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The Assassination Attempt on President-Elect Franklin Roosevelt

Did Capone murder Chicago's mayor?
Did Capone murder Chicago's mayor?

Franklin Roosevelt had not yet assumed the presidency when he visited Miami in February 1933. He stopped to deliver an impromptu speech in an open car. At that point, Giuseppe Zangara fired at the car. He missed Roosevelt, but hit five others, including Chicago’s mayor Anton Cermak. Zangara’s statements indicated a political motive for the assassination attempt. Rumors have persisted that Roosevelt was not the target. Mayor Cermak crossed the mafia and may have been the actual target. However, all evidence indicates the leftist Zangara intended to murder Roosevelt.

In 1932, Franklin Roosevelt defeated Herbert Hoover for the White House. He visited Florida prior to his inauguration. Chicago Mayor Anton Cermak accompanied Roosevelt when the pair stopped at Miami's Bayfront Park. Roosevelt decided to deliver a quick speech to the crowd in his open car. At that point, Giuseppe Zangara opened fire on the vehicle. Zangara shot five people, but missed Roosevelt when people in the crowd grabbed his arm.

Zangara lived in the Bayfront Park area. The bricklayer suffered from extreme stomach pain which some claimed caused delusions. According to some sources, he envied the rich and despised the capitalist system. As a result, he decided to assassinate the head of the exploitive capitalists and targeted Roosevelt. After his capture, he admitted to the crime and bragged about killing “kings” and promised to target “all capitalists” next. He even mocked the judge, who sentenced him to death.

Despite his confession, rumors persisted that Zangara meant to kill Cermak as opposed to “King” Roosevelt. To begin with, the mayor promised to clean up Chicago, which meant bringing down Al Capone. In 1933, Capone ruled Chicago and a criminal empire through graft and violence. As a result, Cermak represented a potential target for organized crime. Second, Zangara was a marksman in the Italian army and he hit the mayor, but missed the president-elect. Some believe he would not have missed his target as he fired a clear first shot before being interfered with.

Despite Capone’s potential motive, there is no evidence of a mob hit. Zangara’s comments focused on capitalism all the way to the electric chair. Additionally, Cermak entered into office in 1931 and had done little to combat the mob. Up to this point, he was all talk. It’s doubtful Capone, or any other underworld figure, would target a politician and risk federal or state retribution solely on the basis of rhetoric. Lastly, Zangara contemplated assassinating Herbert Hoover. He believed Hoover, and later Roosevelt, caused his physical pain. Additionally, the president represented the capitalist system and its interests. In his mind, there was no difference between Roosevelt and Hoover. Clearly, Zangara’s target was Roosevelt and not Cermak. Chicago’s mayor was simply a bonus.

Giussepe Zangara attempted to murder President-elect Franklin Roosevelt two weeks before the inauguration. He failed, but managed to assassinate Chicago Mayor Anton Cermak. Zangara hated capitalism and blamed others for his physical ailments. As a result, he decided to attack capitalism by shooting the president. Despite Zangara’s mental and physical state and his political views, some have suggested Cermak was the real target. However, there is no evidence that Al Capone targeted Cermak. Instead, the mayor was in the wrong place when the bullets flew.


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