John Powers (1852-1930), known as “Johnny De Pow” by his constituents, was an Irish born alderman in Chicago, Illinois from 1888-1903 and again from 1904–1927. He represented the Democratic Party.
Born in Co. Kilkenny, he moved to the USA at 20 years of age and settled in Chicago. He soon began working as an apprentice to a grocer. After later opening his own grocery store, he added a tavern next to it and used his exposure there to begin a political career. In 1888, Powers ran for alderman of Chicago’s 19th ward and won, after which he closed his grocery but continued to run the saloon, eventually opening a larger saloon which included gambling.
He was famous for buying votes by handing out over a thousand free turkeys each year at Christmas time, and throwing out handfuls of coins to supporters at campaign events. A notorious glad-hander it is said that he appeared at every funeral and wake in his ward, earning him the nickname “The Mourner”.
In September of 1920, John Powers had been alderman from the 19th Ward for 32 years but a month before, he had publicly embarrassed his political rival, Mafia underworld figure Tony D’Andrea. So everyone pointed to D’Andrea when a dynamite bomb exploded on the front porch of Powers’ house that day. The damage was extensive. Power’s survived and won the subsequent election. Shortly after the election, D’Andrea was assassinated. This election was the culmination of the Aldermen’s Wars.