Illinois Police &
Chicago Election Violence
From the I.P.S.N. Archives - 1995 Chicago
- the Way It Was
"A City that Was Never Legit!"
by Richard C. Lindberg
What is it about this town that makes it possible to reverse the course of a mighty river
to benefit the public good, yet makes it impossible to run a peaceful city election free
of scandal, vote fraud, and physical intimidation?
"Chicago is unique," lamented Professor Charles Merriam, an early loser in the
battle for political reform in Chicago, "it is the only completely corrupt city in
Chicago is a machine town. It's been that way since 1931 when Mayor Anton Cermak enlisted
the support of an army of "wets" in a frontal assault against the citadel of
Volstead - the Prohibition of liquor intoxicants. Before that the city was up for grabs -
a toss up every two to four years, between Democratic grafters and Republican grafters for
control of the Holy Trinity of Chicago politics: pork, privilege, and patronage.
Chicago has never been legit, its elections even less so.
Politics as it is played out along the shores of Lake Michigan, is an extension of sport -
a timeless reflection of 19th century deal cutting and saloon democracy set against the
rough backdrop of gambling dens, cigar stores, bawdy houses, and grog shops.
Until Cermak's time, there was not one monolithic "machine," but a collection of
"mini-machines," controlled by strutting political factotums who liberally
dispensed jobs and favors to their constituents in return for their unquestioned loyalty
on election day. An alderman's "clout" depended on the ability of his political
sachems to deliver the vote. In Chicago, it was never a question of winning or losing -
the organization always won - it was pluralities that counted. Send a message on election
day. Punish your enemy. Destroy him so he won't come back in two or four years to destroy
The end has always justified the means when it came to insuring a decisive victory in this
often grim Darwinistic life and death struggle. Slander campaigns, brass knuckles; even
murder became the preferred tactics when the usual methods of propaganda and
Election-eve violence is most often associated with Al Capone and the terror campaign he
waged against the political bosses of Cicero when he invaded that blue-collar factory town
in 1923 after things became too "hot" for him in Chicago. Capone, was only a
"piker." Violence and intimidation is the Chicago way, and its historical roots
extend much further in time than the rollicking era of bathtub gin, and the "Big
Minus the distractions of professional sports, television, and other 20th century
diversions, Chicagoans were much more involved in the outcome of political elections in
the last century than they are today. Social clubs were organized at the ward level to
boost the campaign of a favorite son, or slate of candidates. The pageantry of torch-light
rallies, colorful parades, and bombastic oratory set in smoke-filled meeting halls
scattered across the city, provided an important sense of neighborhood identity and ethnic
pride - the hopes, fears, and prejudices vested in the candidate fortunate enough to
descend from the same dominant nationality found within the ward. When necessary a
"Democratic Club," or a "Republican Club," would engage rival
organizations representing other districts and ethnic groups in wild and woolly
free-for-alls often settled by bricks, bats, and pavement stones.
The principal antagonists in the decades leading up to the Civil War pitted the Irish-
Catholic Democrats opposed to Sunday saloon closing laws, against a blue-blood, native-
born coalition of Anglo-Saxon Republicans unwavering in their support for "Free
Soil," abolition, and Abe Lincoln.
Widespread "rioting and knockdowns" were reported in the predominantly Irish-
Democratic 7th Ward in the final days of the March 2, 1857 mayoral election.
"Republican election judges," snorted the Chicago Tribune, "managed to keep
their positions at the poll, until about 3:00 in the afternoon when they were driven away
by the Irish."
The Democrats of the "Bloody 7th" (a commonly applied designation for certain
"troublesome" Chicago wards, as we shall see), were united against Republican
"Long John" Wentworth, who campaigned on a platform steamed with anti-Irish,
anti-Papal bigotry. His opponent, a political unknown named Carver, wasn't given much of a
chance even with the head-thumping assistance of the 7th Ward regulars.
A Republican businessman named George Armour challenged the votes of some Irishmen who did
not reside within ward boundaries. Armour was set upon by a crowd of poll-watching
ruffians, kicked, beaten about the head, and dragged through the streets by the hair until
his friends came to the rescue. Another Wentworth worker was not nearly so lucky. He was
attacked, stabbed, and chased clear down to La Salle Street where he jumped onto a
dangerously thin sheet of river ice to escape his pursuers.
The man escaped but not before one of the 7th Ward Irishers crashed through the ice and
drowned in the bone-chilling waters of the Chicago River.
"The 7th Ward is bloody ground and a certain class of Irish seize the occasion, not
only to exhibit the wildest passions but to endanger it to the shedding of blood and
taking of life of honest citizens who are simply exercising their constitutional
rights." -- Chicago Tribune, March, 1857.
Of course the opposition press, led by the Chicago Democrat took an entirely different
view of the affray by accusing the Republicans of provoking the mass of simple, honest,
Election chicanery and the head-knocking tactics of the "bummers" - men hired to
descend on political gatherings of rival candidates for the sole purpose of creating a
disruption (often culminating in fist fights, and blood letting), characterized mayoral
and aldermanic elections through the 1870s and 1880s.
Unlike the lowly precinct worker of more recent times who rings doorbells and shoves
campaign flyers into the mailbox to extol the virtues of "da wunnerful" mayor,
the "bummers" served the ward organization in far more useful ways - direct
participation in the electoral process.
"Bummers" became "repeaters" on election day by climbing into
horse-drawn wagons and driving from polling place to polling place to vote as needed.
"Besides repeating, the business of these gangs is to scare voters, and whenever the
day is going against them, to attack and destroy the ballot boxes. They also hope in wards
where they have large majorities to take possession of the polls in the morning and hold
them by brute force all day, so that no decent man can cast his vote against them,"
noted one political observer on the eve of the November 1873 City Council elections.
Without the protection afforded by meaningful Civil Service laws (the first one was
enacted in 1895), the mass of city workers, police, and firemen, who owed their jobs to
the committeeman and alderman, were likely to be fired if the vote went against their
candidate. In this climate of constant political upheaval, election fraud and intimidation
against voters was far more prevalent in the last half of the 19th Century than today -
startling, but true.
Civil Service reforms, and presumably a rising level of tolerance and understanding
between peoples curtailed some of the more flagrant abuses of Chicago politics as the new
century unfolded. The colorful, but mendacious "Gray Wolves" who populated the
corridors of City Hall in the 1890s were subsidized by bribe money flowing in from the
street car companies, saloon keepers, and gambling bosses. There is very little that can
be said on behalf of the Gray Wolves, other than the fact that political assassination of
an opponent - as a last resort - was foreign to their nature.
Election violence in this century involved not only competing ward organizations vying for
control of a district, but more and more frequently, the candidates themselves. The
tendency to settle philosophical differences with a gun that is symptomatic of urban
America in the 1990s, had its origins in Chicago more than 70-years ago, when an unfrocked
priest named Anthony D'Andrea led a revolt of his fellow Italians against the one-man rule
of 19th Ward Alderman Johnny "de Pow" Powers - the "Prince of
Powers presided over his constituency like a medieval lord of the manor for more than 40
years. In 1921, the 19th exploded in violence after D'Andrea announced his intention to
challenge Powers for his aldermanic seat. A wave of bombings, shootings and garrotings
followed. Paul Labriolia, a bailiff in the Municipal Court and a political supporter of
Powers was ambushed, and shot to death at Congress and Halsted Streets on March 8, 1921 by
unseen members of the D'Andrea faction. His death was expected - he had been warned not
once, but on countless occasions. "It seems impossible that things like these can
occur in this age of civilization," sobbed Johnny Powers, who had attended thousands
of funerals during his 40-year reign. "It is worse than the Middle Ages."
Powers defeated D'Andrea by a scant 381 votes. Three months later the unfrocked priest was
found lying dead in the blood-soaked streets of the 19th Ward. He was shotgunned to death
and the meaning of it was very clear to the fearful and cowering Italian push-cart
immigrants making ends meet in the "Bloody 19th."
Chicago in the crazy 1920s. Prohibition spawned Al Capone, and the rise of his Republican
protector, Mayor William Hale Thompson, a larcenous scoundrel who vowed to punch King
George in the snoot if he dared set foot on American soil. "Big Bill" proudly
affirmed his opposition to the Volstead Act. "While I'm wetter than the middle of the
Atlantic Ocean!" he beamed.
Thompson was the embodiment of the "Whoopee Era" of Chicago politics - a
thoroughly corrupted political windbag whose first official act of office was to declare
Chicago "wide open" to bootleggers, gunmen, and vice peddlers who were eager to
line his ward coffers with generous cash contributions before each election. It was
estimated that Al Capone spent between $100,000 and $250,000 to finance Thompson's 1927
Chicago braced for its wildest election yet. Seven members of the Chicago Police detective
squad were armed with sub-machine guns, and 250 auto squads were deployed around the city
to protect the polling places from Capone gunsels. Such elaborate precautions were hardly
necessary however. Thompson's election was insured after the "Big Fella" sent
word to the boys to lay low after receiving an urgent request from Frank Loesch of the
Chicago Crime Commission who had appeared before Capone, hat in hand, to plead for peace.
The gloves came off a year later, when terror stalked the "Bloody 20th" Ward.
City Collector Morris Eller had mounted a furious campaign to unseat Democratic Alderman
Albert J. Prignano, praised for his "honesty and virtue" by the Municipal Voters
League. The M.V.L. should have known better.
The Eller Gang included 16 political thugs loyal to Mayor Thompson. Eller and his boys
were already under indictment for the abduction of a Democratic poll watcher stationed at
Taylor and Halsted Streets. Add to this, an earlier murder indictment stemming from the
1928 shooting death of Octavus C. Granady, an African-American ward committeeman, you
begin to see that these guys played for keeps.
Seven men, including four policemen stood trial for the Granady murder. All seven were
"In the jungle precincts' along the river and the old Illinois & Michigan
Canal on the West Side and the South, gangland was mobilizing. Terrorism stalked the
"Bloody 20th" and by word of mouth was carried on in Hyde Park, by what the
anti-Thompsonites term as the racketeer overflow." -- Chicago Tribune, April 1929.
Al Prignano was a member of the notorious West Side Bloc - syndicate anointed legislators
whose task was to circumvent the passage of anti-crime legislation in the law making
sessions of the General Assembly.
"The Bloc's hold is so powerful that people are afraid to vote against it - on the
rare occasions when they are given a chance." -- Chicago Daily News, 1963.
The West Side Bloc controlled the political destiny of the "River Wards" for
nearly 40 years - spanning the end of Prohibition, the Depression Era, up through
Watergate. And those, like Al Prignano, who were in league with gangsters in order to
further their own political agenda often found themselves in the cross-fire of syndicate
guns. Prignano doubled as 20th Ward Committeeman during his years as state legislator in
the early 1930s. He was an amiable man, not so terribly bright, but his outgoing
temperament and infectious charm appealed to West Side residents who chose to look past
his shady dealings with bootleggers and gamblers.
Hours before the 1936 New Year rang in, Prignano was shot to death by killers unknown.
"The very manner of his death is a sermon for the voters of this city. Through the
ghastliness of some of Prignano's associates, the question is brought up as to whether a
man with these associations could ever be properly representative in public office of the
decent citizenry of his community -- Chicago Herald & Examiner, January 1936.
The record, character, and conscience of some of Chicago's elected officials has often
been ignored by party slatemakers in the interest of perpetuatuing a creaking, political
system that traded favors and jobs for rubber-stamp endorsement of one-party rule in Cook
County. During the heyday of the West Side Bloc, the "cloutsters" were
Republican, then later, Democratic. The syndicate didn't pay much attention to party
labels. It was the end result that counted.
Inevitably, the victims of this vicious gunplay were connected in some way to the West
Side Bloc. The Bloc fought equally hard against politicians desirous of change, and former
"friends" who renounced gang rule. In the case of William John Granata, the
Republican candidate running for Circuit Court Clerk in the October 1948 election, it was
never quite clear which of these two factions he belonged to.
Granata came from a political family. He was a product of the old 20th Ward until the
boundaries were re-drawn and it became the 17th Ward. Later on he practiced law, while
dabbling in the political affairs of the 27th Ward. His brother Peter Granata served
served a Congressional term, and many more terms of office in the Illinois House. It was
said of Peter that he was firmly aligned to the West Side Bloc of politicians and
gangsters, and owed allegiance to this hoodlum establishment.
Bill Granata's first mistake was challenging State Representative James Adduci, a West
Side gambler aligned to the Capone gang. Adduci did not cotton the motives of
"reformers" - and when John Bolton, his 1936 Democratic opponent - was slain in
gangland fashion, the police brought Adduci in for questioning. But that was as far as the
Despite Governor Dwight Green's urgent warning to back away from Adduci for the "sake
of party harmony," Bill Granata mounted three challenges to unseat the dangerous
Second District Republican during the war years. His third foray into the murky electoral
waters of the West Side proved fatal. The candidate was returning to his wife and
4-year-old son who resided in the Randolph Towers, a half-block from City Hall, following
a day-long round of campaign rallies. An armed assailant wielding a meat cleaver crept up
on Granata from behind as he entered the vestibule of his building. The streets were quiet
and deserted - it was well past midnight, and there was no-one on the street to I.D. the
Granata's skull was split open and his jugular vein severed. He was pronounced dead at
Henrotin Hospital. Well wishers were stunned and appalled. In his pocket the police found
a list of 13 Cook County Sheriff's deputies who had been "sponsored" by Granata
for patronage jobs within that office. There were plenty of motives, but not a single
clue. Granata, according to former police lieutenant William Drury, who covered the crime
beat for the Chicago Herald & American, "...was ordered slain because he and his
brother Rep. Peter C. Granata, had refused to trade votes they control on the West Side
for the benefit of the Jake Guzik-Paul-Ricca-Al Capone mob."
Bill Drury, a highly decorated, but controversial detective whose methods were constantly
questioned by his superiors, spilled mob secrets in the Chicago and Miami newspapers.
There are those who believe that Drury's willingness to talk so freely about organized
crime activity and suggest possible suspects and motives to the police ultimately cost him
Drury's troubled police career ended in 1947 when Chief William Prendergast suspended him
and his partner Tom Connelly, for bringing "false evidence" and for
"coercing" two syndicate hoods into testifying about the 1946 syndicate murder
of gambling boss James M. Ragen who owned the Continental Press, a nationwide distributor
of race track information.
Four years passed. Drury made a name for himself outside Chicago with his breezy,
fast-paced reportage of the Chicago underworld which the public devoured. Meanwhile, the
federal government had begun to turn up the heat on the big city crime syndicates. And as
the 1950 off-year elections drew closer, U.S. Senator Carey Estes Kefauver traversed the
country conducting nationally televised hearings on the business of organized crime to
spotlight this growing menace to the public safety. His motive was self-serving: Senator
Kefauver wished to draw attention to himself in order to be in a position to snare the
1952 presidential nomination.
A few days before he was scheduled to appear before Kefauver's committee, Drury was
shotgunned to death while backing his car into his garage in the 1800 block of Addison
Street. Bill Drury's killers vanished into the night.
The same night Drury was gunned down, Attorney Marvin Bas, the Republican nominee for
Circuit Court Clerk was murdered near his home at Orchard Street and North Avenue. Bas was
another in a long line of public figures who was well acquainted with members of the
Chicago "Outfit." He too had agreed to exchange information at election time. In
this case, Bas intended to embarrass the Democratic candidate for Cook County Sheriff,
Daniel "Tubbo" Gilbert, otherwise known as the "World's Richest Cop."
The gangland-style executions of Prignano, Granata, Drury, and Bas were attributed to the
"Outfit" - and they were entered into the ledgers of the Chicago Crime
Commission as officially unsolved gangland "hits." The number of such murders
was fast approaching a thousand when these stories were first reported.
Even with the memories of the political assassinations of the 1960s blazed in our
collective conscience, the cold-blooded murders of Chicago politicians and a highly-
respected police detective still seems almost unimaginable, looking back on these events
more than 40 years later.
Chicago in the 1950s. Quiet, but dangerously unsettled times of our recent history. The
assassinations continued, and the Chicago Police Department seemed almost powerless to
stop the bloodshed.
"They'll have to kill me to get me out!" exhorted 56-year-old Charles Gross, the
Republican Committeeman from the 31st Ward who fought a long and losing battle against the
West Side Bloc gangsters who had already left their muddied tracks in the 1st, 2nd, 4th,
21st, 26th, 27th, and 28th Wards before targeting Gross' home base of operations. Gross
was dropped in his tracks by seven shotgun blasts outside his Kedzie Avenue home on
February 6, 1952, a-year-and-a-half after the unsolved Drury-Bas murders.
Austin Wyman of the Chicago Crime Commission promised an all-out fight to the finish
against the syndicate controlled Bloc believed responsible for the recent wave of
lawlessness. An investigating body known as the City Council Emergency Crime Commitee, or
"Big Nine," was empowered to ferret out the root and branch of a recent police
scandal involving a North Side captain accused of receiving payoffs from syndicate
operatives, and the murder for hire schemes.
"Gangsters can't live in the midst of a truly aroused citizenry. The people are ready
to fight. When the people fight there can be only one outcome. The gangsters go!" --
Chicago American, February 1952.
Gangland snickered. "Oh yeah? Says who?"
The syndicate was at the absolute threshold of its power - a far stronger entity than what
it had been during the Capone bootleg days because of its ability to place candidates
favorable to its interests in elective statewide offices. F.B.I. Director J. Edgar Hoover
refused to acknowledge the existence of a national crime cartel - his reluctant admission
that crime was "organized" would finally come five years later, in 1957. The
resources of the F.B.I. in the early to mid-1950s, were trained on domestic subversives -
the illusory "communist conspiracy," leaving only the woefully outgunned Chicago
Police Department and the civilian members of the Chicago Crime Commission to tackle the
growing problems head on.
The most talked about political murder-mystery of the decade revolved around Clem Graver,
a state representative and 21st Ward Republican Committeeman who was dragged from inside
his garage on 976 W. 18th Street on June 11, 1953, by three men - while his wife Amelia
helplessly watched from inside the house. A black 1950 Ford sedan, stolen from the South
Side, sped away with Graver who was forcibly restrained in the back seat.
No ransom demand was ever made. Despite an intensive search of the rail yards, coal piles,
and dead-end streets west of Halsted Street, Clem Graver was never seen again. Later on,
after hopes for his safe return evaporated, allegations surfaced in the gossip columns
concerning Graver's dealings with underworld figures. His brother-in-law, Harry Hochstein,
was an acquaintance of mob boss Tony Accardo. Hochstein had been indicted with several of
the leading syndicate luminaries back in 1943 for shaking down the movie industry moguls.
No-one was surprised, Chicago being what it is.
The might of the resurgent Democratic machine - broken and misfiring before Mayor Richard
J. Daley was swept into office in April 1955 - silenced the nefarious West Side Bloc for
the time being. Daley defeated Robert Merriam, a 36-year-old idealistic war hero whose
father labeled Chicago the "most corrupt city in America" nearly 40 years
earlier when he too had experienced the pain of a stinging mayoral defeat. Daley won by a
hefty 127,199 vote margin amid a thunderous Republican outcry that many Chicagoans casting
votes in the hoodlum-controlled River Wards election were either dead, unknown, or had
moved away. They were termed "ghost voters" and a familiar Chicago colloquialism
was entered into the dictionary of Windy City slang.
Daley seemed to make good on his campaign pledge to make Chicago a "more beautiful
place in which to live." The city was on the move with massive public works projects
that diverted attention from the page one crime stories earlier in the decade. And for the
next few years at least, there was peace in the River Wards and the squalid South Side
ghetto neighborhoods where the African-American residents had lived in abject poverty and
misery for so many years.
The city's last political assassination was perhaps its most notorious. In 1958, Ben Lewis
became the first black alderman to represent the 24th Ward, a district that was 100%
Jewish and Eastern European before World War II, and 90% African-American afterward. The
24th Ward had a history of drug trafficking, numbers running, and prostitution. Mobsters
were believed to be the guiding force in the district. It was a malodorous mix of crime
and crooked politics, to say the least.
Ben Lewis peddled insurance to the Douglas Park residents in direct defiance of the
old-line ward boss Arthur X. Elrod, a former gambler, saloon keeper, and 24th Ward
precinct captain, who enjoyed a virtual monopoly on the business up and down Roosevelt
Road in those hustling, rag-picking days. Lewis desperately wanted to be his own man, but
as long as Daley's organization controlled the ghetto vote, he had to take his marching
orders from the party chieftains; Democratic chairman Jake Arvey and his point man Elrod;
then Congressman William L. Dawson; and finally the Mayor himself.
Ben Lewis had just been returned to office by an overwhelming mandate of the voters in the
aldermanic election when assassins burst into his office on Roosevelt Road late in the
evening of February 28, 1963. Lewis was manacled to his chair and shot in the head three
times - he still clutched a cigarette stub between his fingers when police surveyed the
gruesome scene the next morning.
"The murder once again shows that the syndicate is very much alive in Chicago,"
commented Alderman John Hoellen of the 47th Ward, a pleasant, tree-lined neighborhood far
removed from the ever present dangers of the West Side. Police Superintendent Orlando W.
Wilson echoed the solemn promise of the Mayor by vowing to "apprehend and bring
before the bar of justice the culprit who committed this dastardly crime."
A day, a week, and then a month passed. The dramatic but futile investigation yielded no
suspects or clues. The Lewis killing, like the earlier murders of Prignano, Gross, Graver,
Granata, and other lesser known figures, drifted off page one and into the Chicago Crime
Commission files. The Lewis hit was the 977th unsolved gangland murder in Chicago since
A month later Daley was re-elected Mayor by 138,000 votes over Ben Adamowski who vainly
tried to draw attention to a full plate of municipal problems. No-one in the media
appeared willing to publicize Adamowski's concerns about de-segregating the public
schools, the rising tide of crime, and stemming the violence of the omnipresent
"Outfit." Daley was a popular, beloved mayor and the city was mesmerized by a
necklace of new expressways, a lakefront exposition hall which lured added convention
business to the Windy City, and the new University of Illinois campus which leveled acres
of low income housing on the near West Side.
The Ben Lewis murder was forgotten about. Fortunately though, it closed out a shameful
chapter of Chicago's checkered political history. Ahead lie the tumultuous 1960s, and a
changing social agenda that brought with it changes that forever altered the political
landscape in Northeast Illinois. Through the sheer size of their numbers, Chicago's black
population eventually put an end to the iron-fisted boss rule of the West Side Bloc which
had relied on intimidation and murder to re-inforce its edicts for more than 35 years.
Elected officials no longer became moving targets. Political assassinations in Chicago
ended in the sixties when the federal government finally re-focused its efforts on
incarcerating the gangsters and the City Hall "connection guys" whose ability to
suborn politicians slowly began to wane. The "Operation Greylord" and
"Gambat" investigations into First Ward corruption in the 1980s dealt a
crippling blow to the last vestiges of the West Side Bloc rule.
Political corruption however, is axiomatic to the city and will likely continue in this
election, and all the elections yet to come. Will Chicago ever be ready to reform? No,
probably not, in the learned opinion of the late Mathias "Paddy" Bauler, the
red-faced saloon- politician who ruled the 43rd Ward from his famous North Avenue watering
hole for what seemed like a political eternity. When asked to expound on the true meaning
of the "real" Chicago, "Paddy" cautioned against trying to analyze the
city or its peculiar form of government, because in the end it means..."nuttin."
"Nuttin' at all. Because all you get out of life is a few laughs."