The First Cullerton

Alderman Timothy Cullerton is retiring. The Cullertons are Chicago’s oldest political dynasty. Let’s take a look at the dynasty’s Founding Father.

Edward Cullerton was born in Chicago in 1842. Quitting school at a young age, he became a canal boat driver, and eventually bought his own boat. For a few years he lived in Canada.

Foxy Ed Cullerton

Foxy Ed Cullerton

He returned to Chicago in 1871. That October, the Great Fire leveled most of the city. A month after the fire, Tribune publisher Joseph Medill was elected mayor on the “Fire-Proof” ticket. Also elected was a new Democrat alderman from the Lower West Side, Edward Cullerton.

The young alderman soon developed a reputation for political astuteness. He was known to be careful with his words, never speaking a sentence when a single word would do, and never speaking a single word unless it was necessary. Friends called him Silent Eddy, Smooth Eddy—or, most often, Foxy Ed.

While serving as alderman, Cullerton also served a term in the Illinois House of Representatives. That was a legal political strategy then. As the years went by, however, Cullerton became a target of the good-government reformers. In 1892, sensing a tough re-election fight, he managed to get the endorsement of both the Democrat and Republican parties. But when the votes were counted, Foxy Ed had lost.

Six years later, the voters gave him back his old job. More years passed, and Cullerton became chairman of the Finance Committee, the council’s most powerful post.

Being an alderman was only a part-time job. In 1901 the city directory listed Cullerton’s occupation as “detective.” In 1903 he was called a “real estate broker.” The 1905 directory said Cullerton was head of the Chicago Tax Adjusting Company. He also published a weekly newspaper called The Taxpayer.

Cullerton sign--01

Early in 1914 the alderman became ill and nearly died. Still, his health improved enough for him to once again win his council seat that April. As usual, he ran solely on his past record, with no platform. “I make no re-election promises,” he said in a campaign speech. “I judge each ordinance or resolution when it comes up and in the light of the circumstances that then exist.”

On February 1, 1920, Alderman Edward Cullerton died in his home at 1632 West 20th Street. The cause of death was pneumonia. A few weeks later, the city council changed the name of 20th Street to Cullerton Street.

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