Political history of Chicago


19th century

In 1855, Chicago Mayor Levi Boone threw Chicago politics into the national spotlight with some dry proposals that would lead to the Lager Beer Riot by the wets.[1]

The 1860 Republican National Convention in Chicago nominated home-state candidate Abraham Lincoln. During the 1880s and 1890s, Chicago also had an underground radical tradition with large and highly organized socialist, anarchist and labor organizations.[2] The Republicans had their own machine operations, typified by the "blonde boss" William Lorimer, who was unseated by the U.S. Senate in 1912 because of his corrupt election methods.[3]

20th century

The political environment in Chicago in the 1910s and 1920s let organized crime flourish to the point that many Chicago policemen earned more money from pay-offs than from the city. Before the 1930s, the Democratic Party in Chicago was divided along ethnic lines - the Irish, Polish, Italian, and other groups each controlled politics in their neighborhoods Under the leadership of Anton Cermak, the party consolidated its ethnic bases into one large organization. With the organization behind, Cermak was able to win election as mayor of Chicago in 1931, an office he held until his assassination in 1933. The modern era of politics was dominated by machine politics in many ways, and the Cook County Democratic Party became was honed by Richard J. Daley after his election in 1955. Richard M. Daley, his son, is a former mayor of Chicago and had served for 21 years as mayor and 38 as a public servant. Daley announced on September 7, 2010 that he would not be seeking re-election.[4] Daley was succeeded by former Obama White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel.

The New Deal of the 1930s and the Great Society of the 1960s gave the Democratic Party access to new funds and programs for housing, slum clearance, urban renewal, and education, through which to dispense patronage and maintain control of the city. . Machine politics persisted in Chicago after the decline of similar machines in other large American cities.[5] During much of that time, the city administration found opposition mainly from a liberal "independent" faction of the Democratic Party. This included African Americans and Latinos. In the Lakeview/Uptown 46th Ward. The first Latino to announce an aldermanic bid against a Daley loyalist was Jose Cha Cha Jimenez, the Young Lords founder.[6]

A point of interest is the party leanings of the city. For much of the last century, Chicago has been considered one of the largest Democratic strongholds in the United States. For example, the citizens of Chicago have not elected a Republican mayor since 1927, when William Thompson was voted into office. Brian Doherty was the only Republican council member in recent decades.

The police corruption that came to the light from the Summerdale Scandals of 1960, where police officers kept stolen property or sold it and kept the cash, was another black eye on the local political scene of Chicago.[7] Eight officers from the Summerdale police district on Chicago's Northwest Side were accused of operating a large-scale burglary ring. News of the scandal was splashed across the city's newspapers and was the biggest police-related scandal the city had ever seen at the time. Mayor Daley appointed a committee to make recommendations for improvements to the police system.

The Daley faction, with financial help from Joseph P. Kennedy, Sr., helped elect John F. Kennedy to the office of President of the United States in the 1960 presidential election.[8] The electoral votes from the state of Illinois, with nearly half its population located in Chicago-dominated Cook County, were a factor in the win for Kennedy over Richard Nixon.

Chicago politics have also hosted some very publicized campaigns and conventions. The Democratic Party decided on Harry S. Truman as the vice-presidential candidate at the 1944 Democratic National Convention. The 1968 Democratic National Convention was the scene of mass political rallies and discontent, leading to the famous trial of the Chicago Seven. Seven defendants — Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, David Dellinger, Tom Hayden, Rennie Davis, John Froines, and Lee Weiner—charged with conspiracy, inciting to riot, and other charges related to protests.

Home-town columnist Mike Royko wrote satirically that Chicago's motto (Urbs in Horto or "City in a Garden") should instead be Ubi est mea, or "Where's Mine?[9]


Chicago has a long history of political corruption,[10] and has been a de facto monolithic entity of the Democratic Party from the mid 20th century onward.[11][12] Research released by the University of Illinois at Chicago reports that Chicago and Cook County's judicial district recorded 45 public corruption convictions for 2013 and 1642 convictions since 1976 when the Department of Justice began compiling statistics. This prompted many media outlets to declare Chicago the "corruption capital of America".[13] Dick Simpson, a former Chicago alderman and current University of Illinois at Chicago political science professor, wrote the book “Corrupt Illinois: “patronage, cronyism and criminality” in Illinois which expands upon Chicago's corrupt political culture.[14][15]

Further reading

See also


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