Chicago - City of Broad Shoulders

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Mayor Anton Cermak 1931-1933

Anton "Tony" Joseph Cermak (Antonín Josef Čermák), May 9, 1873 – March 6, 1933) was an American politician of Czech origin who served as the mayor of Chicago, Illinois from 1931 until his assassination in 1933.

Born in Kladno, Austria-Hungary (now in the Czech Republic), Cermak emigrated with his parents to the United States in 1874. He began his political career as a precinct captain and in 1902 was elected to the Illinois House of Representatives. Seven years later, he would take his place as alderman of the 12th Ward. Cermak was elected president of the Cook County Board of Commissioners in 1922, chairman of the Cook County Democratic Party in 1928, and mayor of Chicago in 1931. In 1928 he ran for the United States Senate and was defeated by Republican Otis F. Glenn, receiving 46% of the vote.

His mayoral victory came in the wake of the Great Depression and the deep resentment many Chicagoans had of Prohibition and the increasing violence resulting from organized crime's control of Chicago, typified by the St. Valentine's Day Massacre.[citation needed]

The many ethnic groups such as Poles, Czechs, Ukrainians, Jews, Italians, and African Americans that began to settle in Chicago in the early 1900s were mostly detached from the political system, due in part to lack of organization which led to underrepresentation in the City Council. As an immigrant himself, Cermak recognized Chicago's relatively new immigrants as a significant population of disenfranchised voters and a large power base for Cermak and his local Democratic organization.

Before Cermak, the Democratic party in Cook County was run by Irish Americans. As Cermak climbed the local political ladder, the resentment of the Party leadership grew. When the bosses rejected his bid to become the mayoral candidate, Cermak swore revenge. He formed his political army from the non-Irish elements, and even persuaded black politician William L. Dawson to switch from the Republican to the Democratic Party. Dawson later became U.S. Representative (from the 1st District) and soon the most powerful black politician in Illinois.

Cermak's political and organizational skills helped create one of the most powerful political organizations of his day. With support from Franklin D. Roosevelt on the national level, Cermak gradually wooed members of Chicago's growing black community into the Democratic fold. Walter Wright, the superintendent of parks and aviation for the city of Chicago also aided Cermak in stepping into office.

When Cermak challenged the incumbent "Big Bill" Thompson in the 1931 mayor's race, Thompson, representative of Chicago's existing power structure, responded with ethnic slurs: I won't take a back seat to that Bohunk, Chairmock, Chermack or whatever his name is.Tony, Tony, where's your pushcart at? Can you picture a World's Fair mayor? With a name like that?

Cermak's reply, "He doesn't like my name... it's true I didn't come over on the Mayflower, but I came over as soon as I could." It was a sentiment to which ethnic Chicagoans could relate and Thompson's slur largely backfired.

The flamboyant Thompson's reputation as a buffoon and the voters' disgust with the corruption of his machine and his inability or unwillingness to clean up organized crime in Chicago were cited as major factors in Cermak capturing 58% of the vote in the mayoral election on April 6, 1931. Cermak's victory finished Thompson as a political power and largely ended the Republican Party's power in Chicago; indeed, all of the mayors of Chicago since 1931 have been members of the Democratic Party.

For nearly his entire administration, Cermak had to deal with a major tax revolt. From 1931 to 1933, the Association of Real Estate Taxpayers mounted a "tax strike." At its height, ARET, which was headed by John M. Pratt and James E. Bistor, had over thirty thousand members. Much to Cermak's dismay, it successfully slowed down the collection of real estate taxes through litigation and promoting refusal to pay. In the meantime, the city found it difficult to pay teachers and maintain services.

While shaking hands with President-elect Franklin D. Roosevelt at Bayfront Park in Miami, Florida, on February 15, 1933, Cermak was shot in the lung and seriously wounded when Giuseppe Zangara, who at the time was believed to have been engaged in an attempt to assassinate Roosevelt, hit Cermak instead. At the critical moment, Lilian Cross, a doctor's wife, hit Zangara's arm with her purse and spoiled his aim. In addition to Cermak, Zangara hit four other people, one of whom, a woman, also died of her injuries. Zangara told the police that he hated rich and powerful people, but not Roosevelt personally.

Later, rumors circulated that Cermak, not Roosevelt, had been the intended target, as his promise to clean up Chicago's rampant lawlessness posed a threat to Al Capone and the Chicagoorganized crime syndicate. According to Roosevelt biographer Jean Edward Smith, there is no proof for this theory. One of the first people to suggest the organized crime theory was reporter Walter Winchell, who happened to be in Miami the evening of the shooting.

Long-time Chicago newsman Len O'Connor offers a different view of the events surrounding Cermak's death. He has written that aldermen "Paddy" Bauler and Charlie Weber informed him that relations between Cermak and FDR were strained because Cermak fought FDR's nomination at the Democratic convention in Chicago, and the legend that his last words were "I'm glad it was me instead of you" was, according to O'Connor, totally fabricated by Weber and Bauler.

Author Ronald Humble offers his view as to why Cermak was killed. In his book Frank Nitti: The True Story of Chicago's Notorious Enforcer, Humble contends that Cermak was as corrupt as Thompson and that the Chicago Outfit hired Zangara to kill Cermak in retaliation for Cermak's attempt to murder Frank Nitti.

  1. Anton Cermak - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

    Anton "Tony" Joseph Cermak was an American politician of Czech origin who served as the mayor of Chicago, Illinois from ...

  2. The shooting of Anton Cermak - › News › Politics

    He was executed two weeks after the death of Chicago Mayor Anton Cermak, who he killed intending to shoot Franklin Roosevelt. (Photo courtesy UPI/Corbis-...

  3. Chicago Mayor Anton Cermak assassination - Chicago Tribune › Featured Articles › Band Shell

    Feb 10, 2013 – Eighty years ago this week in Miami, a "maniac" tried to kill President-elect Franklin Roosevelt. The assassin's bullets missed their intended...

  4. Mayor Anton J. Cermak Biographical Information - Chicago Public ... › Books Movies and More

    Anton Joseph Cermak. 35th Mayor of Chicago. Anton Joseph Cermak photo. Notable Men of Illinois & Their State. Chicago Daily Journal, 1912.
  5. Images for mayor anton cermak

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  6. Anton Cermak: Favorite Chicago Mayor of TV's 'Boss' | WBEZ 91.5 ...

    Feb 18, 2013 – “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 ...

  7. Bohemian National Cemetery: Mayor Anton Cermak

    Anton Joseph Cermak (1875-1933) was born in Kladno, Bohemia, and emigrated to the United States as a child. After working in the coal mines near Joliet, ...

  8. Mayor Anton J. Cermak (Character) - IMDb

    Mayor Anton J. Cermak (Character) on IMDb: Movies, TV, Celebs, and more...

  9. The Attempted Assassination of Franklin D. Roosevelt - YouTube

    Nov 19, 2008 - Uploaded by WorldsAssassinations
    Four people were wounded and Chicago Mayor Anton Cermakwas killed. Zangara was found guilty of murder ...
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  11. Anton CermakMayor of Chicago - It's All Relative Genealogy

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    Feb 15, 2011 – Over at Politics Daily, executive editor Carl Cannon, a historian, scholar and journalist starts his daily story note with a look back at Feb.