1905: Hinky Dink Kenna gets Chinese aid

Thursday, 23 June 2011 13:46 Amy Gwilliam
Print
Hinky Dink Kenna and Bathhouse John Coughlin ran the First Ward -- the Loop and the area just south of it, including the Archer/Cermak Chinatown -- from 1897 to 1938.  Not only were the two politicians famed for graft and other crooked dealings but they also oversaw one of the most notorious vice districts in America.  In 1905 Hinky Dink, insulted when a Republican mayoral candidate attacked a Democratic rival for associating with Kenna, "got old King Yen Lo, the manager of the Chink joint on top of my place [a famous saloon] on Van Buren Street, to write the answer.  I don't know what he said [in Chinese] but if it is anything like I told him it's a peacherino" [Note 1].

The man who Hinky Dink called "old King Yen Lo" was the youthful manager of the King Yen Lo restaurant, the talented restaurateur Chin Foin.  In later years Chin Foin would go on first to manage the famed King Joy Lo and then to found and run the very successful Mandarin Inn, which brought him a substantial fortune as well as respectability in the eyes of the European-American establishment.

What interests us here is not just that Chin Foin composed a political pamphlet for Hinky Dink but that the incident, related with gusto in Adam McKeown's excellent book [Note 2], shows that early Chinese immigrants, although not allowed to become citizens or vote, nonetheless had real influence in Chicago politics.  The main issue, after all, was not votes but money -- what was then called "boodle" and now, campaign contributions.  Because they were generous with boodle, the leaders of the Chinese community seem to have been on excellent terms with local politicians.  This may explain why Chinese-Americans were never openly persecuted in the Chicago area: by the police, by organized crime, or by the political clubs that spearheaded most ethnic violence. 

Chinese-Americans in the First Ward continued to be politically involved (while not doing much voting) until quite recently.  In the 1920s, Wilson Moy, later to be the unofficial mayor of Chinatown, attended the same elementary school (we think, Haines School) as did Frank Roti, later to be the First Ward Alderman.  The two are said to have become friends while still children.  Roti later seems to have frequented (and protected) a gambling operation in the basement of the On Leong Building, which was Moy's headquarters.  The friendship between Roti and Moy may explain why the On Leong Association turned to Roti for help during a Federal murder and gambling investigation in the 1980s, which led to the downfall of both the Association and the Alderman.

Note 1.  Quoted by McKeown from Lloyd Wendt and Herman Kogan, Bosses of Lusty Chicago, Indiana Universirty Press, 1943.
 "Peacherino" is McKenna's comic-Italian version of the slang term "peach," meaning something very good.

Note 2,  Adam McKeown, Chinese Migrant Nertworks and Cultural Change, University of Chicago Press, 2001