Vito Marzullo and the Chicago Democratic Political Machine

Level: Middle, High school
Subject:Government/politics, History, Social studies/science
Title: Vito
Date: 1978
Duration: 61 minutes
Nobody exemplified the old-style machine politics of the Richard J. Daley era better than Alderman Vito Marzullo, who ruled the West Side 25th Ward virtually unchallenged from 1953 to 1985. This 60-minute documentary classic produced in 1978 reveals how the business of Chicago politics was conducted in that era, with an inside view of the legendary alderman fielding requests for jobs and street cleaning in his ward, doing tit-for-tat deals with his fellow aldermen on the floor of the City Council, and revealing his personal life in his modest home with his wife of 65 years, Letizia.

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Teaching Tools

Background on Vito Marzullo: Chicago Tribune obituary for Vito Marzullo

General Questions

  1. Who are the precinct captains? What was their job?
  2. What was the difference between Marzullo’s aldermanic job and his committeeman job? Why do you think he had both jobs?
  3. How did Marzullo treat people who wouldn’t help him?
  4. What was the role of women and minorities in Marzullo’s ward organization?
  5. What was the purpose of the ad book? Why does Alderman Despres make the joke about “voluntary” advertising?
  6. Whose view on democracy and government was more correct, or which do you agree with, Despres’s or Marzullo’s?
  7. Was Marzullo an ethical leader?


  1. Have students write a short paper comparing the positive and negatives of Marzullo’s political career.
  2. Have students create political cartoons that are either anti-Marzullo or pro-Marzullo and anti-Despres or pro-Despres.

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