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Michael J. Howlett Sr.
33rd Secretary of State of Illinois

In office
January 8, 1973 – January 10, 1977
Governor Daniel Walker
Preceded by John W. Lewis Jr.
Succeeded by Alan J. Dixon
24th Illinois Auditor of Public Accounts

In office
January 9, 1961 – January 8, 1973
Governor Otto Kerner Jr.
Samuel H. Shapiro
Richard B. Ogilvie
Preceded by Elbert S. Smith
Succeeded by George W. Lindberg
as Illinois Comptroller
Personal details
Born (1914-08-30)August 30, 1914
Chicago, Illinois
Died May 4, 1992(1992-05-04) (aged 77)
Chicago, Illinois
Political party Democratic
Spouse(s) Helen Geary
Children 6
Military service
Service/branch United States Navy
Battles/wars World War II

Michael J. Howlett Sr. (August 30, 1914 – May 4, 1992) was a Democratic politician from the U.S. state of Illinois, who was elected several times to statewide office.

Early life[]

Howlett was born in Chicago, a son of Irish immigrants. As a youth, Howlett was All-American water polo player, participating on ten championship teams of the Illinois Athletic Club.[1] He graduated from St. Mel High School and briefly attended DePaul University, leaving the latter in 1934 to become a state bank examiner. Subsequently, he founded his own insurance business, served as Chicago-area director of the National Youth Administration, was an executive for the Chicago Park District, was appointed regional director of the U.S. Office of Price Stabilization, and was a steel company executive. He was also a U.S. Navy veteran of World War II.

Statewide Officeholder[]

In 1956, Howlett ran for Illinois Auditor and is credited with exposing embezzlement by incumbent Auditor Orville Hodge of more than $1.5 million in state funds. Hodge resigned and eventually went to prison, but Howlett lost the general election to Elbert Sidney Smith as part of a national Republican landslide. However, in the next general election, in 1960, Howlett was elected Auditor of Public Accounts (the Auditor's Office was the predecessor to the current office of Comptroller), and was re-elected twice. During Howlett's first term as Auditor, he cut the budget of the office by one-fifth, and returned over $600,000 to the state treasury.[1] In 1972, Howlett was elected Illinois Secretary of State, becoming the first Democratic state officer to win four consecutive statewide elections.

1976 Illinois Gubernatorial Campaign[]

Howlett was prepared to run for re-election in 1976, but was encouraged by Cook County Democrats to challenge incumbent Governor Dan Walker for the Democratic nomination in 1976. Howlett defeated Walker in the March primary, and stood as the Democratic nominee for governor of Illinois in the general election, whereupon he was defeated by Republican nominee James R. Thompson.

Throughout the campaign, Howlett was dogged by conflict of interest charges, first raised by Walker, over payments Howlett received as an executive at Sun Steel Company. A report issued by former Illinois Supreme Court Justice Marvin Burt at the behest of Republican state Attorney General William J. Scott was highly critical of Howlett. However, a Cook County judge ruled no conflict of interest had arisen, and cleared Howlett. Thompson, who successfully prosecuted former Illinois governor Otto Kerner Jr., continued to hammer the issue during the general election campaign, and attacked Howlett as corrupt, and Attorney General Scott vowed to appeal the judge's ruling. Ironically, it was Scott who later was forced to resign after a felony conviction.[2]

Early polls of the contest had Howlett in the lead, although Thompson had nearly closed the gap by the time of the primary.[3] However, Walker's attacks during the bitter primary weakened Howlett, and by August, Thompson held a slim lead in the polls.[3] His lead expanded during the campaign, and Howlett ended up losing by 30 percentage points (nearly 1.4 million votes), the widest margin of defeat for any Democratic Nominee for Governor of Illinois in history. Thompson was the first candidate for Governor to receive over 3 million votes, and his tally of 3,000,395 remains the highest number of votes ever cast for a candidate in an election for Governor of Illinois.


After his loss in the 1976 governor's race, Howlett opened a private consulting business.

Howlett would later see his son run for statewide office through bizarre circumstances. In the 1986 Democratic primary for Lieutenant Governor, former U.S. Senator Adlai Stevenson III and the Democratic Party selected State senator George E. Sangmeister as the party-preferred candidate, however he narrowly lost the primary to Mark Fairchild (a Lyndon LaRouche activist). After LaRouche followers had won the Democratic nominations for both Lieutenant Governor and Secretary of State, Stevenson refused to run as the Democratic standard-bearer, and formed the Solidarity Party. When Sangmeister was unwilling to run with Stevenson in the fall, Howlett's son Michael J. Howlett Jr., then a Cook County judge,[4] was nominated by the Solidarity Party. Stevenson-Howlett went down to defeat in the fall, with only 40% of the vote. Another son, Edward G. Howlett, was the unsuccessful Republican nominee for Chicago City Clerk in 1995.

Death and legacy[]

Howlett died in Chicago's Mercy Hospital of chronic kidney failure. He had suffered a stroke three months earlier and remained hospitalized from then until his death.

The building housing the offices of the Illinois Secretary of State in Springfield, Illinois, formerly known as the Centennial Building, is named after Michael J.Howlett.

Election history[]

1976 gubernatorial election, Illinois
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
Republican James R. Thompson 3,000,395 64.68 +15.66
Democratic Michael Howlett 1,610,258 34.71 -15.97
Libertarian F. Joseph McCaffrey 7,552 0.16
Communist Party (US) Ishmael Flory 10,091 0.22 +0.12
Others 10,375 0.23
Majority 1,390,137 29.93
Turnout 4,638,671
Republican gain from Democratic Swing
Year Office Election Subject Party Votes % Opponent Party Votes %
1976 Governor of Illinois Primary Michael Howlett Democratic 811,721 53.82 Dan Walker (Inc.) Democratic 696,380 46.18
1972 Illinois Secretary of State General Michael Howlett Democratic 2,360,327 51.69 Edmund J. Kucharski Republican 2,187,544 47.91
1968 Illinois Auditor of Public Accounts General Michael Howlett (Inc.) Democratic 2,215,401 50.99 William C. Harris Republican 2,106,676 48.49
1964 Illinois Auditor of Public Accounts General Michael Howlett (Inc.) Democratic 2,513,831 55.47 John Kirby Republican 2,017,951 44.53
1960 Illinois Auditor of Public Accounts General Michael Howlett Democratic 2,296,220 50.44 Elbert S. Smith (Inc.) Republican 2,246,833 49.35
1956 Illinois Auditor of Public Accounts General Michael Howlett Democratic 1,992,707 47.23 Elbert S. Smith Republican 2,217,229 52.55
1950 Illinois Treasurer General Michael Howlett Democratic 1,568,763 44.32 William G. Stratton Republican 1,959,734 55.36



Political offices
Preceded by
Elbert S. Smith
Illinois Auditor of Public Accounts
1961 – 1973
Succeeded by
George W. Lindberg
as Illinois Comptroller
Preceded by
John W. Lewis
Illinois Secretary of State
1973 – 1977
Succeeded by
Alan J. Dixon
Party political offices
Preceded by
Daniel Walker
Democratic Nominee for Governor of Illinois
Succeeded by
Michael Bakalis

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