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Power street map of big city life



In his book, Chicago Politics Ward By Ward, David K. Fremon discusses "down and dirty" Windy City politics. Most important Fremon presents his material with spunk, style and surprising detail.

Residents of few major cities have placed as much emphasis on their local ward or district boundaries as have Chicagoans. Historically a ward number change has often become a major political issue. To some Chicagoans ward loyalty equaled parish or neighborhood loyalty. Knowing a person's home ward gave you insight into his socioeconomic status, political preferences and cultural inclinations. Only in Chicago could a potential meaningful relationship be quashed because the other person was "W.U." (ward undesirable).

It is in this spirit that Fremon takes us through Chicago politics. He combines anecdotes and analysis with politics and personality to give us a power street map of big city life.

For the true Chicago political junkies the highlight of this book will be Fremon's insights on the impact of the court-ordered 1986 ward remap. He delivers a census track-based, precinct-by-precinct breakdown of the racial and political changes in those wards; the ward committeemen who won and lost; and speculation on how future aldermanic races might turn out. Point of order for those readers who are Republicans: This book may be somewhat depressing (though still illuminating). Chicago Republican ward committeemen are not listed, mentioned or discussed, but Fremon is an author, not an explorer.

My favorite part of this book is Fremon's use of socio/demographic data for each ward. Clearly the author knows the city through both library research and personal observation. Perceptively he depicts the major changes taking place along the lake front as new "silk stocking" upwardly mobiles replacing the old liberal party reformers.

Like a political travel editor, Fremon takes us along Broadway, a major thoroughfare in the lakefront's 44th Ward and the heart of the city's emerging gay community. In describing the street Fremon writes, "Sex is a major commodity along this strip," and then proceeds to discuss some of Broadway's more exotic commercial enterprises. The political potential of this new voting bloc has already caused dramatic changes in many politician views on gay rights. Fremon tells us the why and where of the story.

In other parts of the city Fremon is the first to clearly define the politics and neighborhoods of former Democrat-turned-Republican Ed Vrdolyak's southeast side 10th Ward. Fremon calls the ward "a collection of diverse villages" proceeds to present snapshots of the ward's different communities.

Fremon is also masterful in discussing the emergence of Hispanic power in Chicago. Again with precinct precision he explains the 1986 court-ordered new ward lines for the 26th Ward (Ald. Luis Gutierrez) and 31st Ward (Ald. Raymond Figueroa) and the spinoff effect on neighboring wards like the 32nd Ward (Congressman Dan Rostenkowski) and the 33rd (Ald. Richard Mell).

An added feature of this book is a brisk analysis of Harold Washington's 1983 at 1987 victories as well as Eugene Sawyer's

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selection as acting mayor following Washington's death in late 1987. Fremon, who writes for various city periodicals, uses his reporting skillls to recapture the essence of these historic events, the

Fremon. . . uses his reporting
Skills to recapture the essence
of these historic events, the
dynamics of the black political
movement and the new major
players in the black community

dynamics of black political movement and the new major players in the black community.

In sum Chicago Politics Ward by Ward is an energetic and ambitious book. Fremon attempts to cover much material in few pages (372, including appendices and index). At times, given his enormous topic, his overall coverage is somewhat thin. Still one would have to look very hard to find another single volume on Chicago politics that discusses (1) Ald. Dorothy Tillman's rise to prominence in the all-black south side 3rd Ward; (2) the seldom mentioned alderman and dean of the city council, Anthony Laurino, and his 39th Ward powerbase; and (3) the upcoming political and philosophical showdown in the lakefront's 46th Ward. And there is plenty more.

The book, published in late 1988 by Indiana University Press (Bloomington & Indianapolis), is softcover; cover price is $14.95.

For non-Chicagoans, especially downstaters living south of Interstate 80, Fremon's book could be used as a reference almanac. Imagine it as a kind of political guide for watching WGN-TV during a Chicago election campaign. It might even come in handy for radio listeners who want to check out certain professors during their election night pontifications on WGN radio.

Paul M. Green, director of the Institute for Public Policy and Administration, Governors State University, is co-author of the new book, Bashing Chicago Traditions: Harold Washington's Last Campaign, published by Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, Mich.

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