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Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Andy Martin’s Chicago: The life and death of Edward V. Hanrahan

Chicago author Andy Martin remembers the controversial public official Ed Hanrahan, whose own life was destroyed by a burst of gunfire that killed two Black Panther party activists forty years ago. Hanrahan died on June 9th.

Andy Martin on the death of Chicago’s Edward V. Hanrahan
Andy Martin
Executive Editor

“Factually Correct, Not
Politically Correct”


The rise and fall of Cook County State’s Attorney Edward V. Hanrahan

Hanrahan’s career serves as a metaphor for the evolution and revolution of the Democratic party locally in Chicago and nationally during 1968-1972

(CHICAGO)(June 9, 2009) Former Cook County State’s Attorney Edward V. Hanrahan died earlier today. I got to know Hanrahan well during the extraordinary 1977 primary election that followed the death of Chicago’s Mayor Richard J. Daley.

Hanrahan’s rise and fall was a metaphor for the Viet-Nam era and the evolution/revolution of the modern Democratic Party.

And, suddenly, I feel older today. With Hanrahan’s death I am the last surviving candidate of that unbelievable 1977 primary season. Hey, I’m too young to be that old.

Ed Hanrahan was an extremely bright student who went from parochial education in Chicago to Notre Dame, to Harvard Law School after World war II.

Hanrahan burst on the Chicago scene as a federal crime fighter. After Mayor of Chicago, the two most important positions for the Democratic Party are Cook County State’s Attorney and United States Attorney. Anyone who is aware of how the current U.S. Attorney, Patrick Fitzgerald, has caused havoc for Richard J. Daley’s son, Mayor Richard M. Daley, knows why the local prosecutorial posts are so critical to the survival of the Daley Machine’s patronage and corruption.

Hanrahan was colorful and aggressive in pursuing organized crime. I first came to Chicago for a visit in 1963 and fell in love with the place. As a student, I waited until my friends finished their copies of the Chicago Sun-Times, and then eagerly read the lurid stories of hoodlum politicians and gangland corruption. Alderman “Paddy Bauler” had said in 1955 “Chicago ain’t ready for reform,” and indeed it wasn’t. I was to personally collide with Mayor Daley in 1968 over yet another Illinois state corruption scandal.

But Ed Hanrahan’s rise and fall had a broader significance. He was prototypical of the mid-century Democratic party. The Democrats had been demonized during the 19th century as the party of “rum, Romanism and rebellion.” Nationally, the Democratic Party in the 1960’s was still led by many Irish Catholics who shared a common provenance: parochial schools, excellent academic credentials and high achievement. And pre-Vatican II Roman Catholicism.

The 1960’s were also the beginning of the end of the era of political “big tents." "Liberal" Republicans were still welcome in the Republican Party, and “conservative Democrats” were not only welcome in the Democratic Party, they were the backbone of the party’s urban base in the North and racist stranglehold in the South.

In 1968 Mayor Daley “promoted” Hanrahan from the U. S. Attorney’s office to Cook County State’s Attorney. Only in the bizarre world of the Daley Machine would a step from the federal government to the county government be considered a “promotion.”

One night in 1969, Ed Hanrahan’s career was shattered. State’s Attorneys police staged a “raid” on a Black Panther Party cell and two men were killed by police gunfire. Hanrahan probably approved the raid but it is doubtful he had anything to do with the actual operational implementation. The deaths produced a firestorm of criticism and mortally wounded Ed’s career.

Hanrahan followed the traditional approach to a botched police operation: he defended police tactics. But the killings of Fred Hampton and Mark Clark were no ordinary “mistakes.” During 1968, Chicago had garnered an image and reputation as a racist, mean-spirited city. Barack Obama’s controversial supporters Bill Ayers and Bernadine Dohrn had chosen Chicago to stage their “Days of Rage” in 1969. The media were also evolving in a more confrontational direction.

Hanrahan’s public credibility was shattered by the aftermath of the Black Panther raid. He would never escape responsibility for the tragic incident.

Overnight, Hanrahan went from being a powerful Democratic politician to a political pariah. For a man who had taken great pride in his progression through public office, the inner pain of this estrangement must have been as close to a lethal wound as the ones his police had inflicted on Hampton and Clark.

The Daley Machine tried to dump Hanrahan in 1972, but he survived the primary only to be defeated during the national Republican Party sweep that reelected President Richard Nixon and elected Republican Cook County State’s Attorney Bernard Carey.

During this era, from the late 1960’s and the aftermath of the disastrous Chicago Democratic National Convention of 1968, to the 1972 presidential election, the Democratic Party itself underwent a massive metamorphosis: 1972 was the year the party assumed the form it still has today: liberal, educated, upscale leadership, and all still carried on the back of a Black urban underclass.

The working class Catholic, urban-based backbone of the party was moving to the suburbs; these stalwarts were gradually supplanted by the anti-war and then “McGovern” Democrats who gained control of the party in 1972, four years after the convention disaster in Chicago and three years after the deaths of Hampton and Clark.

While even today Irish Catholics continue to be an important constituency of the Democratic Party, as well as “Reagan Democrats” of 1980 and 1984, never again would an urban, Irish-based leadership control the national party organization.

Indeed, the seeds of President Barack Obama’s eventual nomination were initially planted in the 1972 campaign, during which both Bill and Hillary Clinton were pro-McGovern activists.

In 1972, at the age of 51, in the prime of his life, Edward Hanrahan became a dead man walking in Chicago politics.

I met Ed in 1977 when he was a candidate for Mayor of Chicago in the primary that was held after the death of Richard J. Daley in December, 1976. And herein lies a story about a peculiarly interesting period in my life.

In the wake of Daley’s death, the Democratic Machine was thrown into disarray. As a stopgap measure Alderman Michael Bilandic was appointed interim mayor until a new election could be held.

I stumbled into the campaign as the only corruption-fighting reformer challenging Machine domination of the city.

The Machine still feared Hanrahan’s potential because of his high profile in the media.

State Senator (later Mayor) Harold Washington was the candidate of many semi-independent African-American leaders. The Machine tried to neutralize his support by running a second African-American, Ellis Reid. Former congressman Roman Pucinski (“Pooch”) thought he had a chance of parlaying the Polish-American vote into victory in a divided primary.

Pooch didn’t like Hanrahan and the feeling was mutual.

But Ed Hanrahan and I became friendly. Then Pooch and I became close. Pooch discovered that I liked to work late into the evening. Rare was the primary campaign night when I did not receive a 1:00 A.M. call from Pooch. Occasionally, Pooch would ask me to act as an intermediary with Ed. Once Ed learned I was having late night calls with Pooch, Ed would also call, through not as late as Pucinski.

My improbable role as a candidate morphed into something quite unusual, a liaison between the various candidates who would not deign to speak to each other in public. Through my efforts, we took the hard edges off each other, and focused our attention on the Daley Machine candidate, Bilandic.

One writer, for the Chicago Daily News if my memory serves me correctly, wrote a story about how this group of candidates got along surprisingly well for such a contentious and controversial group of big egos. No one could understand how we achieved such a casual and cordial working relationship.

My role as political emollient in the process was beneath the surface and was only known to a handful of media types who saw my own metamorphosis during the campaign. The NBC station in Chicago, WMAQ-TV, was attacked by Cook County Board President George Dunne for being the “Martin” channel. Dunne accused WMAQ of biased coverage in my favor. (Unbelievable.)

With the assistance of yet another Chicago legal institution, colorful criminal attorney Julius Lucius Ecchles, I wounded the Machine in court. My radio and TV commercials relentlessly attacked the Machine candidate Bilandic.

It was also during this campaign that I began to focus attention on an obscure federal statute, the “Civil RICO” law. My Chicago lawsuits triggered a nationwide “RICO revolution.”

Almost all of the media from that era have “retired,” a word I increasingly dislike in the extreme. I think Dick Kay of WMAQ-TV was the last of the media Mohicans from 1977. He “retired” recently.

As I got to know Hanrahan in private, he was clearly a man of impeccable integrity. His rigid religions upbringing and education had infused his character with the “absolutes” of good and evil. The police were good. Black Panthers were evil. Good could do no evil, and evil could do no good. Hanrahan paid a penultimate price for his stoic beliefs, beliefs that were then crumbling under the onslaught of anti-war opposition and consequent radicalization of both the Democratic Party and the Roman Catholic Church.

Having been converted to a more nuanced view of morality at Oxford University, I did not take such an absolutist attitude. It was because of the flexibility and intuitiveness of my Oxonian upbringing that I was able to act as an interlocutor between Ed, Pooch, Harold, Ellis and the streets of Chicago.

More than three decades have passed since that extraordinary primary session in 1977. After losing the primary Ed lapsed into obscurity. He must have played and replayed and replayed the events of December 1969 over and over again. One cold night, two young men were murdered by excessive and unnecessary police gunfire. As the “commanding officer” on that failed and fatal raid, Ed Hanrahan paid the price for the mission’s failure.

Politically, Hanrahan was adjudged guilty, and executed. Morally, he was probably not guilty. His “crime” was rigid adherence to the scheme of good and evil that had been schooled in him as a young man. He could no more escape his past than the Panthers could escape the police gunfire. Three men died that night in December 1969.

That primary also changed my life in many ways. And today I am the last living member of the team of candidates that challenged Daley Machine domination of City Hall. I am older, and wiser; but in many ways I am still the relentless reformer fighting corruption and working to help the average citizen get a fair shake and a fair break from the high and mighty in government. My own sense of morality keeps me going. There’s a little of Ed Hanrahan in me as well.

Ed, rest in peace. You were a good man who paid a terrible price for a mistaken judgment that could have consumed any one of us. Now that you have joined the angels, I am sure you and Fred Hampton and Mark Clark will have a lot to argue about and an eternity to debate a flash in the night that forever incinerated three lives.

[There is more to my role the 1977 primary, and some day I hope to have the time to publish an expanded version of these observations. Tonight, however, I merely want to remember Ed Hanrahan, a good man who was caught up in a situation that was almost biblical in its tragic impact on all those who were part of the unforeseen and unforgettable events.]

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Andy Martin is a legendary Chicago muckraker, author, Internet columnist, radio talk show host, broadcaster and media critic. He has over forty years of broadcasting background in radio and television and is the dean of Illinois media and communications. He is currently promoting his best-selling book, Obama: The Man Behind The Mask and producing the new Internet movie “Obama: The Hawai’i years.” Andy is the Executive Editor and publisher of

Martin comments on regional, national and world events with more than four decades of experience. He holds a Juris Doctor degree from the University of Illinois College of Law and is a former adjunct professor of law at the City University of New York. He is an announced candidate for Barack Obama’s former U. S. Senate seat.


His columns are also posted at;
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