“I’m glad it was me instead of you”
Sometimes people are just in the wrong place at the wrong time. Such was the case with Tony Cermak, the mayor of Chicago, Illinois, who was elected in 1931. An Austro-Hungarian immigrant, he arrived in America with his parents when he was around a year old. In 1902 he joined the Illinois state legislature and gradually rose up the political greasy pole until 1928 when he lost a race for the US Senate to Republican Otis F. Glenn.
Three years later, he was running Chicago during the Great Depression, thanks in part to his wooing of the city’s large immigrant population. On 6 April 1931, he beat the corrupt “Big Bill” Thompson to City Hall. Thompson had resorted to deliberately mispronouncing his rival’s name. “He doesn’t like my name… it’s true I didn’t come over on the Mayflower, but I came over as soon as I could,” he responded.
Mayor Cermak’s win ended the Republican stronghold in Chicago. His administration was beset by financial problems. On 15 February 1933 President-Elect Franklin D. Roosevelt was visiting Miami and was shaking hands with Mayor Cermak, also on a visit to Miami, when Giuseppe Zangara attempted to shoot him. Instead the bullets hit the mayor in the lung. As he was taken to hospital Mayor Cermak is supposed to have told the President-Elect, “I’m glad it was me instead of you” although the historical authenticity of this is doubted by many authorities.
Bayfront Park, Miami, Florida, USA
Wednesday 15 February 1933
Mayor Cermak died of peritonitis on 6 March 1933. He was buried at the Bohemian National Cemetery in Chicago. Zangara pleaded guilty to murder and was sentenced to death. He then said, “You give me electric chair. I no afraid of that chair! You one of capitalists. You is crook man too. Put me in electric chair. I no care!” A fortnight after Mayor Cermak died Zangara was executed in the electric chair at Florida State Penitentiary in Raiford, Florida.
YOU SHOULD KNOW:
A plaque honouring the mayor stands at the murder site at Bayfront Park. It bears the legend, “I’m glad it was me instead of you.”