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The rockets' red glare, the bombs bursting in air/ Gave proof through the night that Chicago's still there.

--Chicago newsman, during the 1928 Republican primary

Some would say the most vicious competition for votes in United States history might well have been the Presidential Election 2000 when George W. Bush and Albert Gore fought tooth-and-nail for the Florida recount that would place on or the other as President of the United States of America for the next four years. However, the pundit wars on CNN that accompanied this hectic competition pale in comparison to the 1928 Republican primary in Chicago. This was probably the only primary ever nicknamed for the type of munitions used by the rival factions: the Pineapple Primary. Every municipal election in Chicago was shot through with Mafia corruption, but 1928 would go down in history as the election where Al Capone not only made outright war, but was the only man who could make peace.

Republican Mayor Big Bill Thompson, State Attorney General Robert E. Crowe, and their political machine held sway over 1920s Chicago with an iron hand, aided by Governor Len Small of Illinois and their mutual buddies in the Chicago mob, including Scarface Al Capone. Thompson's candidacy in 1928, however, was challenged by the Republican reformer Charles S. Deneen, who was in turn backed by the Mafia racketeer Diamond Joe Esposito who saw Deneen's anti-Capone crusade as a means for Esposito to seize Capone's mantle as Boss of Chicago. With Capone's forces lining up on Thompson's side and every young Mafia upstart backing Deneen, the stage was set for a vicious war of succession.

The first victims were on the Thompson-Crowe side, when the homes of city controller Charles C. Fitzmorris and commissioner of public service Dr. William H. Reid were bombed - using the infamous round "pineapple" bombs by which the primary would be known. Thompson announced publicly that "When the fight is over, the challengers will be sorry." This machismo-based statement led inevitably to further bombings of the homes of Thompson's men.

The Capone forces retaliated by bombing the Deneen-backed rival for Crowe's seat, Judge John A. Swanson, and eventually Deneen's home itself. Esposito, who ignored death threats from Capone, was summarily assassinated. The Chicago police seemed largely unwilling to stop the violence - a smart choice, perhaps, as it was obvious who had more firepower. The Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish clergy of the city, on the other hand, released a united statement denouncing the current government as one of "bombs and bums" and stating that Thompson "ought to be in the penitentiary".

Capone was never one for religion. Ultimately, through a combination of ballot-box stuffing, voting under fictitious names, and outright violent voter harassment, Thompson-Crowe carried the day - or rather, Capone did.

In the general election that followed, though, Capone realized that all the publicity of the primary spelled death for the Thompson machine - and in addition, he faced a call from Frank J. Loesch, 75-year-old founder of the Chicago Crime Commission, that he be personally responsible for a peaceful vote on election day. Capone responded genially that he would "have the cops send over squad cars the night before. . .and jug all the hoodlums. . .until the polls close." Good to Capone's word, a police dragnet swept the streets. In the "clean as a whistle" election that followed, every one of the victorious Thompson-Crowe Pineapple Primary candidates was resoundingly defeated.

Capone's stand-up guys lost at the polls, but it was indisputable that Capone had showed himself to be the only political force to be reckoned with in Chicago. As Loesch would relate, "it turned out to be the squarest and most successful election day in forty years. . .there was not one complaint, not one election fraud, and no threat of trouble all day." Clearly, this was based on Capone's own political whims. Capone's massive machine was far more influential than the "reformers" that replaced Thompson - and would outlive them by decades.

SOURCES:

Sifakis, Carl. The Mafia Encyclopedia, Second Edition. Checkmark Books, New York, 1999.

Murray, George. The Legacy of Al Capone. G.P. Putnam, New York, 1975.

Kobler, John. Capone: The Life and World of Al Capone. G.P. Putnam, New York, 1971.

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