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Richard C. Lindberg at Centuries & Sleuths Bookstore

Chicago Reader 31 July 2009 No Comment

Most people attribute the formation of Chicago’s Democratic machine to Mayor Richard J. Daley, who perfected the hierarchical spoils system during his 21-year reign. Real political junkies may trace its origins to Anton Cermak, who, as mayor from 1931 to 1933, created a formidable organization by divvying up jobs and contracts among different ethnic groups—or to “Bathhouse” John Coughlin and Michael “Hinky Dink” Kenna, two turn-of-the-century aldermen who consolidated their power by hooking up with the operators of gambling dens, saloons, and brothels. But historian Richard C. Lindberg argues that they all built on the structure provided by a 19th-century underworld leader. In his meticulously researched new book, The Gambler King of Clark Street: Michael C. McDonald and the Rise of Chicago’s Democratic Machine (Southern Illinois University Press), Lindberg reconstructs how his title character went from conning train passengers as an adolescent in the 1850s to ensuring the 1892 election of Illinois governor John Peter Altgeld.

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