Racine Walking Tour Guide published 1994.
WILLIAM J. SWOBODA (1897 - 1964)
William J. Swoboda was born in Racine and went to school here. In 1916 he enlisted in the U. S. Army and served with Wisconsin’s distinguished Thirty-second Division, "The Red Arrow Division," during the First World War. On Friday, May 13, 1912 - his "lucky day" as he called it - Swoboda married Esther Smith (1898-1975), also a native of Racine.
In 1931, when he was not yet 34, he was elected mayor of Racine. Swoboda was Racine’s only Socialist mayor. He served during the time in the 1930's when Racine was known as "Little Moscow". That infamous nickname was earned by a city beset with labor unrest and strikes during the Great Depression. The kidnapping and beating of an erstwhile Communist sympathizer named Sam Herman occurring, as it did, during Socialist Swoboda’s mayoral term, only deepened the perception that Racine was a "hotbed" of liberal discontent. However, when Herman ran for mayor of Racine, he garnered only some two hundred votes, the most pro-Communist votes ever tallied in the community at any time.
Swoboda was eventually either expelled or forced to resign from the Socialist Party, which viewed him as weak and ineffective when it came to its beliefs and purposes. Local moderates and conservatives labeled him a "radical" and a "crook", who had taken bribes for allowing slot machines into the city. That distinction of being the only person in Racine ever to have spent a night in jail while serving as mayor. Coupled with his driving about in an anonymously-donated new care, Swoboda’s political fortunes waned. In 1937 he was defeated by the conservative Ray A. Spencer, the retired Western Publishing present who, ironically, had helped the then-Socialist E. H. Wadewitz found that business.
In fairness to Swoboda’s years of service as mayor, it should be remembered that he did contribute a great deal toward the alleviation of suffering among local people who were poverty stricken by the Great Depression.
Submitted by Deborah Crowell