Political activist, real estate developer

Written By BY MAUREEN O’DONNELL Staff Reporter Posted: 05/27/2014, 06:18am

Louis R. Silverman wasn’t even old enough to vote when he got involved in Hyde Park independent politics.

He helped send Leon M. Despres to the City Council, probably the fiercest and often the sole critic of Mayor Richard J. Daley’s fiefdom.

He also perfected the kind of door-to-door campaigning that helped get Barack Obama elected president, said Bruce Sagan, publisher of the Hyde Park Herald.

On Monday, Mr. Silverman died at age 83.

He was only 15 when he left his hometown of New York City to enroll at the University of Chicago.

“From the moment he set foot in Chicago he got involved in the Independent Voters of Illinois,” said Abner J. Mikva, a former federal appellate judge, congressman and White House counsel to President Bill Clinton. “Lou was a strategist, and figured out how to organize the precincts, and how to do what the Machine did — only do it better.”

He scored victories through phone calls and going door-to-door, said Sagan, an investor in the Chicago Sun-Times. “The techniques he developed when he ran those precinct organizations are exactly what the Obama organization used,” he said. “It’s ring the bell, find out who that person is, and get them to the polls.”

Mr. Silverman had a wise adage, Sagan said: “Don’t waste your energy on the other guy’s voter.”

“Everybody knows it, but not everyone can do it,” Sagan said.

In his memoir, “Challenging the Daley Machine,” Leon M. Despres recalled how Mr. Silverman and others pushed him to run for office.

Elected the same day as Daley in 1955, Despres became the eloquent Whac-A-Mole of the City Council, popping up at almost every turn to challenge the mayor. Daley responded by switching off his microphone.

At work and in the political trenches, Mr. Silverman had a reputation for sometimes being tough and impatient, said Sagan, nonetheless an admirer who called Mr. Silverman a “brilliant strategist.”

“He didn’t lose his temper often,” Mikva said. But when he did, with his 6-foot-plus frame, “he would make his presence known.”

An early condo and real estate developer, Mr. Silverman worked on projects in downtown Chicago, Belmont Harbor, Edgewater, Hyde Park, Lincoln Park and Evanston, said his son, Jonathan Silverman.

As executive vice president of Dunbar Building Corp., he helped develop more than 2,000 condos at 201 E. Chestnut, 1212 N. Lake Shore; 5701 N. Sheridan, 6007 N. Sheridan, and 6033 N. Sheridan. More recently, he helped build and develop the 214-unit condo building at 55 E. Erie.

He and Diane, his wife of 54 years, also founded Urban Search Corporation, a real estate brokerage.

Sue Gin, who worked as a salesperson at Dunbar, followed Mr. Silverman to DMG to learn more about the development side of the condo business. “He was full of knowledge and a creative thinker,” said Gin, CEO of Flying Food Group, which supplies food to 71 airline companies. “He raised a beautiful family.”

In his free time, he enjoyed deep-sea fishing in Florida, Sagan said.

Mr. Silverman also is survived by his daughter, Rachel Silverman Darlow; his other son, Joshua, and six grandchildren.

Services are planned at 11:30 a.m. Monday at Congregation Rodfei Zedek, 5200 S. Hyde Park Blvd.

Email: modonnell@suntimes.com

Twitter: @suntimesobits

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