Martin Kennelly

Thirty-Ninth Mayor of the City of Chicago (1947-55)

Born in Bridgeport in 1887, Martin Kennelly came from a poor background. Losing his father when he was two, Kennelly went to work for Marshall Field at a young age. After leaving Field's, he began his own moving company. Later on, Field would fully support Kennelly when he ran for office.1 Through hard work and determination he became a self-made businessman and millionaire.2 He had little taste for politics, and when Mayor Kelly asked Kennelly to fill the Cook County Sheriff position in 1943, he turned it turned it down flat.3

When Kelly began falling from power, the Democrats convinced him it would be in his best interest to retire. To replace him, they called on the respectable Kennelly to take over and restore credibility to the Party. He accepted the nomination with the acknowledgement that there would be no strings attached, demonstrating his complete lack of party loyalty.4

It was Chicago’s people he felt an allegiance to, capturing 52% of their vote in 1947. He saw modernization of the City’s government as key to leading the way for urban renewal. This included transformation of the City’s finances, police department, record keeping, and traffic systems, along with a crackdown on open gambling.5

As it was with Kelly before him, one of the first things Kennelly did in office was attempt to deal with the Board of Education. It had degenerated in the 40s to become a source of jobs for the party faithful. Kennelly appointed Herold C. Hunt as Superintendent, creating a centralized authority in that office. Most would see this as a great success.6 Kennelly also appointed Stephen E. Hurley to head the Civil Service Commission, and under his leadership, politically sponsored jobs begin to fall. Needless to say, the Democratic Machine was none too happy.

Kennelly’s lack of political experience, however, would lead to his undoing. He had no taste for the grittiness of City politics, and was very reluctant to confront the Democratic organization, even when it went after member’s of Kenelley’s administration.7 He was also more than happy to let the City Council run its affairs without mayoral interference. With his lack of leadership, Ward bosses are able to rise in stature, and wield great power.8

When Kennelly came up for reelection to a third term in 1955, he was eager for it, but never had a chance. Using him when necessary to stay in power, the Democratic machine was quite tired of him by this point, and dump him, giving the nomination to Richard J. Daley instead.9

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