• U.S.

National Affairs: Mr. Ickes’ Exit?

3 minute read

“I,” said Harold LeClair Ickes in Washington last week, “am one of the few men around here who is not a candidate for President.”

That disposed of a contingency which no one had considered imminent, but in another breath the Secretary of the Interior and master of PWA gave another wraith of gossip the substance of a possibility. How, asked interviewers, about his running for mayor of Chicago? “That,” said Mr. Ickes, “is my conception of a good idea!”

He did not actually say he would do it. “There’s nothing coy about me. I usually answer when my mind’s made up,” he said. But for three weeks a procession of delegations and petitions from Chicago had been pouring in on him, trying to persuade him, making pretty copy about him for the newspapers. “I am open-minded about it,” he temporized. “After all, my first venture in political life as a youth was fighting the Chicago traction interests.”* Some professors at the University of Chicago, the city’s schoolteachers, various racial groups, the Lawyers’ Guild, social workers like Miss Charlotte Carr, head of Hull House, were foremost in the draft-Ickes drive. They want to smash the celebrated Nash-Kelly machine. If New York City smashed Tammany with a Fusion ticket led by Fiorello LaGuardia, why couldn’t Chicago do likewise under an old Bull-Mooser, a New Dealer, a grand-scale benefactor of Chicago like Harold Ickes? From his PWA the city has received $60,000,000 for a new sewer system, $8,000,000 (last week) for housing and $18,000,000 for that hallmark of modernity which even Moscow has but which great sprawling Chicago has lacked all these years : a subway.

Reasons why Harold Ickes would probably turn clown the offer, after genuinely enjoying the compliment, were plentiful.

He is 64, just happily remarried. Being a reform mayor in a place like Chicago is grueling work, and the stage, even in vasty, gusty Chicago, would be small and local compared to the Interior and PWA. Getting the nomination in February’s primary might not be easy, either. State’s Attorney Tom Courtney, able and fearless, is burning to be the Nash-Kelly smasher.

Whatever he decided, insisted Mr. Ickes last week, let no one think he pictured the office as a springboard to the White House. “It might also.” he said, “be used as an exit.”

Everything seemed to depend on the New Deal’s desires in the matter. It has been no fun to have Franklin Roosevelt’s most savage critic, the Chicago Tribune, dominating the New Deal’s Chicago machine. Mayor Kelly, despite several visits from stodgy “draft-Kelly” committees, could doubtless be shelved by a nice Federal appointment. So, perhaps, could ambitious Tom Courtney, who might even be set up to succeed Governor Horner. Having him for Mayor of Chicago would be no fun for the New Deal either since he is the personal candidate of Colonel Frank Knox’s Daily News. Some surprising deal was seen in the making when Tom Courtney visited Harold Ickes in Washington over the weekend.

*He managed the (unsuccessful) reform campaigns of John M. Harlan (1905) and Charles E. Merriam (1911) for Mayor. More successful in local politics was his first wife, Anna Wilmarth Ickes, who cut a figure in the Legislature (1928-34).

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