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1923 Chicago mayoral election

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

1923 Chicago mayoral election

← 1919 April 3, 1923 1927 →
William Emmett Dever 1923 headshot (1).jpg
Arthur C. Lueder (A).jpg
William A Cunnea attorney ACW Chicago strike of 1915 (a).png
Nominee William E. Dever Arthur C. Lueder William A. Cunnea
Party Democratic Republican Socialist
Popular vote 390,413 258,094 41,186
Percentage 56.61% 37.42% 5.97%

Chicago Mayoral Results by Ward, 1923.png
Results by ward[1]

Mayor before election

William H. Thompson

Elected Mayor

William E. Dever

In the Chicago mayoral election of 1923 Democrat William E. Dever defeated Republican Arthur C. Lueder and Socialist William A. Cunnea. Elections were held on April 3, the same day as aldermanic runoffs.

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In February, Chicago voted for a new Mayor, however, there wasn’t a winner. Instead, we whittled our way down to two candidates from the 14 that were on the ballot and we had to vote again. This seems incredibly inefficient and made me wonder if it has always been this way. Of course, it hasn’t and to my surprise, there was one country who changed the way America's vote and that was none other than Australia. The way you vote has changed dramatically since the earliest elections that happened in the county. Back in Ole Massachusetts, the earliest voting was done at the town hall by a show of hand and as you can imagine, you had a really good idea of how people voted. In Illinois, the Viva Voce method was used. Each person would go before a Judge and vocally announce who they voted for. Again, there was little to no privacy on how a person would vote. The rationale of the time was that the voter, white men, stood by their choices and only a meek and feeble man would try to conceal their vote. How each city voted was largely informed by state laws and In 1848 the Illinois constitution enacted that all voting in the state had to be done by ballot. Ballot voting soon became the standard across the country although it was far from the ballot voting you know today. Early ballot voting required the voter to write his choice on a piece of paper both legibly and correctly, a challenge even by today's standards. Eventually, political parties began furnishing tickets to the voters. Delivered in-person or by mail, the printed ballot featured all the candidates the political party wanted you to vote for. To vote, you would fold and take this ticket to the judge at the polling location and the ticket was deposited in the ballot box. It was an improvement, however, one that was far from perfect. The biggest problem was with the buying and selling of votes. Which was largely successful because it was still obvious how you voted. And that was to do with who printed the tickets The tickets were printed in multiple colors with intricate designs to distinguish a party vote. Sure, laws were enacted to counter these efforts, such as you could only use white paper. But that resulted in tickets printed in a variety of white shades. Selling your vote wasn't hard, there were even reports of voters shopping around for the best price. Bribes ranged from a couple of cents to few dollars, hell even a free beer or hot meal was enough. The system needed reform and they found it in Australia. During the 1850s a new way of voting was introduced in Australia and it bought four major reforms to ballot voting. Firstly, ballots would be officially printed by the overseeing government body at the taxpayer's expense. Secondly, the names of all candidates and their parties would be listed alphabetically on the ballot. Thirdly, the ballot would only be distributed at the place of voting and finally, voters would take their ballots into a private booth to mark them in secret. The Australian ballot system, known as the secret ballot, was first enacted in the city of Louisville, Kentucky in 1888. In just one year seven states had enacted reform laws based on the Australian ballot. Illinois would adopt the system in 1891 and if you were voting in Chicago’s 21st ward election in 1893, this would have been your ballot. You could vote the party ticket by marking within the circle or within a square next to the candidate's name. Also featured on the ballot are two propositions for the annexation of Rodgers Park and West Ridge. Overall the reforms proved successful. The business of buying and selling votes dried up and there was no certainty how a person voted. And those participating in the act weren't that trustworthy, to begin with. Getting on the ticket was still partisan, with primaries held in Chicago for both Mayors and Alderman. Under the Australian ballot law, a candidate that wasn’t nominated by a party could get on the ballot by gathering enough signatures. This was usually a small percentage of the last vote and it varied from state to state. It wouldn’t be till 1923 when Chicago made Aldermanic elections Non-partisan under a majority electoral system. If no candidate gets more than 50% of the vote, the top two candidates will have a runoff. The 1923 alderman election resulted in 20 runoff elections. Mayoral elections became nonpartisan in 1995, however, it wasn’t until 2015 when we had the first ever runoff and we did it again this year. It’s hard enough to get people to vote once and with low voter turn out this year along with a record number of candidates running. There has to be a better way, I think there is and some others do too. Again, we have to look at voting in Australia. Back in 1917, Australia switched to a ranked preferential voting system. Where, depending on the election, you have to number each candidate or political party from your first to last preference. If no candidate or has enough votes The candidate with the least votes is removed and their second preferences votes are distributed and so on. If you want to learn more about this, there is a link to a CPG grey video in the description. Now this way of voting has made it to America already. It has been adopted in Maine and San Francisco. One great example is In 2013, ranked voting was used in the Minneapolis mayoral election. There were 35 candidates in the running and with ranked voting, there was no need for a runoff even though no candidate achieved a majority with the first round preferences. The way we vote in Australia has largely remained the same, with voters marking paper ballots. In America there was the introduction of machine voting, punch ballots and computer voting which has brought about issues with hanging chads, computer hacking, and machine manipulation. Chicago wasn't exempt from voter fraud, even with the introduction of the Australian ballot system. I wanted to talk about how people voted in this video and I would love to create a video solely on Chicago election shenanigans. So if you have any good stories or suggestions hit me up in the comments below. Also, should Chicago and the rest of the country adopt a rank voting system and switch back to paper ballots? I believe they should. That said, I can’t vote here as I’m not a citizen, yet, here’s hoping you’ll be happy to have me. Don’t forget to like and subscribe and share this video with your Chicago friends.



Democratic primary

Ahead of 1923, the Democratic Party had long been divided.[2] Carter Harrison Jr. and Edward Fitzsimmons Dunne had once each led factions which held equal prominence to a faction led by Roger Charles Sullivan. However, by the end of the 1910s, Sullivan's wing of the Chicago Democratic Party had dwarfed theirs. By then, the blocs of Harrison and Dunne had effectively united as well.[2] When Sullivan died in 1920, George Brennan became the party leader. He sought to unify the Democratic Party factions.[2]

While he had been long discussed as a potential mayoral candidate for almost two decades, in 1923 a combination of conditions and events catapulted William E. Dever to the nomination.[2] In December 1922, a number of influential Chicago advocates for clean government had held a forum led by Mrs. Kellog Fairbank and Reverend Graham Taylor at the City Club of Chicago about the pending mayoral election which was attended by such luminaries as Clarence Darrow.[2][3] This led to the establishment of the Non-Partisan Citizens Mayoral Committee led by Mrs. Kellog Fairbank, which sought to lobby both parties to put forth truthful alternatives to the corrupt and demagogic mayor Thompson.[2][3] They decided that they would analyze prospective candidates and compile a shortlist of candidates they would be willing to back.[2] Brennan, who was unable to narrow out the field of prospective candidates to personally back, took an interest in these efforts, seeing them as an opportunity to help inform him in narrowing out the field.[2] The committee ultimately put forth a shortlist of seven prospective candidates they backed, including Judge William E. Dever.[2] Dever had also been championed as a potential candidate by a broad array of individuals, including the Municipal Voters' League's George Sikes, William L. O'Connell (a leader in the party's Harrison-Dunne bloc), and Progressive Republican Harold Ickes.[2][3] It was believed that Dever could unite the Democratic Party and serve as a clean and honest leader of the city's government.[2] Brennan, particularly impressed that Dever had backing from both members of the Harrison-Dunne faction and from reformers outside of the party, decided to take a closer look at him as a candidate.[2] Upon meeting with him, he found comradery and a positive working dynamic with Dever. He struck an arrangement under which, if elected mayor, he would allow Dever independence, but expected that Dever would, in turn, agree not utilize his patronage powers to build a political machine usurping Brennan's leadership of the party.[2] After finding no opposition to Dever as a candidate from within the party leadership, he announced the next day that Brennan was the party-backed candidate for mayor.[2]

Before Dever had become the consensus candidate, among the individuals speculated as prospective candidates by the press was Anton Cermak.[3]

Brennan worked to ensure that Dever was unopposed in the Democratic primary.[3]

Despite Brennan pushing forth Dever's candidacy, the public generally did not view Dever to be a "machine" candidate.[4] The public generally perceived that reformist citizens organizations had advocated Dever to the Democratic party leaders.[4]

Republican primary

Due to his poor health there had been uncertainty as to whether two-term incumbent Republican William H. Thompson would run for reelection.[5] He was also seen as more vulnerable to being unseated by a strong Democratic opponent, as Thompson had severed ties with a number of key political allies (including Robert C. Crowe and Frederick Lundin).[5] One of the final factors in Thompson's decision not to seek reelection was a scandal involving campaign manager being implicated in shaking down vendors of school supplies for bribes and political contributions.[6] Uneager to joust with Dever, nearly a week after he became the presumptive Democratic candidate Thompson announced his decision not to run with only a month before the Republican primary.[2][5]

Businessman and federal postmaster Arthur C. Lueder, backed by the Brundage-McCormick/Tribune and Deneen blocs of the party, won the nomination in the subsequent open primary.[2][3]

Republican primary (February 27, 1923)[7]
Party Candidate Votes %
Republican Arthur C. Lueder 128,704 42.76
Republican Edward R. Litsinger 74,560 24.77
Republican Arthur M. Millard 51,054 16.96
Republican Bernard P. Barasa 46,690 15.51
Turnout 301,008 100.00

Socialist nomination

William A. Cunnea was nominated by the Socialist Party.[8] Cunnea had been a Democratic nominee for alderman in 1899, and had been the Socialist nominee for Cook County State's Attorney in 1912 and 1918.[8]

General election

Lueder and his wife cast their votes
Lueder and his wife cast their votes

Both major party candidates campaigned as reformers.[2]

Dever was only the second resident of Edgewater to run for mayor, after only Nathaniel Sears, and consequentially would be the first Edgewater resident to serve as mayor.[9] Dever had a strong reputation for honesty, and was seen to be smart and well-spoken.[2] He was supported by many reformers and independents. Many went so far as to organize the Independent Dever League, a group created to act in support of Dever's campaign.[2] Dever won strong backing from progressive independents.[3]

The traction issue reemerged in this election. Lueder promised to "study" the possibility of municipal purchase of street railways.[2][3] Dever, on the other hand, was far more enthusiastic on the issue, proclaiming that the most critical task for the victor of the election would be to resolve problems with the city's public transit.[2][3] These problems included price increases and declining quality of service provided by the Chicago Surface Lines.[2] A long time advocate for municipal ownership, Dever believed that it would be ideal for the city to buy-out the Chicago Surface Lines once their franchise expired in 1927.[2] He also had hopes of possibly acquiring the Chicago Rapid Transit Company.[2] Socialist Cunnea campaigned for a 5-cent fare.[8]

Lueder offered a strong contrast to the incumbent Republican mayor, being dignified and soft spoken, with a strong reputation of personal integrity.[2] Thompson did not campaign at all on behalf of Republican candidate Lueder.[2] Lueder had strong support from the business community.[3] Running a tidy campaign, positioning himself as a nonpolitical businessman, Lueder focused on securing the support of the Republican Party's factions.[3] He maintained his support from the Brundage-McCormick and Deneen factions and picked-up the backing of key figures from the Thompson faction of the party despite Thompson's own refusal to back him.[3]

Lueder attempted to portray himself as an expert administrator.[10] Lueder argued that his experience in real estate and as postmaster had sufficiently prepared him for the administrative role of the mayoralty, asserting that it provided a more valuable experience than holding various minor elected posts.[3] He stated, "I believe what the people want is a businessman for mayor. I believe that want a man who will devote his time to his duties as mayor of Chicago, and not building up a political machine.[3]

Lueder refused to formally debate Dever, despite Dever's request for debates.[3] However, on numerous occasions they spoke at the same events.[3]

Eugene V. Debs actively campaigned for Socialist nominee William A. Cunnea.[11]

The campaign was largely uneventful, with little tenuous debate or controversy arising.[2][12] However, in the final stretch of the campaign, a level of anti-Catholic sentiment was vocalized by select segments of Chicago's population, who were unhappy at the prospect of Dever, as a Catholic, being mayor.[2][3][12][10] At the same time, some made an effort at the close of the election to draw a link between the Ku Klux Klan and the Republican campaign.[12] Outside of this last minute heightening of discourse in select corners, the campaign proved to be relatively tame.[12]

Early into the race the candidates ran close in the polls.[3] However, Dever took a strong lead in the race.[3] By the end of the race, gambling boss James Patrick O'Leary had assigned 1-7 betting odds in favor of a Dever victory.[2][3]


William A. Cunnea
William E. Dever
Arthur C. Leuder


Dever won thirty-two of the city's fifty wards[2] (the 1923 election was the first after the city had redistricted itself from 35 to 50 wards).[3] His greatest share of votes was in the city's ten inner-city ethnic wards, located in traditional Democratic strongholds.[2] Lueder won the wards in traditionally-Republican areas on the edge of the city.[2] However, Dever made inroads with voters in these edge wards.[2] Dever also had made inroads among Black and Jewish voters.[2][3]

Dever received 83.47% of the Polish-American vote, while Lueder received 12.43% and Cunnea received 4.04%.[13]

Dever received more than 80% of the Italian American vote.[3]

Dever received 53% of the African American vote by some accounts.[3] This was a change from the typical voting pattern of Chicago African American voters, who regularly voted for the Republican Party.[14]

Dever received slightly less than half of the Swedish American and German American votes.[3]

1919 Chicago mayoral election (general election)[15]
Party Candidate Votes %
Democratic William E. Dever 390,413 56.61
Republican Arthur C. Lueder 258,094 37.42
Socialist William A. Cunnea 41,186 5.97
Turnout 689,693 100.00


  1. ^ "Dever sweeps in by 103,748". The Chicago Daily Tribune. April 4, 1923. Retrieved December 18, 2018.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac ad ae af ag ah The Mayors: The Chicago Political Tradition, fourth edition by Paul M. Green, Melvin G. Holli SIU Press, Jan 10, 2013
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac ad ae af ag ah ai aj ak al am Schmidt, John R. (1989). "The Mayor Who Cleaned Up Chicago" A Political Biography of William E. Dever. DeKalb, Illinois: Northern Illinois University Press.
  4. ^ a b Yarros, Victor S. (July 1926). "Sketches of American Mayors IV. William E. Dever of Chicago". National Municipal Review. XV (7).
  5. ^ a b c Schottenhamel, George. “How Big Bill Thompson Won Control of Chicago.” Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society, vol. 45, no. 1, 1952, pp. 30–49. JSTOR
  6. ^ McClelland, Edward. "The Most Corrupt Public Official In Illinois History: William Hale Thompson". NBC Chicago. Retrieved March 21, 2019.
  7. ^ "RaceID=690351". Our Campaigns. Retrieved December 6, 2018.
  8. ^ a b c Headley, Kathleen J.; Krol, Tracy J. (October 19, 2015). Legendary Locals of Chicago Lawn and West Lawn. Arcadia Publishing. p. 34.
  9. ^ "Edgewater Teasers Vol. XVI No. 3 - FALL 2005". Edgewater History. Retrieved 13 February 2019.
  10. ^ a b Bukowski, Douglas (1998). Big Bill Thompson, Chicago, and the Politics of Image. University of Illinois Press.
  11. ^ a b "Debs-Cunnea Meeting". Newberry. La Parola del Popolo. March 3, 1923. Retrieved 15 March 2019.
  12. ^ a b c d,3092278
  13. ^ Kantowicz, Edward. “The Emergence of the Polish-Democratic Vote in Chicago.” Polish American Studies, vol. 29, no. 1/2, 1972, pp. 67–80. JSTOR, JSTOR
  14. ^
  15. ^ "RaceID=123292". Our Campaigns. Retrieved December 6, 2018.
This page was last edited on 8 June 2019, at 02:13
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