Skip to: Content
Skip to: Site Navigation
Skip to: Search


City of big shoulders: Mayors past

A look back at some of the men and one woman who have led Chicago from the mayor's office.

By Charles M. MadiganCorrespondent / May 16, 2011

Richard J. Daley, left and his son, Richard M. Daley, share similar mannerisms during a political rally in Chicago, in this 1974 file photo. As mayors of Chicago, the Daleys have dominated the city's politics for most of the last half century in a dynasty that has, at times, turned the fifth floor of City Hall into the family businesss.

AP/File

Enlarge

Richard M. Daley: With 22 years on the job, the city's longest-serving mayor. A technician and builder with deep political roots. Gave the city its modern look. Son of Richard J. Daley.

Skip to next paragraph

Harold Washington: The first African-American mayor, who served from 1983 to 1987 and died in office. Election set the stage for brutal racial political battles dubbed the "council wars."

Jane Byrne: The first woman mayor, ruling from 1979 to 1983. Never consolidated power and never able to deal with machine Democrats.

Richard J. Daley: The last of the big city bosses. Reigned supreme for 21 years after election in 1955. Wielded power by controlling the mechanics of the Democratic Party and the city.

Anton Cermak: In office for three years (1931-33) before being slain at a political appearance in Miami with Franklin D. Roosevelt (who may have been the intended target). Father of the modern Chicago machine. Ended the reign of the "lace curtain" Irish by reaching out to all ethnic groups, including blacks.

William "Big Bill" Thompson: The last Republican to serve (1915-23 and 1927-31) and perhaps the most corrupt mayor on record. Let gangster Al Capone flourish on his watch. Set the stage for Mr. Cermak's Democratic push for reform.

Carter Harrison Sr.: Most beloved of Chicago's early mayors. Called the city his "bride." Elected a total of five times, beginning in 1875. Murdered in 1893 by a disgruntled office seeker.

Joseph Medill: Ran as the "Fireproof" party candidate and served for two years after the "great fire" of 1871. Left office early because of declining health. Helped form the Republican Party and elect Abraham Lincoln president.

Permissions

Read Comments

View reader comments | Comment on this story