Anton Cermak

Thirty-Sixth Mayor of the City of Chicago (1931-33)

Hailing from Czechoslovakia, Anton Cermak would go to become the first, and only, foreign born mayor of Chicago.1

Born May 9, 1873, some 50 miles from Prague, Cermak came to Chicago in 1874. Before transforming himself into a respectable businessman, he worked in coal mines and saloons.2 His political career began with his election to the Illinois State Legislature, where he served four terms. Following this, he was elected Chicago alderman in 1909, court baliff in 1912, alderman again in 1919, and President of the Cook County Board of Commissioners in 1922.3

With the Democrats still divided, he joined sides with the wing of Carter H. Harrison I. Cermak formed the United Societies for Local Self-Government in order to fight for the right to drink. In response, the Chicago Tribune would referred to Cermak as “the wettest man in Chicago.”4

An ethnic politician to a fault, Cermak put together just the right ethnic mix, creating a machine around this base. He becomes the Chairman of the Democratic Party, and quickly reorganized it in his image.5 In 1930 he leads them to legislative victory, giving Cermak the fortitude to run for mayor himself.

The 1931 contest for mayor saw Cermak take on “Big Bill” Thompson, defeating the incumbent by almost 200,000 votes.6 While easily winning the election, Cermak would have to begin his term during the depths of the Great Depression. In order to deal with this fact, he announced in his inaugural that the first objective must be to cut expenses and taxes, improve government efficiency, and get rid of wastefulness.7

As he had done with the Democratic Party and Chicago itself, Cermak took a businesslike approach to the City’s economic woes. He wanted political control of all aspects of the city, creating a party that was always organized for battle. Unfortunately for him, however, a bullet from assassin Giuseppe Zangara ended Cermak’s life as he stood next to President FDR in February 1933.8 While most contend that it was a botched attempt on the President’s life, some hold out that the bullet hit its intended target after all. Cermak would die on March 6.9

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