Sunday, March 06, 2011

Remembering... Anton Cermak

On this day in 1933 Chicago mayor Anton Cermak died, succumbing to the injuries he'd suffered during an attempted assassination of President-elect Franklin Delano Roosevelt by Giuseppe Zangara nineteen days earlier at Miami's Bayfront Park; Cermak's selfless acceptance of his fate is evident in his famous, oft-quoted words to Roosevelt: 'I'm glad it was me instead of you.'*

Cermak had been serving as Alderman for Chicago's 12th Ward (better known as Bridgeport, the home base of future mayors Richard J. Daley, Michael Bilandic and Daley's son Richard M. Daley) when he decided to run for higher office in 1931 against 'Big Bill' Thompson. Thompson's attempts at nativist baiting during the campaign would backfire; Chicago voters, it turns out, were more comfortable voting for an immigrant than their hugely corrupt American-born incumbent - who was seen as being soft on organized crime, a major problem in the city at the time - and sent Thompson packing.

While not in office long enough to put much of a crimp in the style of the Chicago Outfit, Cermak was crucial in bringing black voters into the Democratic Party in Chicago by convincing the hugely influential politician William L. Dawson to abandon the party of Lincoln in favour of the Democrats; Cermak worked tirelessly for Roosevelt during the 1932 election in other ways as well, although why he happened to be in Miami on that fateful day is one fact history has chosen to with-hold from me.

All told, three people were injured and two died as a result of Zangara's actions - none of them the President-elect, whose life may have been spared even as Cermak's was taken, when Lilian Cross, the wife of a local doctor, struck the assassin's arm with her purse.

Cermak's shooting is commemorated today near the spot where it occurred by a plaque bearing his courageous (if possibly spurious) sentiments. He was interred in Chicago's Bohemian National Cemetery, and has been honoured by the renaming of that city's 22nd Street - a major east-west artery - Cermak Road; in 1943 a Liberty ship, the SS A. J. Cermak, was also named after him.

*Like so many other legends, of course, the story may have been entirely fabricated; apparently the relationship between Cermak and Roosevelt was strained at the time of the shooting, and the whole story came from the imaginations of Chicago aldermen "Paddy" Bauler and Charlie Weber. Another theory, first touted by eyewitness Walter Winchell, was that Cermak had been the intended target all along, related to the hard-line he'd been taking on organized crime - a theory now thought to be entirely without merit.

share on: facebook

No comments: