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Cermak (03/03)

Many major streets are named after influential people, but it is easy to take who those people are for granted.

For example, I have driven on Cermak road in Chicago numerous times and never thought about who Cermak was. I am positive that natives of the city know the story, but I am not a native of this area. However, I do know the story now.

Anton Cermak

Anton Cermak (May 9, 1873 – March 6, 1933)

Anton Cermak emigrated to the United States with his parents in 1874 from Austria-Hungary (now the Czech Republic).

He began his political career as a precinct captain and in 1902 was elected to the Illinois state legislature. Seven years later, he would take his place as alderman of the 12th Ward . Cermak was elected president of the Cook County Board of Commissioners in 1922, chairman of the Cook County Democratic Party in 1928, and mayor of Chicago in 1931.

Before Cermak, the Democratic party in Cook County was run by the “Lace Curtain” Irish. They looked down on anyone who wasn’t “Lace Curtain,” even the Irish from the Back of the Yards and Bridgeport neighborhoods (referred to as “Pig Shit” Irish), and also non-Irish ethnics. As Cermak climbed the local political ladder, the resentment of the Lace Curtain group grew. When the bosses rejected his bid to become the mayoral candidate, Cermak swore revenge. He formed his political army from the non-Irish elements, and even persuaded black politician William L. Dawson to switch from the Republican to the Democratic Party. Dawson later became U.S. Representative (from the 1st District) and soon the most powerful black politician in Illinois.

Cermak’s political and organizational skills helped create one of the most powerful political organizations of his day, and Cermak is considered the father of Chicago’s Democratic machine.

Wikipedia

On February 15, 1933, while shaking hands with President-elect Franklin D. Roosevelt at Bayfront Park in Miami, Florida, Cermak was shot in the lung and seriously wounded by Giuseppe Zangara, who attempted to assassinate Roosevelt. Cermak’s words to FDR en route to the hospital, ” I am glad it was me instead of you.” He died from his wounds on March 6, 1933 in Miami.

Read the Chicago Tribune’s 1933 coverage.

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