Leon Despres

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Leon Mathis Despres
City of Chicago Alderman
City of Chicago Alderman
In office
1955–1975
Preceded by Robert E. Merriam
Succeeded by Ross Lathrop
Constituency 5th ward
Personal details
Born (1908-02-02)February 2, 1908
Died May 6, 2009(2009-05-06) (aged 101)
Political party Democratic
Spouse(s) Marian Alschuler Despres (1909-2007; married on Sept. 10th, 1931: 75 years)
Children Robert Despres
Linda Baskin
Residence Chicago, Illinois
 United States
Occupation Author
Attorney
Politician
Religion Jewish

Leon Mathis Despres (February 2, 1908 - May 6, 2009) was an American author, attorney and politician. He was best known as a long-time alderman in Chicago, where he regularly disagreed with then-mayor Richard J. Daley, often engaging in loud arguments and debates on the assembly floor.[1]

Background[edit]

A native of Chicago, Despres received his undergraduate and law degrees in 1927 and 1929, respectively, from the University of Chicago, where he was elected to Phi Beta Kappa, before beginning a legal practice.[2]

Career[edit]

In April 1955, Despres was elected to the Chicago City Council from the city's Hyde Park neighborhood, as alderman of the 5th ward.[3] Serving until 1975, Despres gained fame as an independent Democrat, consistently opposing the policies of Chicago Mayor Richard J. Daley. Frequently on the short end of 49-1 votes, Despres became known as the "liberal conscience of Chicago."[2] Because of his strong advocacy of civil rights and open housing, Despres also became known as "the lone negro on the City Council," even though he was white and the council had six black alderman allied with the mayor.[3]

In his final years Despres lived in Hyde Park and remained active in civic life.[2] In 2005, he received the Benton Medal from the University of Chicago.[2] Up until his death, Despres still maintained an office at the Chicago firm of Despres, Schwartz, and Geoghegan, managed by longtime colleague Chicago labor lawyer Thomas Geoghegan.[3]

Life & work[edit]

Despres spoke five languages, served as Chicago City Council Parliamentarian for eight years after 20 years of service to the city. Despres authored Challenging the Daley Machine, A Chicago Alderman's memoir.[3]

Death[edit]

Despres died of heart failure in his Hyde Park home on May 6, 2009 at the age of 101.[4]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Leon Despres, Chicago alderman and civil rights activist with University ties, dead at 101". Chicago Maroon. May 2009. Retrieved 2011-04-15. 
  2. ^ a b c d "Education". The University of Chicago Chronicle. October 2005. Retrieved 2008-06-03. 
  3. ^ a b c d Wilgoren, Jodi (2005-05-31). "City Council". The New York Times. Retrieved 2008-06-03. 
  4. ^ "City Council". Chicago Breaking News. May 2009.