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Harold Washington

From dKosopedia


Our much beloved and progressive first African-American mayor of Chicago.

"Harold", as he is still sometimes affectionately referred, served as a member of the US House before winning the Democratic Primary for Mayor. His previous attempt in '77 had been unsuccessful, but he succeeded in '83 in part because then Mayor Jane Byrne and then State's Attorney Richard M. Daley split the white ethnic vote after a very bitter primary campaign. That in itself would not have been sufficient without his having a keen political sense and experience, his natural intelligence, his well-honed speaking skills, and his coalition building abilites.

His Republican opponent, Bernie Epton, ran on the slogan "vote Epton, before it's Too Late." Despite this thinnly-veiled appeal to racism, and the fact that Chicago is heavily Democratic, the election was close, with Epton taking 81% of the white vote. Nonetheless, Washington won.

His election was not accompanied by a corresonding change in the city council. Still bitter from the primary election, his old-guard machine opponents were able to generate sufficient controversy to make reform difficult. Slowly his administration was able to implement a series of policy reforms that began removing the favoritism enjoyed by the previous white ethnic communities (Irish and Polish mainly) and improving the interests of the Black and Latino communities. In the process he created a voting block out of Black, Latino and liberal/progressive White Ethnic members of City Council.

In 1987, Washington ran for re-election against Republican candidate Donald Haider and won easily. By the time of his re-election, the white ethnic block that had blocked his efforts at reform had lost too many of their seats on the city council to be a problem. Unfortuneately for his efforts at reform, he died within six months of the re-election.

After his death in 1987, the City Council met for one of the longest sessions of its history to elect a new mayor. Power in the Chicago municipal structure lies primarily with the mayor. For that reason many "machine" African-American aldermen had supported Washington for purely opportunist rather than ideological reasons. Exploiting this reality the old-guard machine was able to manuveor the election of Eugene Sawyer, another African-American, over Timothy Evans (also African-American), the candidate favored by the more reform-minded and progressive interests.

As part of the fallout of this session and the elections of 1983 and 1987, the Harold Washington Party was formed. Although short-lived, the Harold Washington Party was a foil to the Democrats in several elections.

Harold Washington lies burried at Oak Ridge Cemetary.

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This page was last modified 16:25, 10 October 2007 by dKosopedia user Jbet777. Based on work by SitboCracg, Andrew Oh-Willeke and Jeff Wegerson and dKosopedia user(s) Allamakee Democrat and Maxomai. Content is available under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License.

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