#872: The Sorta-Maybe Mayor Hoyne

January 5th, 2018

Hoyne Avenue is special to me.

Hoyne was the home of my first real apartment in Chicago, a converted storefront we called the Bodega. The floors were so warped, my significant other at the time would laugh herself to tears rolling a baseball down it and watching it return to her. The wiring was so dangerous the old Lithuanian electrician the management company finally sent after three weeks of prodding started yelling “Is stupid! Is stupid!” when he got behind the outlet to see how it had been set up.

I was 23 and it was heaven. I found out a few months later that my great-grandparents were living a few blocks south when my grandmother was born. On Hoyne.

So it seemed especially fitting when I discovered that my street of stupid joy was named after a man involved in a story that now brings me stupid joy. I now bring you the story of Thomas Hoyne, who for 28 days claimed to be the mayor of Chicago.

That last sentence didn’t give Hoyne enough credit, but it sure got some folks to click past the jump. Hoyne was a powerful man from a powerful family.

Moving to Chicago at the age of 20 in 1837, Hoyne made his way as a schoolteacher and his fortune as a lawyer. He was Chicago’s first city clerk, organized the public library and served as the first president of its board of directors, was a justice of the peace, a U.S. attorney, a U.S. marshal and so on. He was the major donor who created Northwestern’s law school and the University of Chicago’s astronomy chair. His brother Philip (called “Uncle Phil”) was the region’s U.S. commissioner, a powerful position at the time.

Another accomplishment of Hoyne’s was nabbing more than 33,000 votes in his race for mayor in 1876. Every other candidate combined got 819 votes.

OK, it wasn’t at an election, but at a mass rally of his supporters.

OK, neither major party ran a candidate.

OK, it might not have been a legal election.

The year before, Chicago had signed onto the Illinois Cities and Villages Act, which moved mayoral elections from November to April and extended mayoral terms from one year to two. Mayor Harvey Colvin claimed this gave him another year in office. Others interpreted the act as starting two-year terms with the next guy.

Colvin’s duties required he call for an election in April. But he didn’t, instead holding onto the power he claimed the new rule gave him. Hoyne’s “election” of April 16, 1876, can be seen as more of a protest than some loony tunes 1800s shenanigans. The mayor wouldn’t allow a legal election, so Hoyne and his supporters held an illegal one.

Hoyne waited for Colvin outside old City Hall at the Rookery (same site as today’s Rookery, different structure) to demand he step down. He wouldn’t, and city council supported him by not certifying the election results.

But the city council election had gone ahead as planned, and the incoming council supported Hoyne, at its first meeting canvassing the vote (the technical term for what they had to do to make the election official) and declaring Hoyne mayor. Most of the city departments supported Hoyne as well, either agreeing with the Hoyne cause or because Hoyne appointed new department heads.

The comptroller and police supported Colvin. One side had the political support, the other had the money and guns. A police barricade around City Hall both kept riots at bay and entrenched Colvin in the office.

On June 5, the Cook County courts declared Hoyne’s election illegal, but ordering the city to hold a special election. The council called for the election to be held July 12.

Here’s where it gets special. Here’s where it gets lovely.

“Mr. Hoyne was besought to again become a candidate,” a later history of Chicago would write, “but he refused, saying he considered that he had already performed his duty to the public.”

Hoyne wasn’t a power grabber, or a wackadoodle claiming office he had no right to. He didn’t want the office. He didn’t want Colvin to claim it unjustly.

Monroe Heath was elected the city’s 28th mayor, replacing Colvin, the 27th. Thomas Hoyne, the namesake of my street of joy, either doesn’t make official lists or is put down with a footnote as “mayor-elect.”

But there is a bit to be said for Hoyne, a man who served the people not by taking power, but by keeping power from those who claimed it wrongly.

In August 1876, the city attorney retroactively declared Hoyne had in fact been mayor for those 28 days — not de jure but de facto.  It wasn’t in recognition of his claim, but so the city department heads he appointed could get paid.

More weird mayoral history

One of my favorite early stories on this site happened near Hoyne

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