Chicago is no stranger to violence aimed at politicians

13 Jan

By Courtney Sturgeon

A crowd of constituents watched as a local Democrat stood before them on that winter day. Amongst them, a sinister young man, “with a ferocious hatred for politicians and their governments” according to the Chicago Tribune, had come with a heinous plot in mind. He raised his handgun and aimed for his target, shot the politician and four others. The crowd attempted to wrestle the man to the ground but it was too late.

The details outlined above may be reminiscent of the scene at Saturday’s shooting in Tucson. But Arizona U.S. Rep Gabrielle Giffords was not the target in this instance.

However similar the story, the above shooting involved a Chicago politician and office holder 78 years before, more than 2,000 miles away in Miami.

On Feb. 15, 1933, Chicago’s 35th mayor, Anton Cermak, was shot while talking to Franklin Roosevelt after the President-elect’s speech at a park in Miami, FL. The bullet, shot by Italian immigrant, Giuseppe Zangara, was intended for Roosevelt. Zangara maniacally laughed later as he was given the death sentence. He was executed on March 20, 1933.

While being rushed to the hospital in the President’s car, Cermak famously uttered to Roosevelt, “I’m glad it was me instead of you,” according to the Chicago Tribune. The Democratic machine that has dominated Chicago politics began with Cermak, who later died from the gunshot wound on March, 6 in a Miami hospital.

“Cermak built the strength of the Democratic Party by bringing together diverse factions, using clout and patronage to punish and reward,” wrote the Chicago Tribune. “He could be ruthless, but also conciliatory.”

Having a policy of availability has proved fatal not once, but twice in Chicago’s Mayoral history.

Mayor Carter Harrison, known as “the common man’s man,” according to the Chicago Historical Society, was famous for his devotion to the city no matter the price. He also was shot to death by a constituent.

Harrison was elected mayor in 1879 and supported organized labor and union leaders. His support ultimately got him voted out of office in his fourth term when he was seen as “too lenient” after the violence at Haymarket Square.

Harrison wasn’t voted out for long. As Chicago prepared for the World’s Columbian Exposition in 1893, he ran for Mayor once again. In his inaugural speech he said, “I feel deep anxiety lest I may not fulfill the expectation of the vast majority of my fellow citizens who have honored me.”

In fact, Harrison, arguably, did fulfill expectations after overseeing a successful fair which he tried to keep open for another season so that millions more people could see Chicago. He believed those employed through the fair and tourist dollars would aid the city from the inevitable economic depression in the years to come.

All events that Harrison would not live to see.

Just two nights before the fair was to close, an unemployed Irish immigrant, Patrick Eugene Prendergast, entered the Mayor’s mansion on South Ashland Ave. Resentful over failing to be appointed the city’s chief attorney and armed with a revolver, Prendergast fatally shot Harrison at point-blank range.

Known for riding through the city’s neighborhoods on his horse and holding open morning office hours so that anyone could come to speak with him, Harrison was mourned throughout the city. Chicagoans turned out in the tens of thousands to partake in the funeral procession. Prendergast was sentenced to the gallows.

Last Saturday’s rampage in Arizona is only one more significant, but unfortunate note in this political loop of angered constituents targeting politicians when they make themselves accessible. Chicago, too, has shared in this ugly history.



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