Cook County Democratic Organization

Cook County Democratic Organization

Cook County Democratic Organization

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The Cook County Democratic Organization is one of the most powerful political machines in American history. Historically called the "Chicago Democratic machine", or simply the "Chicago Machine", the organization has dominated Chicago politics (and consequently, Illinois politics) since the 1930s. It relies on a tight organizational structure of ward committeemen and precinct captains to elect candidates.

Early history

Before the 1930s, the Democratic Party in Chicago was divided along ethnic lines - the Irish, Polish, Italian, and other groups each controlled politics in their neighborhoods. Under the leadership of Anton Cermak, the party consolidated its ethnic bases into one large organization. With the organization behind, Cermak was able to win election as mayor of Chicago in 1931, an office he held until his assassination in 1933.

After Cermak's death, Patrick Nash and Edward J. Kelly took control of the machine. They were able to add African-Americans to the organization's fold, as they had been previously loyal to Republicans since the Civil War. Due to scandals and liberal policies on housing, Kelly lost favor with the machine.

Jacob Arvey assumed the chair of the organization after Nash's death in 1943 and Kelly's ouster in 1947. Arvey wanted to clean up the image of the machine, so he put reformers on the slate, such as Martin H. Kennelly for mayor, Paul Douglas for United States Senate, and Adlai Stevenson for governor of...
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