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Bernard Edward Epton (August 25, 1921 – December 13, 1987[1]) was an American politician who served in the Illinois House of Representatives from 1969 to 1983. He is most remembered for his candidacy as the Republican nominee in the close and contentious Chicago mayoral election of 1983.

Bernard Epton
Member of the Illinois House of Representatives
from the 24th district
In office
August 30, 1969 – January 18, 1983
Preceded byNoble W. Lee
Succeeded byDistrict abolished
Personal details
Born(1921-08-25)August 25, 1921
Chicago, Illinois
DiedDecember 13, 1987(1987-12-13) (aged 66)
Ann Arbor, Michigan
Political partyRepublican
ResidenceChicago, Illinois
Alma materUniversity of Chicago (B.A.)
DePaul University (J.D.)
Military service
Allegiance United States
Branch/service United States Army
Years of service1942–1945
UnitArmy Air Corps


Early life and careerEdit

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.[2]

Chicago mayoral election of 1983Edit

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.[3] 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. He would have become the city's first Jewish mayor[4] (an accomplishment that eventually was claimed by Rahm Emanuel when he was elected in 2011) and its first Republican mayor since William Hale Thompson left office in 1931.

Later life and deathEdit

After being defeated by Washington, Epton briefly returned to private life.

He briefly sought the Republican nomination in the 1987 Chicago mayoral election.

Four years after the 1983 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 on December 13, 1987. 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.[5]


  1. ^ EPTON, 66, DIES - The Washington Post (December 14, 1987)
  2. ^ 'Illinois Blue Book 1975-1976,' Biographical Sketch of Bernard Epton
  3. ^ His Lonely Race for Mayor of Chicago, Bernard Epton Finds the G.O.P. on the Wrong Side of the Tracks - People Magazine (February 21, 1983)
  4. ^ Depres, Leon M. (2008). "A Candid Assessment of Jews in Chicago Politics Since 1920 A Veteran Independent Looks Back at Varied Achievements, Shortcomings" (PDF). Chicago Jewish Historical Society. Retrieved 16 December 2018.
  5. ^ Kotlowitz, Alex (March 15, 2009). "The Wrong Side of History: The Other Guy". This American Life. Season 15. Public Radio International. Retrieved February 20, 2018.
Preceded by
Wallace D. Johnson
Republican nominee for Mayor of Chicago
Succeeded by
Don Haider