By Paul M. Green
Chicago's 1991 mayoral elections:
Has political peace returned to Chicago? After a decade of rollercoaster politics, Chicagoans in the 1991 mayoral elections voted overwhelmingly for the low-key political and governmental style of Richard M. Daley. Perhaps the ultimate irony of Daley's twin landslide wins was that city voters, tired of the confrontational and emotional politics of the 1980s, saw him as the best healing and unifying leader for the 1990s.
Round 1: Democratic Mayoral Primary — incumbent Mayor Richard M. Daley v. Cook County Commissioner and former 29th Ward Alderman Danny Davis v. former Mayor Jane Byrne — February 26.
On December 10, 1990, Mayor Rich Daley announced his intention to run for reelection, claiming that "Chicagoans had lowered their voices and moved beyond the destructive policies of division and name-calling" during his brief 20 months in office (Daley was elected in April 1989 to serve the remainder of Harold Washington's second term). Unlike past campaigns there was no hoopla or hype as Daley made his announcement, setting the tone for his entire campaign.
From the start the primary was Daley's to lose. A November 1990 Sun-Times poll found 58 percent of city voters rating Daley's job performance as excellent or good, while a Southtown Economist poll released after his mayoral announcement showed Daley's approval rating had jumped to 61 percent and that he held a 2-to-l lead over his closest rival, Danny Davis.
Three key factors drove these impressive poll results and ultimately Daley's reelection to a second term as mayor.
• Politically, the components of Daley's 1989 winning coalition of ethnics, lakefront residents and Hispanics had solidified their support almost totally behind the mayor. The only major voting bloc outside Daley's coalition were Chicago's African-American voters, who lacked the numbers or the unity to threaten seriously his renomination.
• Governmentally, Daley's no-nonsense managerial style and administrative competence had given the city stable and dependable leadership. He left his opponents with little weaponry to attack his record: Daley worked well with Springfield and Washington, D.C. (some suggest Democrat Daley is closer to the Bush administration than Illinois' new Republican Gov. Jim Edgar), he made quality a criterion for department heads and showed an all-out effort to manage an inherited revenue/expenditure mismatch in the city budget.
• The peace issue. Chicagoans were simply exhausted from years of divisive racial politics which sapped the energy of politician and voter alike and pushed complicated and critical policy issues to the back burner. Ironically, the excitement and interest generated by the Persian Gulf war in January and early February accelerated the desire of Chicago voters for political peace in their home town. The 1991 Chicago mayoral campaign was like most wartime mayoral elections. Chicagoans showed little interest in local politics, which worked directly into incumbent Daley's plans for a low-key campaign.
Any hopes for a competitive Democratic mayoral primary were quashed in the first two weeks of Daley's campaign. One day after his reelection announcment Daley held a giant fundraiser at the downtown Hyatt Regency Hotel. The fundraiser cleared $1 million, which, added to his existing funds, gave him a campaign war chest of well over $2 million to fuel his structured and disciplined campaign organization. Neither Davis nor Byrne raised 10 percent of Daley's Hyatt-Regency total.
With underfunded campaigns, both Davis and Byrne demanded that Daley engage in a series of campaign debates. Like Harold Washington in 1987, Daley dismissed their demands, claiming, "Chicago voters know my record because this is my 10th election in the last 11 years." The mayor was unwilling to give his opponents a political forum or any well publicized opportunity to bash him, forcing both Davis and Byrne to generate their own campaign excitement.
Cook County Commissioner Davis (former alderman of the westside 29th Ward) never had a chance against Daley. Like most other Chicago black political leaders, he was tied to the politics of yesterday. Since the untimely passing of former Mayor Harold Washington in November 1987, the city's African-American pols and influential leaders have sought to recreate the man and the movement that energized and uplifted Chicago's black community in 1983. In death Washington has become nearly godlike in the memories of black voters, and thus any mere mortal who tries to take up his standard appears second-rate or a poor substitute for the departed hero. Moreover, Daley denied black organizers an easy target to unite against. No matter how they stretched their rhetoric, they could not fit Daley's style and policies into the 1980s "us v. them" mentality, which helped propel Washington to a level of black support unmatched in Chicago or any place else in America.
Davis became the "consensus" black candidate following a November 19, 1990, closed-door meeting of 126 African-American leaders at the Hyde Park Hilton Hotel. Davis barely
June 1991/Illmois Issues/17
edged former Mayor Eugene Sawyer (66-60) for the endorsement/slating of the ad hoc coalition of black politicians and community activists. Davis pledged to campaign in all "quarters of the city," to champion ''the homeless, the hopeless and the helpless" and to reunify the African- American community, just as it was in the '83 campaign for Harold Washington.
Davis was unable to meet his goals. He did not raise the minimal dollars to run a citywide race, nor did he develop substantive campaign issues or policy alternatives to Daley's record. During most of the campaign Davis preached black unity, stressing the generic theme of "fairness" and trying to suggest that under Daley black Chicago was losing jobs at City Hall, being victimized by police brutality and not getting a fair shake in city services. To some analysts it appeared that Davis was running for mayor of black Chicago and not the entire city.
The inability of Davis to recapture Washington's political magic is illustrated by two events. One was early in the campaign, when political columnist Mark Hornung in Grain's Chicago Business reported that the city's leading black businessmen were reluctant to "drop bucks" in the Davis campaign. Many potential black financial backers told Hornung that they were unwilling to invest in a "symbolic candidacy" that had little chance to succeed. The second was late in the campaign when the Rev. Tyrone Crider, national executive director of Operation PUSH, characterized the Davis campaign as a "slow movement" because it "failed to take the time necessary to meet and consult with the [black] religious and business community." Crider and his mentor, the Rev. Jesse Jackson, PUSH founder, were angry that Davis had called some black ministers who had endorsed Daley "Uncle Toms." One black nationalist, who is active in Chicago politics, summed up Chicago's 1991 African-American politics succinctly: "No Washington — no unity — no chance."
The 1991 primary campaign of former Mayor Jane Byrne can be summed up in one word — sad. The once-proud and tough campaigner was reduced to a political caricature, a cross between the "unsinkable" Molly Brown and Harold Stassen. She could raise no
18/June 1991/Illinois Issues
money; her issue statements were weak and without campaign follow-up; her once clever political ploys were dismissed as desperation politics; no major Chicago political, business or community leader endorsed her candidacy. The woman who shook Chicago and humbled the Democratic machine in 1979 when she was elected mayor was no longer a viable politician but a historic relic; she appeared out of step with 1990s Chicago politics.
Throughout her slow-paced campaign Byrne suggested that Chicagoans "deserved better leadership in City Hall" and that everything was not "rosy" in Chicago. For months she attempted to prod Daley into a fight, but he ignored her statements and stuck to his game plan. Sun-Times columnist Steve Neal dubbed her the Norma Desmond of Chicago politics because like the fictional star of the motion picture Sunset Boulevard she was deluding herself into thinking that she had a chance at a comeback. Ironically, Byrne, who was a two-time mayoral primary loser to Harold Washington, seemed most comfortable and effective campaiging in black churches and neighborhoods.
The 1991 Chicago Democratic mayoral primary eased to a conclusion. All major newspapers endorsed Daley, all polls showed him far in the lead, and the crisis in the Persian Gulf pushed local politics off the front pages and the evening news. The only real questions on primary election day were the size of Daley's victory and whether his endorsement of running mate Miriam Santos in the treasurer's race (against a long-time supporter and fellow 11th warder Ed Murray) would be enough to make her the first citywide elected Hispanic officeholder. The answers surprised even the mayor's most ardent followers. Daley won in an overwhelming landslide as did Santos, who carried every precinct in the mayor's ward. (Daley's other running mate, incumbent City Clerk Walter Kozbowski, was a comfortable winner.)
Daley's primary victory was huge. The turnout was not. Turnout was about the same as 1989 with 48 percent of registered voters. Daley carried 31 wards as his political coalition of ethnics, lakefronters and Hispanics held firm, while his percentages in black wards moved from single digits (1989 mayoral primary) to the teens. Byrne cut only
June 1991/Illinois Issues/19
slightly into his bedrock vote, but lower black turnout held Davis' vote far below Sawyer's numbers in the 1989 primary (Sawyer garnered 383,795 votes to Davis' 199,628).
Margin-wise, ethnic Chicagoans living on the northwest and southwest sides came out again in huge numbers for Daley. Leading them were House Speaker Michael J. Madigan's 13th Ward and U.S. Rep. William O. Lipinski's 23rd Ward. Daley's own llth Ward, which in recent years has seen several precincts become heavily African American, was only the mayor's eighth best margin ward.
Davis won the same 19 wards that Sawyer carried in 1989 but by significantly lower margins. Especially critical was the drop in the Big 5 black middle-class wards (6, 8, 17, 21 and 34) on the city's far south side. In 1989 these wards gave Sawyer a combined margin of 103,774. In 1991 they gave Davis a combined margin of 49,647, a margin difference of 64,027 votes.
Byrne was not competitive in any ward.
Percentage-wise, 11 ethnic wards gave Daley over 90 percent of their vote. The mayor's lowest winning ward percentage was over 60 percent, and the 49th Ward was the only lake-front ward to give him less than 70 percent of its vote (69 percent). Davis' ward percentage figures, like his margins, were significantly lower than Sawyer's 1989 results.
. . . ethnic Chicagoans ... on the northwest and southwest sides came out again in huge numbers for Daley
Oh, yes, Chicago Republicans also had a mayoral primary February 28, nominating Chicago police Sergeant George Gottlieb.
Round 2: Mayoral General Election — Richard M. Daley (Democrat) v. R. Eugene Pincham (Harold Washington Party) v. George S. Gottlieb (Republican) — April 2.
The 1991 Chicago mayoral campaign was a reinforced reenactment of the Democratic primary. Daley, triumphant in the Democratic primary, kept to his low-key campaign strategy. His opponents, in contrast, tried frantically to seek recognition and support. The eventual electoral outcome was never in doubt, but there was real interest in whether either of Daley's opponents could dent his political armor and whether Daley could make significant vote inroads in the black community.
Daley's main campaign effort (outside of his remarkable field operation in the wards) centered on a series of slick, well crafted and brief issue papers. These campaign statements covered a smorgasboard of issues ranging from crime, education and housing to economic development and public works. Each started with the same sentence, "Just a few years ago they said Chicago was a city at war with itself, voices were loud, the city was struggling — but today with Rich Daley's leadership, Chicago is working together and moving forward." Each listed the tangible accomplishments claimed by the fledgling Daley administration in the subject area of discussion. Each paper closed with the same words: "Chicago's problems are many. The work is far from done — but today we are talking, not shouting. Fighting problems instead of each other. All because of a strong and decent leader Rich Daley."
Daley the quiet administrator. Daley the can-do mayor. Daley the racial healer. Daley the family man from the neighborhoods. These were the images presented by his campaign. His campaign message was so effective and his opposition responses so weak that Daley only used paid television advertising sparingly (although one old-timer told me more than once, "Kid, the bucks are there if we need them").
Late in the campaign the Sun-Times questioned Daley's performance on some issues, suggesting he had not reached his '89 agenda goals. Specifically the newspaper questioned Daley's record on cutting bureaucracy, educational reform and eliminating costly overtime pay to city employees. Daley's response came from his press secretary, Avis Lavelle. She admitted there had been some shortcomings in certain areas but claimed overall that "this administration has demonstrated a solid commitment to do what it said it was going to do." Daley's opponents were powerless to pounce on the Sun-Times story, and most Chicagoans accepted Lavelle's explanation.
Former Appellate Judge R. Eugene Pincham was the candidate of the almost entirely black Harold Washington Party (following Davis' loss in the Democratic primary, the winner of the Harold Washington Party's primary withdrew in favor of the party's selection of Pincham to run as its candidate in the general election).
Pincham, who had left the Democratic party after losing the 1990 party nomination for Cook County Board president to Richard Phelan, claimed that Davis' landslide loss was the result of Davis' perceived alignment with the regular Democratic party organization. He campaigned as the alternative candidate, pillorying Daley for not debating him and calling for an elected police board as the best way to stop police brutality. Well-known for controversial statements in past campaigns, his rhetoric was generally subdued. One exception sticks out. He said on the radio in mid-campaign, "The white community has to open up this city and stop rejecting black leaders. . . . If they don't, one million blacks will feel that it is hopeless, and when they do, it will be chaos." Pincham explained that by chaos, he meant black disrespect for the law could thereby result increasing homicide rates, larcenies and drug peddling.
In his brief, month-long mayoral campaign, Pincham attempted to unite and ignite African-American voters behind his candidacy. He also had to scramble for campaign funds. Any ground swell of support eluded him. Pincham's low point came late in the campaign, when 600 black supporters of the mayor attended a Daley luncheon, and African-American Chicago leaders like the Rev. Clay Evans and businessman Leon Finney praised Mayor Daley and his campaign. This event was well publicized and was followed by a surprise endorsement of Daley by the city's leading black newspaper, the Chicago Defender.
20/June 1991/Illnois Issues
The newspaper claimed that Daley was attempting to make city employment open to all, and the Defender succinctly dismissed Pincham, stating, "[He] has said or done nothing during this election campaign, of a positive nature to bring Chicago together."
Richard M. Daley won the general election with an avalanche of votes, but there was an incredibly low turnout (45 percent), especially in black wards (several had less than 30 percent turnout). Daley received over 70 percent of the citywide vote, and his ward margins and percentages astonished his backers. To some, it was reminiscent of the past victories of his father. Mayor Richard J. Daley.
Margin-wise, it was a repeat scenario from the primary. Northwest-and southwest-siders flocked to the polls for Daley (turnout in Speaker Madigan's 13th Ward was nearly 80 percent). Lakefront wards, although mainly low in turnout, have such a huge population base that those voting provided Daley with respectable margins. The city's main Hispanic wards (22-25-26-31) had poor turnouts, but percentage-wise, they were overwhelmingly for Daley.
Compared to his primary performance, Daley improved on his percentages in the general election. He won the same 31 wards, but 18 of them gave him over 90 percent of their vote (two of them the lakefront's 43rd and 44th), and only two were, lower than 70 percent. However, the most important gains for Daley were in the black wards. He lost the same 19 wards that he lost in the primary, but his total percentage of the vote from these wards went up from 9 percent to 15 percent. In two black wards (15th and 27th), Daley received over 40 percent. His total black vote citywide was in the 25 percent range.
Pincham and his Harold Washington Party supporters tried to put the best face on their defeat, but no rhetoric could cloud the clear post-election picture. Daley had firmly won a new four-year term as mayor. The mono-color Harold Washington Party must wait to gauge the impact of its black nationalist political agenda on the next statewide election, when Democratic candidates will need huge Chicago vote margins to win.
As for Gottlieb, the GOP standard bearer, he finished the race as he began — a virtual unknown, garnering only 4 percent of the vote.
Entrenched in City Hall for a full second term, Mayor Daley now faces enormous revenue and policy issues. However, there is a final irony of the Chicago 1991 mayoral elections: In four years, two very different men, Harold Washington and Richard M. Daley, have totally captured political control of Chicago.
Paul M. Green is director of the Institute for Public Policy and Administration, Governors State University. The author gratefully acknowledges the assistance of Connie Kaplan and Eunice Coorlis at the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners in compiling the election data.
June 1991/Illinois Issues/25