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Rahm might be bad, but Chicago's last Republican mayor was worse

Written by
Adam Selzer

There are plaques around town dedicated to William Hale Thompson, a former mayor of Chicago. You really think that even in Chicago, where our political crooks are almost a point of pride, we would have scrubbed away all references to old Big Bill Thompson, our gangland-era mayor. 

Big Bill served two terms in the 1910s, later pretending to go on an expedition or fishing in South America in order to keep his name in the news. When he came back to run for mayor again in 1926, he put on one of the most bizarre political stunts in Chicago history: debating with rats.

After a few candidates for local office spoke in the Cort Theatre on April 6, 1926, Thompson came onstage with two caged rats from the stockyards, one named Doc (for Doctor John Dill Robertson, one of his political opponents) and one named Fred (for Fred Lundin, another opponent). As to which was which, Thompson pointed to one and said, "This is Doc. I can tell because he hasn't had a bath in 20 years." Then, after lambasting the two rats for a while, he went into one of his rants against the King of England.

The man had been the mayor twice, and went on to win the election to serve a third term, and seems to have thought of himself as a serious candidate to be the Republican nominee for president in 1928. When he ran again in 1931, though, it's said that the five measly districts he managed to win only went to him because they were run by gangsters (who adored Thompson). 

When he was trounced in the 1931 election, the Tribune described the celebration in the Loop as the biggest party since Armistice was declared. The Trib may have been a staunchly Republican paper, but when Thompson, the last Republican mayor, left office, they said: "For Chicago Thompson has meant filth, corruption, obscenity, idiocy, and bankruptcy. He has give the city an international reputation for moronic buffoonery, barbaric crime, triumphant hoodlumism, unchecked graft, and a dejected citizenship.”

And yet, a few of his plaques endure.

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