University of Chicago
December 13, 1987, Ann Arbor, Michigan, United States
Bernard Edward Epton (August 25, 1921 – December 13, 1987) was an American politician who served in the Illinois House of Representatives from 1969 to 1983, when he lost a close and contentious election for mayor of Chicago. He would have become the city's first Jewish mayor (an accomplishment that eventually was claimed by Rahm Emanuel when he was elected in 2011) and its first Republican mayor since William "Big Bill" Thompson was defeated in 1931. Epton died of a heart attack on December 13, 1987 at age 66.
Early life and career
Epton served in World War II in the U.S. Army Air Force, for which he flew twenty-five missions over Germany and twice earned the Distinguished Flying Cross. During the postwar years, Epton became a successful attorney with a speciality in insurance law. A graduate of the University of Chicago and DePaul University College of Law, he was an unsuccessful liberal Republican candidate for U.S. Representative from Illinois' 2nd congressional district in 1960. With John F. Kennedy narrowly winning Illinois that year, Epton lost to the Democratic incumbent, Barratt O'Hara. Known for being witty and occasionally sharp-tongued, Epton was elected to the Illinois House of Representatives in 1969 and served until 1983. He chaired the chamber's Insurance Committee.
Chicago mayoral election of 1983
A resident of the Hyde Park neighborhood of Chicago, Epton ran against the liberal African American Democrat Harold Washington in the mayoral election in the spring of 1983. In a racially charged election, Epton came within 40,000 votes (of 1.2 million cast) of defeating the Democratic nominee. His total was the high-water mark for Chicago Republicans in elections for mayor in the heavily Democratic city. Epton received 81 percent of the votes of Chicago whites, and 3 percent from blacks. One of Epton's campaign slogans was "Epton for mayor... Before it's too late", which critics declared had racial overtones. By his own account, Epton became uncomfortable with the racially oriented nature of his campaign because he had been an active participant in the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. After being defeated by Washington, Epton briefly returned to private life.
Later life and death
Four years after the mayoral election, and fewer than three weeks after Mayor Washington died suddenly of a heart attack, Epton himself suffered a coronary and died in Ann Arbor, Michigan, at the age of sixty-six. Epton was there visiting his son Jeffrey David "Jeff" Epton (born c. 1947), a socialist member of the Ann Arbor City Council and long-time critic of capital punishment.