By PAUL GREEN
Washington's victory: divide and 'conquer
IN THE MID-1930's Chicago Alderman Robert Jackson, a black Republican from the city's 3rd Ward, exhorted his black audience to support black congressional candidate William Dawson. Jackson said, "We must stick together to get somewhere as a race. Every Jew will hunt for and vote for a Jew. The same for the Irish and every other race. The Negro can't find a Negro's name to save his life. Look for his name until you find it. He's your own flesh and blood and nobody is going to vote for him if you don't." Some 50 years later Chicago's black voters heeded similar "flesh and blood" pleas and supported black Congressman Harold Washington for the Democratic mayoral nomination. On February 22, black Chicagoans hunted, found and voted for Washington in such numbers that they defeated both incumbent Mayor Jane Byrne and Cook County State's Attorney Richard M. Daley in the most expensive campaign in the city's history.
Few local campaigns in this country, indeed, in the world, have ever generated such sustained intensity as Chicago's 1983 Democratic mayoral primary. In a city where politics is king, this three-way contest was the ultimate battle royal. The incumbent Mayor Byrne was the surprise anti-organization victor in a snow-filled mayoral primary four years ago. Once in office as the city's first woman mayor, Byrne patched up her differences with the machine and embarked on a fundraising program unmatched in the city's history. She also gave Chicago an administration that reflected her own feisty and mercurial personality. A notorious political hipshooter, Byrne's record contained both spectacular hits and many well-publicized misses. A former protégée of the late Mayor Richard J. Daley, Byrne sought to recapture overnight the political power and personal magic that had taken her mentor a lifetime to build.
It was Mayor Daley's eldest son, Richard, who emerged as the major political obstacle to her dream. Young Daley had been a rather undistinguished state senator when Byrne took over city hall, but soon he was forced by Byrne to either capitulate to her demands for citywide political domination or to take her on for control of both the city and the party. In late 1979 Daley accepted the challenge by announcing his candidacy for Cook County state's attorney. As the boy from Bridgeport, an old working-class neighborhood on Chicago's near southwest side, Daley had little exposure to the rest of the city or its surrounding suburbs. But a year later, after beating Byrne-backed opponents in the primary and general election, Richard M. Daley became state's attorney and a real force in Chicago politics, as well as a rallying symbol for those eager to dump Byrne in 1983.
The first blood in the 1983 mayoral primary battle was shed nearly one year before the actual contest when 10th Ward Alderman Edward Vrdolyak replaced Cook County Board President George Dunne as chairman of the Cook County Democratic Central Committee. Mayor Byrne was concerned about Dunne's loyalty during her renomination bid and in March 1982 she engineered a coup to topple Dunne from the powerful committee chairmanship. The mayor saw Vrdolyak, a hard-nosed political infighter from the city's far southeast side steel mill area, as a tough and articulate pointman who could handle the expected frontal assault from the Daley forces. In the 1983 mayoral primary Daley would receive the endorsements from 11 of the 50 ward committeemen. Interestingly, 10 of the 11 supported Dunne against Vrdolyak in the chairmanship battle. For the record, the only Vrdolyak supporter who endorsed Daley for mayor was Congressman Dan Rostenkowski.
The next pre-primary salvo was fired in June at the Democratic national mini-convention in Philadelphia. Daley allies, Cook County Assessor Thomas Hynes and the state's attorney's brother, Bill, accused the mayor of breaking her promises by raising taxes, of politicizing city government and for employing "a come up and see me some time approach to [urban] planning." Byrne, angered at the sneak attack, shot back that Daley and Hynes had mounted an insidious campaign against her which she labeled "a form of deception." The mayor claimed that Daley and his entire family had been running against her since the day she walked in the door. She said the state's attorney was hiding behind the assessor and Bill Daley because he could not take the heat of press conferences, interviews or open debate. Lastly, she countered on the volatile tax increase issue by revealing a political tactic that would grow into the keystone of her renomination strategy. According to Byrne, the city was in such surprisingly bad economic shape when she took office in 1979 that any blame for needed tax increases should go to her city hall predecessors.
Sporadic political sniping between the Byrne and Daley camps followed the Philadelphia skirmish, but most political pundits believed the mayoral combatants would call a temporary ceasefire as the upcoming statewide elections grew more imminent. However, in July, Mayor Byrne once again confounded and dazzled foes and critics alike by replacing two black members of the Chicago Housing Authority (CHA) with two whites. Precipitating this move was the mayor's all-out effort to save the reputation of her white housing board chairman and chief fundraiser, Charles Swibel, who was also replaced by another white, Andrew J. Mooney. Byrne's maneuver gave whites a majority on the CHA Board in a city where 84 percent of the 142,000 public housing tenants were black. The mayor justified her action by stating that the three new board members had "managerial expertise needed to reform the troubled deficit-ridden agency." Insiders discounted her public explanation by claiming that Byrne was goading her black critics to put up a black candidate in the Democratic primary in the belief that she could split her enemy's (Daley's) support. In a city where "hard-ball politics" is considered routine, it seemed as if Byrne had gone out of her way to inflame Chicago's black voters. Many observers were astonished.
A number of Chicago's black leaders, led by the Rev. Jesse Jackson, reacted swiftly to Byrne's blatant political slap in the face. They hastily organized a black boycott of the mayor's August ChicagoFest a 12-day festival featuring top-line entertainment and ethnic food. More important, a major voter registration drive was begun in the black community with the slogan "come alive on October 5" (last day of registration) plastered on billboards and storefronts. For the first time in Chicago history, new black voters outnumbered new white voters. In the 17 predominantly black wards registration activity was frenzied. This black political reaction erupted on election day, November 2, when Chicago's black voters nearly stopped Republican Gov. James R. Thompson's third-term bid by giving county and state Democratic candidates overwhelming vote totals in their wards. The black surge was genuine and powerful, and 1st District black Congressman Harold Washington suddenly found himself being pressured to lead a black crusade against the machine.
War is declared
Two days after the November general election, Richard M. Daley officially announced his candidacy for the Democratic mayoral nomination. Even the fuss and fury arising from the razor-thin gubernatorial contest was pushed off center stage by Daley's declaration. Sun-Times columnist Mike
Royko gleefully proclaimed, ". . . for many Chicagoans the preliminary skirmishing is over. . . choosing a governor. . . can be entertaining but now we gel down to the serious war the election of a mayor."
April 1983 | Illinois Issues | 15
April 1983 | Illinois Issues | 16
Daley attacked the current administration (he never mentioned Byrne's name) for raising taxes, mismanagement and ineffective leadership. His infant candidacy received a major boost when 45th Ward Democratic Committeeman Thomas Lyons from the city's far northwest side threw his organization behind Daley. Overlooked in the euphoria surrounding Daley's announcement, however, was his top strategists' assertion that the first two months of the campaign would be devoted to assembling an organization and fundraising. Daley's decision not to immediately blitz Byrne with a hardhitting media campaign would prove to be a fatal flaw in his mayoral bid.
Less than a week after Daley's announcement, Congressman Harold Washington entered the Democratic mayoral primary field. A former state legislator and Democratic machine stalwart, the southside black leader had broken with the organization by running for mayor against Michael Bilandic in the 1977 mayoral primary. Though he received only 11 percent of the citywide vote then, Washington did carry five southside black wards against three other opponents. Washington's 1982 announcement of his mayoral candidacy was highlighted by his accusations that "the city that supposedly works, doesn't" and that "Chicago was a city divided. . . where citizens are treated unequally and unfairly. . . ." Washington also asserted that his 1972 jail conviction for failure to file federal income tax returns was behind him and that his life was "as open as anyone else's." Finally, the congressman claimed that the political situation had converted him from a reluctant candidate to one who would campaign with gusto because "the masses of white people will be split between Daley and Byrne [thereby] enhancing the chances of a black candidate."
On November 22, one day before the city Democratic ward committeemen would endorse their candidates, Byrne officially announced her reelection bid. For several months previous the mayor had undergone a remarkable political and personal metamorphosis. Under the guidance of New York media adviser David Sawyer, she had toned down her demeanor, her dress and her rhetoric. The new Jane Byrne was cool and professional, and she stressed her administrative competence by reiterating her charge that she had brought the city back from imminent financial disaster in 1979. Moreover, in a series of shrewd and lightning fast political moves that included a $50 million one-shot influx of new revenue from the sale of bonds for an O'Hare Airport expansion, she was able to offer Chicagoans a $30 million package of tax relief.
Political slatemaking in Chicago is a throwback to the days when politics required guts, nerve and wit instead of media advisers and computers. In a tension-filled room in the basement of the Bismarck Hotel on November 22, Democratic ward committeemen met to finish off the first round of the campaign by endorsing a mayoral candidate. Facing each other toe-to-toe, the out-numbered Daley and Washington supporters stood their ground as chairman Vrdolyak carefully orchestrated Byrne's endorsement. Even the presence of the mayor herself (she had remained at the head table following a brief pre-vote speech) could not generate the traditional call for party unity. County Board President Dunne, the dethroned party chairman, scuttled any unity theme when he dramatically stood up, looked the mayor straight in the eye and demanded his vote be recorded as "No" on her endorsement. Twelve more of the 50 committeemen joined Dunne in refusing to support Byrne; they looked unconcerned when Vrdolyak closed the meeting by warning them, "If anybody wants to take on this organization, they'd better pack a lunch because it will be an all-day job."
Byrne on the attack
The political momentum in the early weeks of the primary campaign clearly belonged to Mayor Byrne. With all the advantages of incumbency, a multi-million dollar war chest and a strong alliance with Chairman Vrdolyak, she seemed way ahead of both her opponents. Chicagoans saw on television and heard on radio the Byrne message that, yes, she had made some mistakes but that she had learned her job so well that today Chicago was in better fiscal shape than any other major northern city. The new Byrne claimed that she was still tough and feisty, but that was what it took to run a town as tough as Chicago. Byrne's early bombardment truly shook Daley's strategists who underestimated the power of her saturation campaign on the airwaves.
Byrne was also aided during this early period by the stumbles of the barely assembled Daley and Washington campaign staffs. The state's attorney floundered for nearly six weeks before accepting the challenge to debate his opponents. Daley's reluctance to meet Byrne and Washington head on reinforced charges that he was inarticulate and unable to think on his feet. It put Daley on the defensive and turned attention away from his attempt to focus the race on the mayor's record. Washington's campaign lacked organization, money and direction, and the candidate lurched about looking for the kind of themes that would attract new supporters and campaign contributors. The low point of the Washington campaign came on Christmas Day when the congressman, escorted by the Rev. Jackson, visited Cook County Jail. TV cameras recorded his appearance, and on Christmas night Chicagoans saw a black candidate holding a rally before a large group of mainly black inmates. Don Rose, a leading "independent" political strategist, called the visit "the biggest campaign boner of the season," adding "that it [upset] more blacks than whites."
April 1983 | Illinois Issues | 17
The new year found Byrne still on the offensive and her two opponents trying to react to her various political moves. On New Year's Eve the mayor treated thousands of Chicagoans to free fireworks displays across the city. She refused to fall back into the old Jane Byrne mold when she decided to retain respected cable TV adviser John McGuire after a clumsy effort to replace him with a party hack. The mayor and Vrdolyak then demonstrated the payoff for party defection by engineering a board revolt against County Board President Dunne that stripped him of most of his considerable powers. Finally, Byrne transferred $10 million that had been budgeted for street improvements and set up a temporary job program for 3,800 unemployed Chicagoans. Byrne's maneuvers were so deft that they partially eclipsed the endorsements Daley garnered from lakefront independents like state Sen. Dawn Clark Netsch and Alderman Martin Oberman as well as the series of thoughtful position papers on improving city finances and services he issued. As for Washington, his campaign also picked up a bit under its new chairman, former civil rights leader Al Raby. Also, the congressman had laid to rest many doubts about his previous income tax troubles with a fine speech before the Rotary Club in downtown Chicago.
Debates and endorsements
In late January the Chicago mayoral campaign centered on a series of four debates held during a two-week period. Not surprisingly, all three candidates expressed happiness with their respective performances during the sometimes rancorous face-to-face confrontations. Byrne could rightfully point out that under excruciating political pressure she kept her cool, defended her record against two challengers and leveled a few barbs of her own at both foes. Daley surprised many people with his competence, knowledge and his sense of humor (especially after the first debate), and few questioned his victory in the third debate when he ripped into Byrne and her media adviser, Sawyer. But, the big debate winner was Washington who in the widely publicized and observed first debate showed voters, especially black voters, that he was an articulate and legitimate candidate.
Though the debates boosted Washington's political fortunes and made him a viable candidate, they did not make him the eventual primary winner. Rather, it was the endorsements of Daley by the major city newspapers during this period, and their subsequent relentless attack on Mayor Byrne, that caused the vital turnaround in the campaign. On January 23, one month before the election, the Chicago Tribune endorsed Daley; 10 days later the Sun-Times did the same.
Despite a better-than-expected debate performance, Daley's primary campaign was at low ebb before the endorsements. Polls showed voters believed Byrne to be the more competent administrator and her strength was growing among so-called "thinking voters" along the lakefront and the northwest side. Daley's expected black strength was evaporating (it never returned), and thus, he was left only with his power base on the city's southwest side. The newspaper endorsements gave him a tremendous lift, burnishing his image and boosting his workers' spirits. In addition, the newspapers' nearly continuous tirades against Byrne cut into her support in northside wards, the major Byrne-Daley battleround.
The final February push
The final three weeks of the campaign was an old-fashioned Chicago free-for-all. No high-stakes poker players ever put more chips on the table than did the three Democratic mayoral candidates. Charges flew between the camps with the sharpest exchanges taking place between the Daley and Byrne forces. Political endorsements came in from all over, as national, state and local leaders sided with one of the three candidates. On the streets, workers battled each other for poster space on windows, sides of buildings and lampposts. No Chicago neighborhood was left unvisited. Local television added to the intensity by inundating viewers with political news. No other story anywhere in the world could interest Chicagoans more than this primary battle, and the city's print and electronic media gave its citizens what they wanted: "non-stop politics."
Each of the candidates employed a different strategy in the campaign's closing days. Daley was the attacker. He accused Byrne of trying to buy the election with a $10 million campaign fund; he ridiculed her use of outside consultants; and, with the help of Mike Royko and the Sun-Times, hammered away at the ethics of the mayor's closest aides. To win, Daley needed a 100,000 vote plurality on the southwest side, significant ward victories on the northwest and north sides and whatever he could get in the black wards. As these goals began to appear possible, Daley's staff worried most about the impact of published newspaper and TV polls showing him trailing both Byrne and Washington. Daley claimed Chicagoans were afraid to tell the truth to telephone pollsters and that his own straw polls (which he mass distributed attached to an open letter from Sen. Netsch that substantiated the accuracy of past Daley straw polls) showed him in the lead and picking up momentum. Nevertheless, on the Friday before the election both newspaper and media polls found Daley still in third place, thereby generating a series of events that one Daley aide called the politics of "the lost weekend."
For much of the last part of the campaign Mayor Byrne was the defender. Her once enormous lead in the polls dwindled as both Washington and Daley gained ground. Announcements like federal approval for a rapid transit link to Midway Airport or the completion of the Chicago Transit Authority's extension to O'Hare Airport hardly slowed down the speed with which the gap was closing. Desperate for an issue to take the offensive, the mayor claimed she was being picked on because she was a female and appealed to Chicago's women voters, especially black women, by saying "it's tough to have two men bootin' your head every day." But it was the race issue and the fear of a Washington victory that energized Byrne's campaign in the final days. Led by Chairman Vrdolyak, the
April 1983 | Illinois Issues | 18
Democratic organization parlayed the latest poll results into an all-out effort to turn the campaign into a two-way race. In a now famous incident, Vrdolyak apparently told a northwest side precinct rally "that a vote for Daley is a vote for Washington" and that the campaign had become "a racial thing .. .[because] we're fighting to keep the city the way it is." Though Vrdolyak vigorously denied ever making the statement, evidence suggests that he and other Byrne supporters set up an elaborate phone bank to warn white Chicagoans of a possible Washington victory. Thousands of Chicago voters received weekend phone calls urging them not to throw away their vote on Daley but to support Byrne as the best hope of keeping Washington out of city hall.
While Daley and Byrne cut each other apart, Washington closed his campaign running as a winner. A massive rally in the new Chicago Pavillion at the University of Illinois in Chicago and attended by over 12,000 people two weeks before the election, ignited his campaign by turning his candidacy into a black crusade. Washington solidified his support in the black community with little loss to Daley and only sporadic gains by Byrne. The congressman claimed days before the election he had the contest won and that only massive vote theft could deny him a primary victory. Washington's confidence was based on an "80-80" political strategy: an 80 percent black turnout, and an 80 percent share of that vote. In vote percentages, the 80-80 strategy would give Washington 40 percent of the Democratic primary vote cast. Thus, the only way he could lose was if either Daley or Byrne annihilated the other in the white wards. In the campaign's closing hours Washington fostered Daley-Byrne competition by claiming that "you can put a sheet of paper between the two of them."
The primary itself
On February 22nd, 1,235,324 or 77.5 percent of Chicago's eligible voters went to the polls, and 98.6 percent of those voting asked for a Democratic ballot. Total Democratic applications for ballots in the 1983 Democratic mayoral primary were almost 400,000 above the hotly contested Byrne-Bilandic primary in 1979.
How did the wards line up in 1983? Ten wards turned out 80 percent or more of their voters, but none of these were pro-Washington black wards; they were white ethnic wards on the northwest and southwest sides. Washington's goal of 80 percent turnout in the city's 17 predominantly black wards fell short; these wards averaged a 73 percent turnout. Nevertheless, the huge increase in the number of new black registrations and the significant solid Washington turnout in these communities, coupled with scattered pockets of black, white and Latino support in other parts of Chicago, gave Washington the raw numbers to surpass Byrne and Daley.
Although Washington was unsuccessful in turning out 80 percent of the black vote, he had little problem in convincing 80 percent of those blacks voting to vote for him. All but two of Washington's ward victories were in almost solid black wards and they were all landslides. In fact, 21 wards city-wide were won by one of the candidates with 60 percent or more of the vote. Of those 21 wards, Washington had 17, Daley had three, while Byrne had only one. In terms of pluralities Washington's black wards out-produced long-time white ethnic enclaves throughout the city. Because Daley and Byrne generally split the white vote while Washington had a relatively free ride in black areas, Washington's margins were prodigious where he won. Incredibly, Washington received higher vote margins in five black wards than Daley received from his family's legendary 11th Ward fiefdom.
Election night was largely a great disappointment for State's Attorney Daley. He won only nine city wards, and by margins far less than he and his advisers thought possible. He carried his southwest side bailiwick by only a bit over half of his hoped-for 100,000-margin and he even ended up losing the neighboring 14th and 15th wards. Except for his long-time allies, Cook County Assessor Hynes (19th) and Congressman William Lipinski (23rd), no other ward outside of his own 11th gave Daley more than 60 percent of their vote. On the other hand, he performed well in certain northwest and north side wards where he battled the mayor and her committeemen to virtual standstills. But Daley was destroyed in the black community as he was unable to win more than 10 percent of the vote in 15 black wards (Washington was also unable to win 10 percent of the votes in 15 white wards). Daley stalwarts for years to come will blame Vrdolyak, Byrne and their henchmen for sandbagging their candidate the last weekend of the campaign as they reconsider the big question: "Did Richie have the votes to win on the Friday before the election?"
Mayor Byrne carried more wards (22) than either of her opponents. She also had only two wards, Daley's 11th and the middle-class black 21st, where she received less than 10 percent of a ward's vote. But she had only one ward, Alderman Richard Mell's 33rd, where she received 60 percent of the vote. Byrne's inability to produce a few large-margin ward victories and her poor showing in the black community caused her defeat. Even her better than expected totals against Daley on the southwest side could not offset her dropoffs in the black wards. In the three-way race Byrne was cutting into the strength of the wrong candidate in the campaign's waning hours, and on election day her final surge did not take many votes, if any, from the candidate in the lead Harold Washington. On
April 1983 | Illinois Issues | 19
election night the mayor undoubtedly wondered what was happening to her along the lakefront. Here, only 47th Ward Committeeman Ed Kelly gave her a majority vote while the other committeemen (all Byrne supporters except for 42nd Ward Comitteeman Dunne) could produce only slight plurality margins.
At Byrne headquarters election night, one worker whimsically summed up the mayor's defeat: "Well, that's the way the cabal bounces." Most of Byrne's supporters, however, were shocked and mystified by Washington's victory over their candidate. Indeed, it is somewhat hard to believe that after four years in office and the expenditure of millions of campaign dollars, Chicago's first woman mayor had frittered away the goodwill and special feelings she had captured in her brilliant 1979 victories. Her dreams of a political dynasty that would have matched that of her mentor Richard J. Daley and would have kept her in city hall through the upcoming glamour of the 1992 World's Fair were smashed by the same people who put her there in the first place Chicago's black and lakefront voters.
Harold Washington's primary victory was the result of hard work, an effective candidate, changing city demographics and a little political luck. And in some way, political destiny. From the outset, Washington recognized that the animosity between the better organized and better financed Byrne and Daley camps left him free to woo his own natural constituency. They were ready. In short, the congressman won because, to paraphrase an old political axiom, "He saw his voters and he took 'em." Political scientists and analysts may spend years dissecting the turning points of this election, but one simple fact should not be forgotten two white candidates evenly split over 60 percent of the largely white vote while the one black candidate received almost all of the black vote. Race was key in this campaign for it would not be difficult to argue that if Harold Washington were white he would not have entered let alone won the 1983 Chicago Democratic mayoral primary.
Daley is still young, more polished as a campaigner than many thought possible, and Cook County state's attorney. His quest to have the Daleys join the Carter Harrisons as the city's only family to have a father and son serve as mayor may be continued. Byrne faces a less rosy political picture. Her energy, intelligence, guts and ambition will need an outlet; the big question is where and how?
As to the future, city Republicans find themselves in a strange situation. They and their candidate, former state Rep. Bernard Epton, have a chance to win a Chicago mayoral election. On the other hand, Democratic winner Harold Washington must mend fences with his many primary adversaries if he wants to guarantee his election as the city's first black mayor.
Going into the April general election all bets are off on predicting the next mayor of Chicago. Washington's primary victory has unnerved the city's longstanding, powerful white ward committeemen, and it has probably unsettled traditional Chicago mayoral voting patterns. The Republican candidate has the opportunity to mount the strongest GOP mayoral campaign since Benjamin Adamowski in 1963 or Robert Merriam in 1955. Key to Epton's efforts is a mammoth voter turnout that will have as many people voting in the general as voted in the primary election. Washington is almost guaranteed 500,000 votes April 12th. In order for Epton to win he must galvanize the anti-Washington primary vote behind his candidacy. If he wins, Bernard Epton would be Chicago's first Republican mayor since Big Bill Thompson won the office in 1927. □
Paul M. Green is director of the Institute for Public Policy and Administration, Governors State University at Park Forest South.
April 1983 | Illinois Issues | 20