John Powers (alderman)

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John Powers
Chicago Alderman
Personal details
Born February 15, 1852
Brannon, County Kilkenny, Ireland
Died May 19, 1930(1930-05-19) (aged 78)
Chicago, Illinois, United States
Political party Democratic Party
Spouse(s) Mary Farrell (1880-1917, her death)[1]
Mayme Larrabee McKenna (1918-1925, her death)[2]
Frances Lawler Wolff (1926-1930, his death)
Children John F. Powers, Thomas Powers, Mrs. John E. McNichols, Mrs. George Moxley[1]
Residence Chicago, Illinois
Religion Catholic

John Powers (February 15, 1852 in Brannon, Ireland - May 19, 1930) served as an alderman in Chicago, Illinois (1888-1903, 1904–1927) for the Democratic Party. He was known as Johnny De Pow by his constituents. Along with Bathhouse John Coughlin and Hinky Dink Kenna, Powers was considered one of the leaders of the "Gray Wolves" of Chicago politics.[3]

Powers arrived in Chicago in 1872 and began working as an apprentice to a grocer. After opening his own grocery store, he added a tavern next to it and used his exposure there to begin a political career as a ward captain.[4] In 1888, Powers ran for alderman of Chicago's 19th ward and won, after which he closed his grocery, but continued to run his saloon, eventually going into business with fellow an alderman, William O'Brian, to open a larger saloon which included gambling.

Powers introduced the practice of distributing free turkeys, ducks, and geese to voters at Christmas,[5] but his inability to keep his ward clean of garbage or maintain the schools led Jane Addams to target him. Addams also focused on Powers' corruption, citing instances of cronyism and bribery.[6] Powers, in turn, used Addams's attacks on him to brand her as anti-Catholic, but he also hired her to be the ward's garbage inspector, the only paying job she ever held.[5]

In 1903, Powers ran against incumbent Peter F. Galligan for the state senate. During the campaign, Galligan showed up at Powers's home and attacked him with a brickbat.[4] Powers won the election, but the following year he returned to Chicago and was reelected to serve as the 19th ward alderman, a position he retained until 1927. By the 1910s, the ethnic makeup of his ward had begun to change. Instead of being 90 percent Irish, it was only about 50 percent Irish, with the remainder being made up of Italian and Jewish immigrants.[7]

On September 28, 1920, a bomb exploded at Powers' home at 1284 Macalister shortly after he arrived, this proved to be the opening salvo in the 1921 aldermanic election. In 1921, Anthony D'Andrea, who Powers had supported for ward committeeman in 1919, but pulled his support after the Supreme Court negated D'Andrea's initial victory, challenged Powers for his seat as alderman. The election was marked by violence, which continued after Powers won the election by 381 votes.[8] Shortly after the election, D'Andrea was assassinated.[4] This election was the culmination of the Aldermen's Wars.

Powers died as his home at 6038 Sheridan Road, on May 19, 1930, suffering from pulmonary edema and anemia, although he had been suffering throat tumors since 1929.[7]


  1. ^ a b "Obituary". Chicago Daily Tribune. Chicago. 02-8-1917. p. 11.  Check date values in: |date= (help);
  2. ^ "Obituary". Chicago Daily Tribune. Chicago. 1925-02-22. p. 10. 
  3. ^ Maureen A. Flanagan. "Gray Wolves". Electronic Encyclopedia of Chicago. Chicago Historical Society. Retrieved 2012-06-20. 
  4. ^ a b c Kendall, Todd D. (2009-05-17). "Alderman John Powers' Home Bombed by Political Rivals". Chicago Crime Scenes Project. Retrieved 2012-06-20. 
  5. ^ a b "Chicago: City of the Century". American Experience. 2003. Retrieved 2012-06-20. 
  6. ^ Bienen, Leigh (2008). "Powers, Johnny". The Life and Times of Florence Kelley in Chicago, 1891-1899. Retrieved 2012-06-20. 
  7. ^ a b "John Powers, Noted Council Figure, Dies". Chicago Daily Tribune. Chicago. 1930-05-20. p. 1. 
  8. ^ Lindberg, Richard C. (2008). "A City that Was Never Legit!". Illinois Police & Sheriff's News: Chicago Election Violence. Retrieved 2012-06-20.