The Adventures of Mayor Martin Kennelly

Martin Kennelly looked like a statesman. Tall, white-haired, and reserved, he gave off a vibe of quiet dignity.  He might have been the movie version of a senator, or an ambassador, or perhaps even President of the United States.

Martin Kennelly was actually the Mayor of Chicago. During most of his two terms in office, he did seem more like an actor playing a role.

Mayor Martin Kennelly takes the oath of office from City Clerk Richard J. Daley, 1951

Mayor Martin Kennelly takes the oath of office from City Clerk Richard J. Daley, 1951

Like Ed Kelly before him and Daley Senior after him, Kennelly was an Irishman from Bridgeport. Born in 1887, he grew up poor.  He opened a moving business, worked hard, got rich, and left the old neighborhood behind.

He dabbled in Democrat politics as a contributor. Though he accepted appointment to the Park District Board, Kennelly turned down offers to run for public office—until 1947.

Mayor Ed Kelly was finishing up 14 years on the job.   There had been a series of scandals, and the Republicans looked like they had a shot at reclaiming the mayor’s chair.  Remember, this was back in 1947.

The party mandarins told Kelly it was time to retire.  Martin Kennelly was a popular civic leader with no political taint, and was the perfect “clean” candidate for mayor.  He agreed to run.  Though the Republicans did pick up 18 of the 50 city council seats, Kennelly was easily elected.

Chicago was enjoying a postwar boom. Kennelly’s tenure saw many major public works projects, including the Congress (Eisenhower) Expressway, O’Hare Airport, and the extensions of both Lake Shore Drive and Wacker Drive. After two decades of depression and war, private construction was also rebounding.

Kennelly worked to clean up the public school system, and had some success. His efforts to reform civil service had less impact.  His raids on open gambling generated a lot of newspaper ink—and brought him political trouble.

Congressman Dawson

Congressman Dawson

The Mayor’s gambling raids were nearly all in the South Side fief of Congressman William L. Dawson. Dawson and his constituents were African American, and he thought the raids were racist.  Calls for party unity finally convinced Dawson to support Kennelly for re-election in 1951.

Kennelly won that 1951 election without much bother. Still, the party old guard had decided the mayor was a loose cannon, and had to be replaced the next time around.

City Clerk Richard J. Daley became Democrat county chairman in 1953. Two years later, when Kennelly appeared before the party slate-makers to ask for their endorsement, he was dumbfounded when they picked Daley instead.  Refusing to go quietly, he ran against Daley in the mayoral primary.

Kennelly mounted a vigorous campaign. But he was learning to say “hello” when it was time to say “good-bye.”  Daley won the primary, and then the general election.

Kennelly retired to his Sheridan Road apartment, and very little was heard from him after that. He died in 1961.  Years later, one scholar began an essay on Kennelly’s political career with a simple sentence that might serve as his epitaph—“He was a nice man.”


5 Responses to “The Adventures of Mayor Martin Kennelly”

  1. 1 mkstichauf February 24, 2015 at 12:15 am

    There seems to be something wrong with your blog link, John. The last 3-4 of them takes me to a page and the whole blog is about an inch and a half wide running down the middle of the computer screen. I haven’t had a chance to let you know about this until now. I’m surprised no one else has told you about this.

    • 2 J.R. Schmidt February 24, 2015 at 9:23 am

      Thanks for the message. Nobody else has mentioned this to me, so I’ve asked a few other people to try getting on the site, and they tell me everything looks normal. How are you accessing the site–are you linked to it as a subscriber?
      And if anyone else has a similar problem, please let me know, so that I can report it to WordPress.

      • 3 mkstichauf February 26, 2015 at 2:52 am

        Hi John. I just got an email letting me know your next blog was out. So, I opened up the email and clicked, “Read more of this post”, which is how I’ve always accessed your posts. Again, it brought me to the same thing, about a 1.5 inch strip, running the full length of the page. Next, I went back to the email and closed it and then reopened it and clicked on, “Then and Now, Clark and Superior” and got the same thing. I tried one other thing and that was to go to the bottom of the email and right above the word, “Comments”, it gives you a link to your URL and clicked that with the same results. If I’m the only one who is having these problems, it MUST be on my end so I’ll continue to try to figure this out. I just love the blog so I’ll find a way to get to the correct viewing of it.
        I’m linked to the site through your email subscriber service but I’m linked to a couple of other blogs in the same way and have no problems. If you have any more suggestions let me know but otherwise I’ll figure it out soon. Thanks for getting back to me. Michael.

  2. 4 benson February 24, 2015 at 11:53 am

    Viewed it on both Firefox (latest version) and IE (latest version). Both look normal. Also checked on Safari on iphone, and the layout actually looks even better.

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