he hits Anton Cermak, the mayor of Chicago, who&#39;s standing by the car&nbsp;talking to FDR.</div><div class="image-insert-image ">&nbsp;</div><div class="image-insert-image ">They take Cermak to the hospital. On the way he tells FDR, &ldquo;I&rsquo;m glad it was me instead of you, the country needs you.&rdquo; At least that&rsquo;s what the papers reported.</div><div class="image-insert-image "><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/2-15--Cermak%20shot.jpg" style="width: 550px; height: 411px;" title="Cermak after the shooting (UPI)" /></div></div><p>March 4 comes, and FDR is inaugurated. He makes that wonderful speech, &ldquo;The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.&rdquo; Two days later, Cermak is dead.</p><p>On March 20, Zangara dies in the electric chair. That&rsquo;s just 33 days after his crime, the speediest U.S. execution in modern times. Rumors circulate that Zangara was really a hit man for Frank Nitti and the Chicago mob, that Zangara was trying to kill Cermak all along, and now he had to be quickly silenced.</p><p>So&ndash;what if FDR had been killed?</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/Zangara%20mug%20shot%20%28State%20of%20Florida%29_0.jpg" style="width: 420px; height: 296px;" title="Zangara's mug shot (State of Florida)" /></div><div class="image-insert-image ">The new president would have been Cactus Jack Garner, the VP-elect. He&rsquo;s most famous for what he later said about his office&ndash;&rdquo;Being vice president ain&rsquo;t worth a bucket of warm piss.&rdquo; This was the guy who would have been leading us through the Depression and World War II.&nbsp;</div><div class="image-insert-image ">&nbsp;</div><div class="image-insert-image ">But now for the really big What If. Cermak was the most powerful mayor Chicago had seen. If he had lived, we might never have had one mayor named Daley, let alone two.&nbsp;</div><div class="image-insert-image ">&nbsp;</div><div class="image-insert-image ">I wonder how the Bears will do in the draft this year?</div><div class="image-insert-image ">&nbsp;</div></p> Fri, 15 Feb 2013 05:00:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/blogs/john-r-schmidt/2013-02/80-years-ago-today-what-if-105365