Longtime political figure Lou Silverman dies; services announced

Louis Silverman
Louis Silverman

Influential Hyde Park political strategist and builder of real estate apartments Louis Silverman passed away Monday, April 21 at the age of 83.

A New York City native, Silverman came to Hyde Park first as a U. of C. student and became a political organizer with the Independent Voters of Illinois (IVI). It was his involvement in the local progressive movement through which he would gain the influence and connections to leave an indelible mark on the neighborhood’s politics.

Fresh from managing IVI campaigns for an alderman and state representative, Silverman was invited one fateful Saturday morning in November 1954 to Ald. Robert Merriam’s (5th) office to help find an aldermanic successor. At a time when Cook County Democratic Party Chairman Richard J. Daley was beginning his rapid ascent to mayoral power, a young Silverman helped persuade Leon Despres to take on the task and then managed his campaign.

With Silverman’s help, Despres won Merriam’s seat by a margin of 3,700 votes, and the alderman’s 20-year career opposing Mayor Daley’s machine regime was born.

“In the quest for a strong candidate, IVI’s Louis Silverman operated with political alchemy as he took executive charge,” Despres wrote in his autobiography, “Challenging the Daley Machine: A Chicago Alderman’s Memoir.”

Obama strategist David Axelrod would later remember Silverman’s key role in a December 1974 issue of the Hyde Park Herald, when he wrote that “It was largely Silverman’s prowess as a precinct coordinator and strategist that led to Despres’ victory.”

In addition to running Despres’ 1955 and 1959 campaigns, Silverman ran Abner Mikva’s 1956 bid for state representative and 2nd District Congressman Barratt O’Hara’s last campaign. According to Hyde Park Herald publisher Bruce Sagan, who first met Silverman when they briefly worked together at the paper in 1953, the young operative was a master organizer with firm principles.

“He was the architect of the independent political movement in Hyde Park that won the 5th Ward for Despres,” Sagan said.

“Silverman was the guy who created the precinct structure which made it work,” Sagan added. “And interestingly enough, it’s the same precinct structure that in 2008 the Obama organization used. Silverman demonstrated that an election organization at the precinct level could be created with volunteers who believed in and trusted the candidate. He showed that this could be done without the patronage army of paid public workers used by the political parties.”

Silverman’s influence transcended politics: he also played a role in the neighborhood’s development. He represented the Ancona School in 1968 when it sought to expand and undertook a series of ambitious – but sometimes controversial – plans to help it. He could be found working to keep the Hyde Park Co-op Credit Union alive to help moderate-income families in the neighborhood. He helped community organizers in Woodlawn to fight the blight of deteriorating housing in their neighborhood.

Silverman was a leader in the then-revolutionary idea of condominium apartments. At the time he began working in this real estate sphere, buildings were either rental apartments or cooperative housing developments. Silverman promoted the technical idea that a building could be divided into ownership of each individual apartment. In his career, he built several thousand such units throughout the city.

In the late 1970s, his plan to make condos out of the home of Sears, Roebuck builder and philanthropist Julius Rosenwald in Kenwood faced obstacles and fizzled, as did his plan in the late 1990s to build 123 lakefront condominiums next to The Newport, 4800 S. Chicago Beach Drive. But he successfully constructed the Hedgerow Townhomes at the corner of 54th Street and Cornell Avenue in 1979 and converted apartment buildings across the neighborhood such as The Newport, 4800 S. Chicago Beach Drive, to condominiums.

Although Silverman was a high-profile presence in Hyde Park, his daughter Rachel Silverman Darlow recalls a devoted father and grandfather focused on doing the right thing.

Darlow said he was proud of organizing clergy in Hyde Park to speak with their congregations about their moral obligation to stay here and maintain an integrated neighborhood.

“My dad was somebody who worked for justice in all spheres,” Darlow said.

Silverman and his wife, Diane, who with him founded the currently active real estate firm Urban Search, married shortly after working together on Depres’ successful 1959 campaign. Diane Silverman was editor of the Hyde Park Herald from 1956 to 1958.

“I congratulate myself frequently that I had the intelligence and the intuitiveness to know that if I married Lou, I would love him and respect him for the rest of my life and that he would always be there for me,” Silverman said.

The funeral for Silverman will be on Monday, April 28, at 11:30 a.m. at Congregation Rodfei Zedek, 5200 S. Hyde Park Blvd.