Don Benedict died yesterday. He led a long and glorious 90-year life as a minister and civil rights and antiwar activist.
He created urban ministries in New York, Cleveland, and Detroit before coming to Chicago in 1960 as executive director of the Community Renewal Society; as the head of CRS he gave John McDermott the green light and financial support to create the Chicago Reporter.
I remember Benedict best for the long-shot aldermanic campaign he waged back in 1987 against 33rd Ward alderman Richard Mell.
Calling himself an agent for change, Benedict ran with the support of Mayor Harold Washington. In reality, Benedict and his ragtag collection of independents didn’t stand a chance against Mell’s army of city, state, and county patronage workers. Benedict ran fairly well in the Lathrop Homes and the precincts around the Logan Memorial, but other than that Mell crushed him, racking up about 77 percent of the vote. Not long after the election, residents who lived in the mansions along Logan Boulevard, where Benedict had strong support, asked Mell to resurface their street. He told them to ask Don Benedict to pave it. If nothing else, Benedict got under Mell’s skin.
Actually, Benedict provided a service for Washington, who was running for reelection against former mayor Jane Byrne. By keeping Mell’s troops preoccupied so they couldn’t venture into other wards to campaign for Byrne, Benedict helped Washington win. As I recall, there weren’t many tears at Benedict’s headquarters on election night.
I wish he had won. The man had class and courage. He’d have been the gutsiest alderman since Leon Despres.