Posted Saturday, morning, October 20, 2018.
Three-term Chicago mayor Big Bill Thompson on the stump, circa 1927. Photo courtesy of the Chicago Tribune.
They keep cropping up, like weeds or plagues of insects.
Like I keep saying, Trump is an American type, a too familiar type, and the wonder isn’t that he got himself elected President. The wonder is one of him didn’t get himself elected President long before. After all, we’ve elected them to every other office, from town board member to alderman to mayor to Congress critter to Senator and governor. One of them got himself elected mayor of Chicago three times! Big Bill Thompson. He served two terms, from 1915 to 1923, then came back to win election to a third term in 1927. He ran against the incumbent reformist mayor, William Dever, who was apparently a Jimmy Carter-esque figure in that he was a competent executive who did a number of good things for the city---
Dever had brought strong management to the city and reduced the many debts that had accumulated under the prior administration’s [that would be Thompson’s] management, though his efforts to contain deficit spending were often over-ruled by the city council. Yet he had managed to build considerable infrastructure and had laid the foundation for the planned World’s Fair. [From “Scarface and the Untouchable: Al Capone, Eliot Ness, and the Battle for Chicago” by Max Allan Collins and A. Brad Schwartz.”]
---but he annoyed the citizenry with his virtue and good government initiatives, specifically, his enforcing Prohibition and cracking down---unsuccessfully---on the corruption it engendered. Basically, he seemed to be against fun. Thompson beat him by 83,000 votes, many of them cast by sober citizens.
I was listening to “Scarface and the Untouchable” some more last night and was half-asleep when I heard this and woke up with a start, convinced that the computer had switched from streaming the book to streaming CNN…
Nonetheless Dever faced a serious challenge...from a buffoon who shouted “America First” as he ranted against the king of England. Many Chicagoans considered Big Bill Thompson an embarrassment...but voters knew he represented a wide-open town---any “frivolous” concerns about Thompson’s competence were left to the eggheads who wrote books and read the news.
Thompson knew just how to capitalize on this populist sentiment. He appeared at campaign rallies carefully choreographed to present him as the “friend of the plain people” and told voters to beware of a host of enemies---from the universities to the newspapers to elite outsiders angling to run the city.
“Yes, they lie about Bill Thompson…,” he would say, “But they rob you...everybody robs you!...They call you low-brows and hoodlums...They call me that too...We low-brows got to stick together...Look who’s against us!”
Previously on Lance Mannion: The Untouchable and his father the Soft-Touchable.
Here’s the Chicago Tribune’s caption on the photo up top:
William Hale Thompson was elected mayor three times, serving from 1915 to 1923 and again from 1927 to 1931. During the 1927 election, in which he was abetted by noted political consultant Al Capone, he held a debate between himself and two live white rats. In the wake of his defeat in 1931, the Tribune wrote, "For Chicago Thompson has meant filth, corruption, obscenity, idiocy and bankruptcy. ... He has given the city an international reputation for moronic buffoonery, barbaric crime, triumphant hoodlumism, unchecked graft, and a dejected citizenship. He nearly ruined the property and completely destroyed the pride of the city. He made Chicago a byword for the collapse of American civilization."
You might get a kick out of the accompanying story from February 2016 by the Tribune’s Ron Grossman. Follow the link to 'Big Bill' Thompson: Chicago's unfiltered mayor at the Chicago Tribune.
“Scarface and the Untouchable: Al Capone, Eliot Ness, and the Battle for Chicago” by Max Allan Collins and A. Brad Schwartz is available in hardcover and for kindle at Amazon and as an audiobook from Audible.