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The final race for Chicago mayor — til 1991



Rich Daley thought he had a lock on the Chicago mayoralty. Then along came the party crasher, Eddie Vrdolyak.

Now the voters are about to go to the polls, and they'll have a choice of two whites and black on the ballot. Timothy Evans, the underdog black candidate, could pull an upset.

But this column is being written three weeks before the April 4 election, so there will be no bold predictions. Anything can happen in three weeks — especially in Chicago politics.

Daley easily defeated acting Mayor Eugene Sawyer in the February 28 Democratic primary, but the biggest reason for his win was the split in the black community between supporters of Sawyer and Evans. This split resulted in tens of thousands of Evans' backers staying home on election day.

Evans, an independent
candidate in the
upcoming election,
needs two things to win

Evans, an independent candidate in the upcoming general election, needs two things to win:

  • A tremendous black turnout.
  • A sizable vote for Republican candidate Vrdolyak, siphoning away support for Daley.

Take a look at the players.

Daley has an excellent political organization. People say he's done a decent job in eight years as state's attorney. Fans of his legendary father want to see another Daley in City Hall. Even many liberals who despised his father are willing to support him, especially when the alternative is a Vrdolyak or a Jane Byrne. But let's face it: The guy just isn't very impressive personally. He flunked the bar exam twice, and people simply question his intelligence.

Ald. Evans has proclaimed himself the heir to the late Mayor Harold Washington's legacy. He decided to drop out of the Democratic primary and run as an independent in the general election because if he had stayed in, he and Sawyer would have split the black vote and handed the election to Daley. But Evans refused to endorse Sawyer, and that sealed Sawyer's doom; without a solid black vote, Sawyer had no chance.

Evans is a capable alderman, and his black backers are extremely energetic. But Sawyer, taking a page from Evans' book, won't endorse him, and Evans hasn't attracted much enthusiasm outside the black community. Without Hispanic or white liberal support, his only hope is that Vrdolyak will take away a substantial number of votes from Daley.

Vrdolyak needs no introduction. He was Washington's chief antagonist as a race-baiting alderman and head of the Democratic party, then became a Republican after Washington won reelection. ln February he launched a write-in campaign against the three nonentities on the Republican primary ballot and got himself nominated. His obvious objective is not to win the general election but to keep his enemy, Daley, from winning.

Polls taken in early March showed little support for Vrdolyak. But don't ignore the fact that as the Republican candidate for Cook County circuit court clerk in

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November he attracted 303,000 votes in the city. (His opponent, Aurelia Pucinski, got 687,000.)

What happened to Sawyer? Again, it wasn't a powerful performance by Daley; it was all those black voters staying home. In fact, Daley actually received fewer votes than Jane Byrne got in a losing effort two years ago. Byrne got 509,000 votes in the 1987 primary against Washington; Daley only got 484,000 this time around.

But that was still 101,000 more than Sawyer.

Overall turnout was dismal; about 61 percent of the registered voters went to the polls, the lowest figure in 10 years. The turnout in predominantly black wards dropped from 75 percent two years ago to about 50 percent.

Sawyer's biggest problem clearly was his inability to generate support in his own community. Evans' people remained bitter about the fact that Sawyer was elected acting mayor following Washington's death with the backing of white aldermen who were among Washington's biggest foes.

Nicknamed "Mayor Mumbles," Sawyer never impressed anyone with his speaking ability. And he had two major liabilities in trying to attract the white liberal support that Washington enjoyed: his failure to respond quickly when it was revealed that one of his top aides was a militant anti-Semite and the disclosure that, as an alderman, he had received what appeared to be a payoff of $30,000 from a lawyer for obtaining a zoning change.

One encouraging development in the primary was that both Sawyer and Daley stayed away from the racial issue. For the most part, their campaigns were positive, especially Daley's.

What can we expect in the future? This term is only for two years — to fill out Washington's unexpired term — so whoever wins will have to stand for election again in 1991. Both Daley and Evans seem vulnerable. Neither has significant support outside his own community.

And you can bet Vrdolyak will still be around to stir things up.

Ed McManus is an assistant editor for the Chicago Tribune.

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