How The City That Gave Us the Cubs Was Shaped
The Chicago Democratic Party of the 1870s was beholden to tavern owners, who wished to stop legislation that would close them on Sundays, and brothel owners who sought a lack of police enforcement. The Democratic Party also found support from laborers who patronized these establishments. The use of patronage built a political electoral machine. Thus, the leader of Chicago’s Democratic Party, Mike McDonald, was seen as a protector of criminal activity.
Nationally, Martin Van Buren helped create a Democratic Party that appealed to Irish immigrants, freeholders, and rural yeomen.
Mike McDonald’s travel agency was a front for gambling. A number of pro-Southern Copperheads plotted to liberate about 8,000 Confederate soldiers from a prisoner of war camp. Many of the plotters later became leaders of Chicago’s Democratic Party. It is unknown in McDonald was involved or not, except he was friends with the plotters.
A fire in 1870 killed over 300 people in Chicago. Groups emerged to make Chicago more safe and moral. Some religious groups claimed the fire was a warning from God against rampant immorality in Chicago. The city’s fire devastated parts were quickly rebuilt. The bars and illegal activities resumed.
Joseph Medill was elected Mayor in 1871. He got the legislature to increase gambling penalties. The Police Superintendent was removed for his hesitancy to close gambling establishments. Elmer Washburn became the new Superintendent. McDonald’s establishment was among those raided by the newly aggressive police. Washburn was an outsider distrusted by local police officers. The Police Commission fired him in 1873 claiming he made unauthorized raids. Illegal activities resumed operating un-raided. Mayor Medill suddenly resigned and left town right before it was disclosed over half a million dollars of city funds were diverted by Democratic City Treasurer Dave Gage to personal accounts. Political opponents spread a rumor that Medill was a coward who left to avoid a possible cholera outbreak. For here, a half century of strong machine and police corruption emerged that allowed illegal ventures to operation.
McDonald’s first wife Mary once beat a woman who made her jealous and threatened people with a gun or dagger. She almost killed a police officer shooting at him when he tried to make a raid. A partisan Judge acquitted her.
Michael and Mary had a stormy and violent marriage fueled by much alcohol consumption. She accused him of infidelity and traveled with an actor Billy Arlington to San Francisco, registering at a hotel as a married couple. Mike McDonald discovered this and greeted the couple with loaded pistols. Arlington took off and Mark told Michael the friendship was platonic. Later, she threatened to shoot him.
Brothers John and Michael Corcoran organized the 20th Ward Democrats as a strong group that was known for its voter intimidation. Political rivals were almost drowned in troughs. Rival political offices had stones tossed into them. The Corcorans lent their assistance in political battles across Chicago.
Four Garrity brothers, Hugh, John, Mike, and Tommy, enforced the will of McDonald and the Corcorans with brass knuckles and other violent means. A Tribune newspaper city editor Sammy Medill, the Mayor’s brother, was among those beaten.
In 1886, it became legal to use taverns as polling locations. Bartenders in 8,000 taverns were deputized to naturalize foreign residents. Foreign residents were given a free meal, gambling chips, and instructions on how to vote. Voters received free beer. Groups of people went from polling place to polling place for free beer and multiple voting.
Jacob Rehm became Police Superintendent. He favored minimal enforcement of gambling laws in areas where the Democratic Party wanted the police to ignore. The leadership of Chicago no longer was controlled, as it had been in the past, by upper class, high moral Republican Party Puritan-ists.
McDonald’s Sheriff, Charles Kern, charged the city 35 cents per day to feed prisoners and took 10 cent of each 35 cents for himself. He was never charged with a crime. City Controller Van Hollen stole a $100,000 of city funds to pay gambling debts to McDonald and others. He fled to Canada.
Mayor Harvey Colvin oversaw an administration rife with scandals about payoffs. Financial difficulties led to the city paying its bills in script and the city almost became bankrupt. A Charter change made the winner of the 1875 Mayor’s office to not take office until 1877. A moderate Democrat, Thomas Hayne, received 33,064 votes to 819 for the Peoples Party’s Colvin. Both men claimed they were Mayor and for 28 days both acted as Mayor. City Council called for another election in 1876, where Republican reform candidate Monroe Heath was elected.
McDonald pulled much of the People’s Party into the Democratic Party. McDonald, who had supported Democrat Horatio Seymore over RepublicanUlysses Grant, switched to support President Grant’s reelection in 1872. In doing so, Democrat McDonald greatly influenced Federal jobs patronage during a Republican Administration.
McDonald supported Perry Smith for Mayor in 1877. Mayor Heath had named Michael Hickes as Police Chief. Hickes sought to drive illegal gambling operations, especially McDonald’s. McDonald closed his gambling operations for awhile. Hickes, though, looked the other way in letting vice operations remain. Citizens upset over this sought to oust Heath and Hickes. Smith ran on education reform issues. Heath won by 11,000 votes. McDonald though had enough pull to get City Council to reject Hickes’s reappointment by 22 to 11.
Hickes, out of office, was critical of the return of gambling operations. He anonymously wrote letters about this and was heavily criticized when it was revealed he was the author.
The McDonald machine rigged bids to overpay friends. It even rigged grand juries Bribes won public contracts. Some stole from each other. The private banks were made public. A few people were charged with crimes but were acquitted.
McDonald introduced the Lundberg Process, or a 13 year courthouse operation. It was noted for shoddy repairs of crumbling limestone. A fire demonstrated the building was not properly fireproofed and a person died. A whole new building was proposed by planner Daniel Burnham, which was built from 1906 to 1908 and still stands.
McDonald supported Carter Harrison for Mayor in 1879. Harrison ignored McDonald’s illegal campaign activities yet had an independent streak. He disagreed with McDonald over appointment and which candidates to support. Plus, Harrison sometime supported raising gambling parlors. McDonald was fine with raiding competing gambling houses and running them out of town.
McDonald was accused of being connected to a major financial Ponzi swindling scheme. He was not indicted although others were.
McDonald and some business friends paid bribes to a corporation counsel and alderman for exclusive building rights along a West Lake Street elevated line. The bribery scheme went before a grand jury that about 13 Aldermen had been bought. No indictments resulted.
By 1885, the Cook County Board of Commissioners was composed of McDonald’s friends. Private companies paid Commissioners in order to be selected for contracts. A grand jury looked into these abuses. Once again, there was not enough evidence for an indictment for McDonald.
McDonald unsuccessfully tried to pack a jury hearing a case involving contractor bribes involving McDonald associates. They were convicted.
Reformers won brief control of the Cook County Commissioners. Yet the city government remained corrupt.
Mary McDonald befriended Father Moysant, who would give her opium before hearing her confession. The two left together for Europe.
McDonald was arrested for unduly influencing voters. The Judge declared the evidence was not enough to proceed to trial.
Mayor Carter Harrison was assassinated by Patrick Prendergast, who believed Harrison had reneged on a job offer. Most states Predergast was viewed as a crank and no offer had ever been made.
McDonald faced newly emerging challenges as well as strolling against uprisings from his own followers. McDonald sued a few failed business partners and he himself was sued. He remarried Dora Feldman, whom the press labeled a “ghetto girl”. She, though, was infatuated with a 13 year old boy. That relationship lasted a few years. Dora claimed the boy tried to blackmail her so she shot him to death.
Mike McDonald at first stood by his wife for several days. When he realized she had betrayed him, he became a broken man. McDonald collapsed from a weakened heart. He died soon afterwards in 1907. Dora later was acquitted. She and McDonald’s son spent over 18 years arguing over Mike McDonald’s will.