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The University and the City
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Robert E. Merriam, aldermanic campaign leaflet, 1947.

Robert E. Merriam, aldermanic campaign leaflet, 1947. Following in his father's footsteps, Merriam served two terms as alderman for Hyde Park, then lost a close race for mayor in 1955 to Richard J. Daley.

The Political Arena

An Independent Tradition
Douglas began his aldermanic career in 1939 with the endorsement of Mayor Ed Kelly's Democratic machine. But he, like Merriam, quickly separated himself from party regulars by exposing graft and conflicts of interest in the city council. With the support of state progressives, Douglas launched a campaign for the U.S. Senate in 1942, which he lost to the machine candidate.

After the campaign, Douglas, at age fifty, enlisted in the U.S. Marines. He was wounded in Okinawa and spent a year in military hospitals before returning to the University. In 1948, he ran for the U.S. Senate again and won. Douglas served for three terms as a highly respected and independent liberal Democrat.

He was defeated in 1966 by Republican Charles Percy (AB 1941), a University of Chicago trustee who also became known for the independent position he occupied within his political party. Hyde Park's tradition of political independence, starting with Charles Merriam's terms in the city council, has regularly drawn strength from within the University community. Most elected officials from Hyde Park since 1950 have had both University connections and independent political convictions. They include State Representatives Robert E. Mann (MBA 1953, JD 1956) and Barbara Flynn Currie (AB 1968, AM 1973), State Senator Richard Newhouse (JD 1961), Congresswoman Emily Taft Douglas (wife of Paul Douglas and daughter of Lorado Taft, PhB 1919), and Aldermen Robert Merriam (son of Charles, AM 1940), Abner Mikva (later congressman, JD 1951), Leon Despres (PhB 1927, JD 1929), Lawrence Bloom (AB 1965, JD 1968), and Toni Preckwinkle (AB 1969, MAT 1977).

Chicago's good-government organizations, especially the Independent Voters of Illinois (IVI), have long found support from within the University community for their challenges to Chicago's machine politics. The Fifth Ward Committee, an IVI affiliate in the 1950s, was headed by a board of forty-three directors, twenty-one of whom were associated in some way with the University. From the election of Robert Merriam in 1947 and Leon Despres in 1955 to the present, nonmachine candidates have achieved repeated success in Hyde Park and helped sustain the distinctive political culture of the University and its community.


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