Antonín Čermák

Antonín Josef Čermák – Anton Joseph Cermak was Chicago’s 36th mayor (1931 – 1933).

He was born near Prague in the town of Kladno, Bohemia (now the Czech Republic) and emigrated to the United States as a child. After working in the coalmines near Joliet, he came to Chicago at the age of 16. He worked as a railroad brakeman and a teamster, a job which would later earn him the nickname “Pushcart Tony”.

Cermak began his political career as a precinct captain, and in 1902 was elected to the Illinois House of Representatives. Before the mayoral election in 1931, he politically organized several major ethnic groups, including Czechs, Poles, Ukrainians, Italians and African-Americans. On April 7, 1931, Cermak won the election, defeating Republican incumbent “Big Bill” Thompson by nearly 200,000 votes. He built the Democratic machine that still runs the city to this day. All of the city’s mayors since Cermak have been members of the Democratic Party.

In February of 1933, Cermak was shot by Guiseppe Zangara who most likely aimed for President-elect Franklin D. Roosevelt.  Before he died, Cermak is reported to have said to the President, “I am glad it was me instead of you.”

After the shooting, the Chicago Tribune published the following statement: “We think he (Cermak) faced his problems courageously and did the best that was in him to put this punch drunk city back on its feet, to restore its reputation in the eyes of the world, to re-establish its credit, to relieve its taxpayers and to pay its debts.”

Anton Cermak’s son-in-law, Otto Kerner Jr., served as the 33rd Governor of Illinois and a federal circuit judge. Cermak’s great niece Kajon Cermak is a broadcaster for a Southern California radio station. His grandson, Frank J. Jirka, Jr. also marked an impressive career.

*Sources: Britannica, Chicago Tribune, Wikipedia, Bohemian National Cemetery