Bernard Epton

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Bernard Epton (August 25, 1921 – December 13, 1987) was an American politician who served in the Illinois House of Representatives. In 1983 he lost a close and contentious election for Mayor of Chicago; he would have become the city's first Jewish mayor, and its first Republican mayor since William "Big Bill" Thompson was defeated in 1931.

Epton served in the U.S. Army Air Force during World War II. He flew twenty-five missions over Germany and twice earned the Distinguished Flying Cross.

During the postwar years, Epton became a successful attorney specializing in insurance law. A graduate of the University of Chicago and DePaul University College of Law, he was an unsuccessful progressive Republican candidate for U.S. Representative from Illinois' 2nd congressional district in 1960, losing to Democratic incumbent Barratt O'Hara. Known for being witty and occasionally sharp-tongued, Epton was elected to the Illinois House of Representatives in 1968 and served from 1969 to 1983. He chaired the chamber's Insurance Committee.

A resident of the Hyde Park neighborhood of Chicago, Epton ran against the liberal African American Democrat Harold Washington in the mayoral election in the spring of 1983. In a racially charged election, Epton came within 40,000 votes (of 1.2 million cast) of defeating the Democratic nominee. His total was the high-water mark for Chicago Republicans in elections for mayor in the heavily Democratic city. Epton received 81 percent of the votes of Chicago whites, and 3 percent from blacks. One of Epton's campaign slogans was "Epton for mayor... Before it's too late", which critics declared had racial overtones. By his own account, Epton was highly uncomfortable with the racially-oriented nature of his campaign, and had actually been an active participant in the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s.

After his defeat, Epton briefly returned to private life. Four years after the mayoral election, and less than three weeks after Mayor Washington died suddenly of a heart attack, Epton himself suffered a coronary and died in Ann Arbor, Michigan, aged 66. Epton was there visiting his son Jeff, a socialist Ann Arbor city councilman.


Kotlowitz, Alex. "The Other Guy." This American Life ep. #376 "The Wrong Side of History." Public Radio International. 15 March 2009.