It’s primary day in Illinois!And with politics on our minds, we look back at the strange events of an election day in 1936. On November 3 that year, Richard J. Daley—future Democratic boss, future mayor, future father of a future mayor—was elected to his first political office … as a Republican.
The election was for the Illinois House of Representatives from the 9th District. In 1936 the state was divided into 51 legislative districts. Each district sent three reps to the House.
The two major parties had a cozy arrangement then. In each of those 51 districts, the Democrats would run no more than two candidates, and the Republicans would run no more than two candidates. That way, whichever party wound up in the minority would get at least one-third of the total seats.
The 9th District was the area around Bridgeport, heavily Democrat. David Shanahan had held the 9th’s “Republican” seat without much effort since 1894. Fifteen days before the 1936 election, Shanahan died.
Shanahan was the only Republican who had filed in the district. His name was on the ballot, and it was too late to print new ballots. So the Republicans picked Robert E. Rogers as a replacement candidate, and organized a write-in campaign.With Shanahan dead, the Democrat leadership felt free to mount their own write-in campaign for the Republican slot. Their candidate was County Treasurer Joe Gill’s 34-year-old private secretary. That was Richard Joseph Daley.
The Republicans screamed that the “gentlemen’s agreement” was being violated. But there wasn’t much they could do about it.
On November 3, 1936 President Franklin D. Roosevelt won a second term in a landslide. The Democrats were triumphant almost everywhere.
Buried among the returns were the write-in votes from the Illinois 9th. Daley outpaced Rogers, 8539 to 3321. The Tribune noted that even though he’d been elected as a Republican, “it is understood that Daley will caucus with the Democrats.”
When the Illinois House convened the next January, the Democrats offered a resolution asking that Daley be seated on their side of the aisle. The Republicans were still angry about how they’d been out-maneuvered.
“I don’t care about the resolution!” the Republican leader shouted. “I want to know where Representative Daley wants to sit! Where do you want to sit, Representative Daley?”
The rookie rep pointed to the Democrat side of the chamber and softly said, “There.” Then he walked over to join his new colleagues, and never looked back.