Monday, May 21, 2018

Richard J. Daley was elected to his first political office... as a Republican in 1936.

If anything in Illinois history fits the “believe it or not” category, this is it. 

Richard J. Daley; future Democrat boss; future Chicago mayor, future father of a future Chicago mayor; was elected to his first political office... as a Republican on November 3, 1936.

The election was for the Illinois House of Representatives from the 9th district. In 1936 the state was divided into 51 legislative districts. Each district sent three reps to the state House.

The Republican and Democratic parties had a cozy arrangement back then. In each of those 51 districts, the Democrats would run only two candidates, and the Republicans would run only two. That way, whichever party wound up in the minority would get at least one-third of the total seats.

The 9th district was the area around Bridgeport, heavily Democrat. David Shanahan had held the “Republican” seat without much effort since 1894. Fifteen days before the 1936 election, Shanahan died.
David Shanahan Statue
It was too late to print new ballots. Shanahan’s name would stay. So the Republicans named Robert E. Rogers as their replacement candidate, and organized a write-in campaign.

With Shanahan dead, the Democrat leadership felt free to mount their own write-in campaign for the Republican slot. Their candidate was Cook County Treasurer Joe Gill’s 34-year-old private secretary. That was Richard Joseph Daley.
Richard J. Daley, 1936
The Republicans screamed that the “gentlemen’s agreement” was being violated. But there wasn’t much they could do about it.

On November 3, 1936 President Franklin D. Roosevelt won a second term in a landslide. The Democrats were triumphant almost everywhere.

Buried among the returns were the write-in results from the Illinois 9th. Daley outpaced Rogers, 8539 to 3321. The Tribune noted that even though he’d run as a Republican, “it is understood that Daley will caucus with the Democrats.”

When the House convened the next January, the Democrats offered a resolution asking that Daley be seated on their side of the aisle. The Republicans were still angry about how they had been out-maneuvered.

“I don’t care about the resolution,” the Republican leader declared. “I want to know where Representative Daley wants to sit. Where do you want to sit, Representative Daley?”

The rookie rep pointed to the Democrat side of the chamber and softly said, “There.” Then he walked over to join his new colleagues and never looked back.

Compiled by Neil Gale, Ph.D. 


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