Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Did a Mob Boss Help Elect Richard J. Daley?

Friends of ours: Bruno Roti Sr., Fred Roti, Al Capone

Did Bruno Roti Sr. -- one of Chicago's earliest reputed mob bosses -- help Richard J. Daley win his first election, to the Illinois Legislature, 70 years ago?
Chicago's Richard J. Daley
Daley's victory came in one of the strangest elections in Illinois history. The future Democratic boss won a write-in campaign -- as a Republican -- to replace a Republican legislator who'd died just 16 days before the election.

Daley won with the support of the 11th Ward Regular Democratic Organization. He also got help from Bruno Roti Sr., said Ald. Bernie Stone (50th), a close friend of Roti's late son, Ald. Fred B. Roti.

"From what Freddie told me, his father had a hand in helping Richard J. Daley become a member of the state Legislature,'' Stone said. "That was back in the '30s. I don't know what the story was. I was in diapers back then." In a follow-up interview, Stone said: "I have no reason not to believe it. I knew his father was very influential in politics in those days. I think there was a certain amount of influence."

Daley's son, the current mayor, doesn't know if Roti helped his father, according to the mayor's press secretary, Jacquelyn Heard.

The Sun-Times could find no evidence to prove that Roti Sr. -- an associate of Al Capone, according to the FBI -- helped Daley get elected to the Legislature on Nov. 3, 1936. This was 19 years before he became mayor.

Every Daley biography discusses his 1936 election, focusing on him winning as a Republican who wound up sitting with the Democrats in the Illinois House. Few of those books mention Bruno Roti Sr., and none has him playing any role in Daley's elections to any office.

Daley's political career began when, as a Democratic Party patronage worker in Cook County government, he and fellow Democrats wrested a legislative seat away from the Republicans after David Shanahan died just before the election. For decades, Shanahan had been the Republican representative for the district, which also had two Democratic representatives. Each district had three representatives, and state law guaranteed each party at least one representative per district.

Shanahan's death left the Republicans without a candidate in the November general election. His party asked a state election board to replace Shanahan with another Republican. The election board's three members -- all Democrats, including Gov. Henry Horner -- refused, ruling Shanahan's replacement would be decided by a write-in vote. Both parties waged write-in campaigns, with Democratic voters helping Daley win the Republican seat, leaving the district with a Republican legislator in name only.

The only available election records from 1936 are handwritten tallies. They show Daley got 8,637 write-in votes from a district that covered parts of six wards, including Daley's own 11th Ward. Daley got 77 percent of his votes from the 11th Ward. In one 11th Ward precinct, Daley's Republican write-in campaign got 77 percent of all the votes -- five times as many votes as either Democratic candidate could muster. And their names were printed on the ballot.

Daley's district didn't include the adjacent 1st Ward, where Bruno Roti Sr. lived. And Roti couldn't vote: He didn't become a citizen until nine years later.

Thanks to Tim Novak

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