Tony Cermak was born in Kladno, Bohemia. In 1931, he defeated Mayor Big Bill Thompson. When Thompson tried to make fun of Cermak's foreign-born name, Cermak replied, "It's true I did not come over on the Mayflower, but I came as soon as I could." Cermak was seated on the first base line with New York Gov. Franklin D. Roosevelt during Game 3 of the 1932 World Series at Wrigley Field when Yankees batter Babe Ruth called his shot and hit a home run to center field.
On the evening of February 15, 1933, President-elect Franklin D. Roosevelt delivered a short speech to a crowd at Miami’s Bayfront Park. Years earlier, FDR had fallen victim to polio. Because of his resulting disability, Franklin Roosevelt often spoke from the rear seat of an open touring car rather than making the arduous trip to a platform. When he finished his remarks, the crowd surged forward, but was halted abruptly by six pistol shots fired in rapid succession.
Five people were hit. The most seriously injured was Mayor Cermak, who sustained a stomach wound. The crowd quickly restrained the assailant, but was prevented from doing him bodily harm by Roosevelt’s intercession. Mayor Cermak was loaded into the car and comforted on the ride to the hospital by the president-elect. Medical staff credited FDR with preventing the mayor from going into shock, thus giving him a better chance at recovery. According to newspaper legends of 1933, as Cermak lay mortally wounded he said to FDR, "I'm glad it was me, not you."
Giuseppe Zangara was the attempted assassin. He was born in Italy, came to the United States in the early 1920s, became a citizen and in 1933 was working as a bricklayer in Miami. Zangara subscribed to no political philosophy, but harbored a hatred for wealthy capitalists. He had blamed President Herbert Hoover, and later Roosevelt, for the plight of the common man. Probably more important than any political view was the fact that Zangara suffered from chronic and debilitating stomach pain that put him at odds with those around him. In his own words: “I don’t like no peoples.”
Zangara was quickly tried and convicted on charges of assault with the intent to kill; he was sentenced to 80 years in prison. However, on March 6, Mayor Cermak died after lingering for three weeks. Zangara was hastily retried and convicted on murder charges; he insisted on pleading guilty despite the belief of some that doctors had misdiagnosed Cermak’s condition and contributed to his death. On March 20, only five weeks after the attempted assassination, Zangara died in the electric chair in the state prison at Railford.
There was some speculation at the time that perhaps Franklin Roosevelt was not the intended target. Walter Winchell, a gossip columnist and radio personality, popularized the idea that Cermak had offended mob leaders in Chicago and had been marked for assassination; no corroborating evidence of that contention has ever surfaced. In 1934 Cermak's daughter Helena Cermak married attorney Otto Kerner, Jr. who was elected governor of Illinois in 1960 and was re-elected in 1964. But after Kerner became a federal judge in 1968, he was himself convicted by a federal court for taking bribes as governor from race track owner Marge Everett to fix race track dates.