The Chicago Mayors Project is simple: a series of 18 X 24 posters designed by cartoonist Dan Carroll, and bon vivant/chartreuse connoisseur Scott Priz. Both of us live and work in Chicago, and have an enormous passion for the history of our fair city. The Chicago Mayors Project celebrates the larger-than-life personalities that have led city government throughout the decades.
Each of the posters celebrates a different Mayor. There are thirteen posters to choose from, representing every Mayor since 1911. (Except for Corr and Orr who, let's be real, don't get posters. Come on, guys. You were in office for 40 days, combined.)
Richard J. Daley:
Carl Sandburg once wrote, "Here is the difference between Dante, Milton, and me. They wrote about hell and never saw the place. I wrote about Chicago after looking the town over for years and years."
In the ninth circle of Chicago sits Richard J. Daley, undisputed Boss of all he surveys.
Richard M. Daley:
Hope comes and goes, but the machine is forever. Mayor Richard M. Daley, heir to the Boss Legacy, led the nation in the move to privatize vast swaths of government resources and revenue streams, creating the largest deficits in Chicago's history. People finally noticed when their parking was slightly inconvenienced.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel raised an estimated fourteen million dollars in campaign funds for a local election. A vote was held anyway, because we might as well keep up appearances. England is probably still watching.
After the reign of corruption of the Kelly-Nash machine, the Democrats decided to elect an actual reformer in Kennelly. His main trouble was that he was too honest for the machine. His cardinal sin was choosing to raid the number games that were under the protection of Congressman William Dawson during the end of Kennelly's first term. Dawson swore that Kennelly would not get a third term, and waiting in the wings was the chairman of the Cook County Democratic Central Committee (also pictured). The chairman primaried Kennelly, with the support of the bosses, who assumed that this small minded bureaucrat would never wield any actual power.
Michael Bilandic has the honor of being the only Mayor in the history of Chicago to lose his office to the very forces of nature itself. At the start of the 1979 election, Bilandic was considered a heavy favorite over challenger Jane Byrne. However, a series of crippling snowstorms in the primary season paralyzed Chicago, allowing Byrne to portray Bilandic as an ineffective leader and seize the nomination. Byrne's first act as Mayor was to outlaw blizzards, and Chicago never had another snowstorm ever again.
Pity poor Cermak. Although he was the most powerful Chicago politician of his day, all anyone remembers about him was that he was shot by a lunatic Italian while standing next to FDR. Even his "last words" were made up by a journalist. Before all that, Tough Tony built the Chicago Democratic Machine that would last until the 1980s — he took on, and defeated Al Capone's Mayor, and even sent in Chicago cops to assassinate Capone's successor, Frank Nitti. (Nitti survived, and Cermak was assassinated shortly thereafter. Make what you will of that sequence of events.) Push-cart Tony, as Big Bill Thompson dubbed him, forged a coalition of Germans, Irish, Bohemians, and African Americans that permanently destroyed the Republican party in Chicago. And all we remember is a bloodstain in Miami of Tough Tony Cermak.
Years before an entire generation learned that idealism is the forerunner of disappointment, there was Mayor Harold Washington. Washington won the election by a narrow margin because of a massive push by community organizers to register 100,000 new, previously disenfranchised voters. However, his liberal agenda was largely blocked by a hostile city council until the Mayor's in-office death in 1987.
The reader should avoid taking this as a metaphor for America. Not because it would be inaccurate, but because it would be incredibly depressing.
Say you've got a progressive coalition of African Americans and Lake Front Liberals, established by a man who embodied the hopes of an entire city. Who's going to break these liberal weenies, and bring back the machine?
Eugene's your man! Why go with a competent Alderman when you can go with a machine hack? He'll shave off just enough black votes to give power back to the hacks, and pave the way for whatever dark prince of the city you'd like to give the keys to the kingdom to!
Carter Harrison Jr.:
One of our only five-term Mayors (the others are either named Daley, or also named Harrison), Carter Harrison Jr. was a strong, only moderately corrupt Mayor, who balanced citizens' desire for Vice with attempts to curb the excesses of the city. We can also thank Harrison for city ownership of the CTA, instead a of a privately held trust of the arch-rogue, Charles Yerkes. Oh, if only Harrison could save our parking meters from the grasp of Middle Eastern tycoons...
Also pictured here are Chicago's Everleigh Sisters, the direct beneficiaries of Harrison's understanding of the city's appetites.
Scourge, in his own mind, of the British King, and half-mad servant of Al Capone; in the course of his career Thompson debated caged rats, rode a horse into the city council chamber, and pledged to both burn every pro-British book in the library and make Chicago wetter than the Atlantic Ocean.
For some reason, the city has not elected a Republican mayor since.
After 8 years of the chaos of Big Bill, Chicago demanded reform. And they got it, and hard. Dever made the critical mistake of trying to enforce the law, and attempted to stop Chicagoans from drinking their liquor in peace. The police raided people's homes in search of the demon rum, and "The Great Beer War" was on. Sadly for Dever, a war against your own people does not make for a popular Mayor. After four years of Law and Order, Chicagoans decided they'd had enough law, and welcomed back Big Bill, on the basis of his aforementioned Atlantic Ocean pledge.
The first of five Mayors from Bridgeport, and the Mayoral portion of the Kelly-Nash machine that guided Chicago through the depression years. Certainly, he ran a corrupt administration that allowed the Chicago Outfit to rake in profits! Certainly, there was graft from all of the Federal New Deal money! But Kelly's connections to FDR allowed Chicago to survive the hard times of the depression. His machine took its share, but at least something came to the citizens of Chicago.
Kelly was forced out of office in 1947 because, amazingly, he had become too corrupt for the Cook County Democratic party.
Putting the "broad" in "City of Broad Shoulders!" Jane Byrne ran on a platform of resisting the Chicago political machine, only to succumb to assimilation immediately upon election. Accordingly, Mayor Byrne has the honor of being the first and only Borg elected to the office.
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