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Who was the best Chicago mayor? Part I

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As the Feb. 22 Chicago mayor race nears, candidates and others are being asked who they think the best Chicago mayor.

One name that doesn't seem likely to finish near the top in overall voting is William Hale "Big Bill" Thompson, the last Republican mayor, who left office in 1931 after losing to Anton Cermak.

But "Big Bill" is tops in at least one category, according to former Chicago alderman and University of Illinois at Chicago political science professor Dick Simpson.

"Thompson was the most colorful mayor we have ever had," Simpson says. "He rode a horse up on [a] stage in his second campaign, I think it was, with a cowboy hat. He had gone out West. He was a demagogue. He suggested he would punch King George [V of the United Kingdom] in the nose."

Ald. Edward M. Burke, the longest-serving alderman in Chicago's history, doesn't dispute that Thompson was colorful,

"Not only did he ride a horse onto the stage, if you go to the second floor of the City Hall, where we have a historical display on the history of the building and the characters ... he conducted a rodeo in the Council chambers," Burke says. "And we have a photograph of people on two horses in the Council chambers. ... Now I know a lot of people in Chicago think politicians are horses asses - we have got absolute proof that they were in the City Council chambers."

OK, so Thompson's the most colorful - and maybe worst - mayor. As for the best, mayoral candidate Carol Moseley Braun picks Harold Washington, who served from 1983 to 1987.

"The hope and the vision for city government that he brought to bear here in Chicago was one that I was ... very proud to be a part of," Braun says.

As for the best mayor, Burke, like the typical Chicagoan of political lore, gives himself extra votes:

"I would have to say Richard J. Daley was one of the best mayors in the history of Chicago because he maintained a city, a big Rust Belt city, and kept it alive when other cities were failing," Burke says. "I like Carter Harrison the elder [1879-1887, re-elected 1893], who was assassinated on the last night of the1893 World's Fair, and I think Mayor Edward Fitzsimmons Dunne [1905-1907] was another real sincere, honest man. And, I think, throw in Mayor [Emmett] Dever [1923-1927] also."

Dunne, Simpson says, "was the first great reformer."

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This page contains a single entry by Thomas Frisbie published on January 16, 2011 2:21 PM.

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