Robert L. Butler

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Robert L. Butler
Mayor of Marion, Illinois
Assumed office
Preceded by Robert Cooksey
Personal details
Born (1927-01-23) January 23, 1927 (age 90)
Political party Independent
Alma mater University of Illinois Law School
Occupation Mayor of Marion, Illinois

Robert L. Butler (born January 23, 1927) is the current Mayor of Marion, Illinois, in office since 1963.

He is the son of Homer and Eva (Clarida) Butler.[1] His father served six years on the Marion City Council starting in the 1930s.[2] His maternal grandfather J. H. Clarida served as mayor of the city in the 1920s during the Bloody Williamson era.[3]

Butler won his 14th election for mayor on April 7, 2015, with 71.8 percent of the vote in a three-way race.[4] He is believed to be the longest-serving Illinois mayor or village president, recently surpassing the record of his fellow Williamson County Mayor, Frank Caliper of Colp who served 52 years from 1935 to his death in 1987, and Donald Stephens of the tiny Chicago suburb of Rosemont, Illinois who served 51 years from the village's incorporation in 1956 to his death in 2007.


Butler has long been associated with the Republican party, but is classified as an Independent due to his paleolibertarian-paleoconservative stances on issues. Many praise him as a straight-shooting, old-school public servant whose pro-growth agenda has helped turn this once-flagging city into a regional powerhouse along Interstate 57. An industrial park in Marion is named after him due to his hard work in bringing business to Southern Illinois over the years.

His maternal grandfather. J. H. Clarida, served as mayor of Marion from 1923 to 1927 and, for a time, was the Police Chief. Butler's father, Homer M. Butler, served on the local school board and city commission, then spent 16 years in the state Legislature during the 1940s and '50s.[5] Butler grew up in Marion and graduated from Marion High School. As a youth he earned the rank of Eagle Scout in the local Boy Scout troop and served on summer camp staff in 1943 at what would later become Ferne Clyffe State Park. That summer he became a charter member of the Ney-A-Ti Lodge, the local chapter of the Order of the Arrow honor society in Scouting.

He served in the United States Army Counter Intelligence Corps following World War II in Japan and Korea. He graduated from the University of Illinois Law School in 1952.[6]

Butler served as an assistant state's attorney in Williamson County under State's Attorney Carl Sneed from 1954 to his election as mayor.[7] On April 12, 1960, he received one write-in vote for the Democratic nomination for state's attorney. His boss, also a Republican, won the Democratic primary with 45 write-ins.[8]

Marion adopted a zoning ordinance in December 1958. The following month the city council created the Marion Planning Commission and named Butler as one of seven members. In July 1961, Butler outlined the commission's agenda as additional off-street parking, new water mains and extensions, shopping centers, the courthouse and fire protection. Butler called the location of the county courthouse in the center of the square "a detriment to the business community." [9]

Growth under his administration[edit]

By many measurements, Marion's population has grown nearly 92% over the years since Butler took office, rising from the approximately 10,000 citizens in 1963 to a current city-proper estimate of 17,200 citizens, not including many residents with a Marion address, which would add an estimated 15,000 people to Marion's micropolitan statistical area.

Expected growth of the immediate Marion area is evidenced by the "clover-leaf" interchange at the junction of Interstate 57 and Illinois Route 13; according to the Illinois Department of Transportation, this type of interchange is only used in anticipation of local growth.

1963 Election[edit]

During Butler's first race for mayor in 1963, he first had to get past a crowded 5-man primary that included the incumbent mayor Robert Cooksey, city commissioners A. R. Douglas and Bob Yearack, and former city commissioner Raymond McCormick. He was the second youngest candidate that year, at age 36. That wasn't the only crowded race, 17 men faced off for the four city commissioner seats.[10] Cooksey won the primary by a substantial margin in the Feb. 26 primary. He received 1,512 votes to Butler's 1,079. However another 1,987 votes were cast for the mayor's three other opponents: 887 for Douglas, 662 for Yearack and 478 for McCormick.[11]

In his race against Cooksey, Butler campaigned against the "willy-nilly city administration." He campaigned for more jobs and economic development, addressing the issue of water supply and sewer lines, as well as dealing with flood control and drainage issues. He attacked Cooksey for the city's finances which were $42,000 in the red the previous year and scheduled to be $90,000 in the red by May 1963. According to Butler, "It's up to the mayor to study each problem as it arises, determine in his own mind what is best to do for all of the people. I think the mayor of any town has got to stand on his own two feet and make up his mind without being dictated to by any individual or group. I think also when a man is elected mayor the people are entitled to know where he stands. He ought to be able to tell the people. If a matter requires a 'yes' or 'no' answer he should say 'yes' or 'no.'"[12]

The regional newspaper, the Southern Illinoisan endorsed Butler in his race. "Marion voters will choose Tuesday between orderly, progressive city government or a continuation of the present slap-dash regime... Butler, in short, offers an excellent alternative... He has our wholehearted support."[13]

At the General Election two days later on April 16, Butler beat Cooksey by 687 votes, 2,914 to 2,227.[14]

History as mayor[edit]

Butler ran for the state House once in the 1970s, convinced he could make a bigger difference from Springfield.[citation needed]He has served as mayor through many disasters, including the 1982 Marion Tornado that killed 10 and injured 200, and a disastrous fire in 1997 that burned down the town civic center.

In 2007, Butler opposed the Illinois electric rate increase. The New York Times ran a feature story on this issue featuring Butler.[15]


  1. ^ April 10, 1960. “Democrats Slug it out in 59th District Race.” Southern Illinoisan (Carbondale, Ill.). 5.
  2. ^ April 10, 1960. "Democrats Slug it out in 59th District Race." Southern Illinoisan (Carbondale, Ill.). 5.
  3. ^ Burtis Trees. June 7, 1926. "Carbondale News Briefs: College Girl and Newspaper Writer Marry." The Daily Independent (Murphysboro, Ill.). 6
  4. ^ Williamson County Election Page.
  5. ^ Feb. 25, 1963. "Marion to Select Candidates In Primary Election Tuesday." Southern Illinoisan (Carbondale, Ill.). 2.
  6. ^ Feb. 25, 1963. "Marion to Select Candidates In Primary Election Tuesday." Southern Illinoisan (Carbondale, Ill.). 2.
  7. ^ Mon., Feb. 25, 1963. "Marion to Select Candidates In Primary Election Tuesday." Southern Illinoisan (Carbondale, Ill.). 2.
  8. ^ April 14, 1960. "Sneed Tops Write-Ins." Southern Illinoisan (Carbondale, Ill.). 3.
  9. ^ July 14, 1961. "Lack of Funds Hampers Marion Plan Unit." Southern Illinoisan (Carbondale, Ill.). 3.
  10. ^ Jan. 27, 1963. "Two Candidates Withdraw." Southern Illinoisan (Carbondale, Ill.). 2.
  11. ^ Feb. 27, 1963. "Cooksey, Butler to Battle in Marion Mayor Election." Southern Illinoisan (Carbondale, Ill.). 3.
  12. ^ Oliva Walley. April 5, 1963. "Butler Raps 'Willy-Nilly' Administration; Cooksey Cites His Experience." Southern Illinoisan (Carbondale, Ill.). 2.
  13. ^ April 14, 1963. "Butler Offers Progressive Marion Leadership." Southern Illinoisan (Carbondale, Ill.). 26.
  14. ^ Oliva Walley. April 17, 1963. "Butler Tops Cooksey." Southern Illinoisan (Carbondale, Ill.). 3.
  15. ^ Barrionuevo, Alexei (February 17, 2007). "Rising Price of Electricity Sets Off New Debate on Regulation". The New York Times. Retrieved May 22, 2010. 

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