Harold Washington’s heir apparent was not an individual but a movement–a movement for racial fairness, economic justice, human rights, and open, accessible government.
But when Washington passed away, if one individual could lay claim to being his successor, it was clearly Fourth Ward Alderman Timothy Evans.
Within the first year of Washington’s mayoralty, Evans had emerged as his de facto floor leader in the City Council. By the end of the second year, Washington had made Evans the head of his political organization (PEP, or Political Education Project). After three years, when Washington gained control of the Council, Evans–easily one of the brightest, most articulate, and best-educated members of the Washington bloc–was a natural choice to take on the most important and difficult committee assignment, as head of the Finance Committee.
After Washington’s untimely death, all of his former Council supporters–except six black aldermen who had more in common with the mayor’s color than with his agenda–cast their votes for Tim Evans. Although Eugene Sawyer was elected acting mayor, his support, except for those six, came from Washington’s former Council adversaries.
Evans’s record of consistently being tapped by Washington for key leadership roles is now one of his political assets. Ironically, it is also one of his liabilities. For years the public perceived Tim Evans as a spokesman for Harold Washington. Now that Washington is gone, many voters are unsure where Washington ended and Evans began.
After all, like Washington, Evans got his start in politics through the Democratic Party machine. He was originally sponsored for government work by powerful Fourth Ward Alderman Claude Holman, a man who proudly announced shortly before his death in 1973, “I am a puppet for Mayor Daley.” When Evans ran to succeed Holman in the special election later that year, the Tribune, while acknowledging that he was “not without qualifications,” pronounced Evans, too, a “puppet.”
During his decade as alderman and committeeman before Washington’s election in 1983, Evans remained with the regular Democratic organization–although not as a puppet. As early as his 1975 reelection campaign, a Sun-Times endorsement stated, “Evans has proven himself to be an intelligent, articulate alderman who has broken with the Democratic administration on key issues. He should be an active voice in the eventual restructuring of the party.”
That same year, Evans was one of only two regular Democrats (Clifford Kelley was the other) endorsed for City Council by the Committee for a Black Mayor, chaired by labor leader (now U.S. congressman) Charles Hayes.
Still, Evans remained unquestionably a regular. Like all regulars, he nearly always voted with Mayor Daley. Under mayors Bilandic and Byrne he did speak up more often, and increasingly cast independent votes, especially on issues involving civil rights, food aid for the needy, and converting the City Council from a rubber stamp into a semblance of a legislature. But according to the University of Illinois Office of Social Science Research, Evans still voted with the administration on most divided roll-call votes, albeit less so over time. He parted with Bilandic on only one of every eight disputed votes. Under Byrne his dissents doubled to one out of every four divided votes.
In December 1981, columnist Vernon Jarrett, no fan of Evans when he first ran, praised him for “tak[ing] the leadership in trying to block” Jane Byrne’s ward remap in City Council. “Evans could have chosen to remain quiet,” Jarrett observed, “and be a good boy–like 10 other black aldermen–and stand in line for a few of the crumbs . . .” But instead, Jarrett contended, Evans fought the map “because it would only maintain the present level, if not reduce, the number of blacks in the City Council.”
“Does this mean that Evans no longer considers himself a regular Democrat?” Jarrett asked. He quoted Evans’s answer: “‘I am a regular Democrat and I remain a Democratic ward committeeman. But I never have considered myself anything other than a man.'”
By the end of Byrne’s administration, Evans was a man wrestling with his future, clearly discontented but not yet ready to make a complete break. In the spring of 1982 he warned on WIND radio that there would be a “strong black candidate in the race in 1983.” Yet only a month earlier, under intense pressure from Byrne, he and several other committeemen had switched their support for chairman of the county party from George Dunne to Ed Vrdolyak.
In November 1982, within hours of Harold Washington’s announcement of his candidacy, Evans became only the third committeeman (after Eugene Sawyer and Hyde Park’s independent Alan Dobry) to endorse Washington for mayor. “Washington is committed to turning this city around,” Evans told the Sun-Times.
But Evans did not play a central role in Washington’s campaign, and his aldermanic reelection race may have influenced at least the timing of his mayoral endorsement. He was facing a stiff challenge from a Washington supporter. He later won, but only after a runoff.
Once Washington won, Evans became part of the bloc that supported the mayor’s progressive reform agenda and, as is mentioned above, also came to occupy important leadership posts. But largely because of his mixed record before 1983, legitimate questions have been asked. Was his evolution genuine? Was the progressive Tim Evans merely a mayoral mouthpiece, or had he crossed the river from the machine to the movement?
Most of Washington’s closest political allies believe Evans is indeed truly committed to their multiracial, progressive coalition. Except for Alderman Luis Gutierrez (whose reasons for defecting to Daley appear to have little to do with Evans), Washington’s most prominent progressive friends stand solidly with Evans.
One of them, veteran independent and former Fifth Ward Alderman Leon Despres, knew Evans as a City Council colleague in the early 1970s; as Council parliamentarian from 1979 through 1987, he also observed Evans both before and after Washington’s election. “He’s not an opportunist,” says Despres. “He’s a person of quality, of integrity, of probity.”
In Despres’ view, Evans was “relieved” when Washington came in. Freed from the “tight constraints” that the machine placed on black regulars, he was “wholeheartedly” with the Washington movement.
“When you were there in City Council you could sense without any difficulty the aldermen who were with Harold Washington because they had to be, and those who were with him with enthusiasm and energy. Evans was enthusiastic.”
One of Despres’ successors, current Fifth Ward Alderman Larry Bloom, agrees that Evans “has internalized the progressive agenda. I don’t have any worries about his reverting to the machine if he is elected mayor.”
Another of the Council’s most committed reformers, 49th Ward Alderman David Orr, explains that “in the 1983 to ’87 battles, some people in the Washington coalition wanted to quash the reform wing of the coalition. Tim Evans was on the reform side.”
Washington’s election, Orr says, “liberated Tim. From 1983 to now–six years–Tim Evans has been there on about every major social and reform issue. Not only voting right, but doing it in a responsible manner. On ethics, for example, Tim Evans wasn’t one of those people behind the scenes, trying to jam things. On the Human Rights Ordinance, he wasn’t a last-minute convert. On affordable housing, he was consistently there. He’s got it in his gut.”
Not everyone agrees. Washington’s former campaign treasurer, attorney Robert Hallock, while serving as Sawyer’s treasurer last fall, labeled Evans a “political opportunist.” Noting that Evans had been paid handsomely for his work in the Washington political apparatus, Hallock asked rhetorically, “If he was so dedicated to Harold Washington’s ideals, why didn’t he donate his time like the rest of us?”
A number of Tribune stories and editorials in recent years have also charged that Evans is not truly committed to City Council reform, to the housing needs of the poor, or to economic development.
Coming from Washington’s campaign treasurer and from responsible reporters, these charges merit careful consideration. Each of them will be addressed in more detail below.
In the 16 months since the late mayor’s passing, Evans has had an opportunity to compile a record of his own. He has shown a continuing commitment to multiracial, coalition politics. His closest allies are progressives–not only blacks like Alderman Bobby Rush, but also whites and Latinos like aldermen Helen Shiller, Jesus Garcia, and Ray Figueroa. He was the earliest and most outspoken black leader to denounce Steven Cokely’s racist and anti-Semitic remarks. Under heavy pressure from powerful advocates of “black unity” to endorse Eugene Sawyer in the primary, he refused, citing his commitment to coalition politics, not racial politics.
Evans has also stuck to the progressive and reform stands he espoused under Washington. When Sawyer’s administration threatened to undo the Shakman decree’s ban on patronage hiring, Evans not only opposed that effort, but introduced an ordinance to incorporate the ban into city law, where it would remain binding even if the federal court decree were undone. When housing groups asked for more money for the homeless and the ill-housed, Evans supported them against Sawyer and pro-Daley aldermen. When the City Club proposed a package of City Council ethics and accountability reforms, Evans immediately endorsed their package and called for a preelection vote, while Sawyer and Daley delayed and equivocated.
Evans attributes his political direction over the last 16 months partly to his apprenticeship with Washington during the preceding four years: “I was just privileged to get a chance to work with him and to learn from him.”
Now Evans aspires to succeed Washington in leading the “movement.” Asked what that means, he answers that “the movement is not one person, it’s not any one group of persons. It’s not something that can be characterized only in political terms. The movement is a coalition of individuals and groups all across this city, connected to other groups beyond. It includes the civil rights movement, those who believe in economic fairness, and those who believe in the kind of open and fair government that is inclusive and does not exclude anyone. It’s a philosophy that says government ought to exist to help people who need that kind of help. . . . It is not black or white or Hispanic or Asian by itself. But it includes all those. It includes labor. It includes the gay and lesbian community. It includes people with famous names and people with no name at all that anybody would recognize.
“I always assumed that it was somewhere out there being headed by people named Rosa Parks and Dr. King and all the famous organizations across the world. . . . As I have moved along and gotten older, and I hope wiser at the same time, I have discovered that the movement is not out there anywhere. It’s us.
“And I think the more I see people around me work, the more I can see something that I do fitting into the larger scheme of things. I know that I am just a part of a vehicle that is the movement. Harold was not the movement either. He was part of that vehicle. It’s just that sometimes ordinary people are given a chance to do extraordinary things. And the reason why they can do that has less to do with themselves and more to do with this movement that molds at the same time it motivates.”
Evans’s evolution from machine politician to movement leader is traced in the remainder of this article, covering his machine years under mayors Daley and Bilandic; the beginning of his break under Mayor Jane Byrne; his ties to the movement before and during the Washington years; his record since Washington’s death; and charges by his critics.
In the Machine
Richard J. Daley had been mayor only one term when Tim Evans’s mother moved the family to Chicago from Hot Springs, Arkansas. Within a few years young Evans was passing out literature in his first political campaign, for family friend (and fellow former Arkansan) Glenn Johnson, who was running to be a judge.
It must have been quite a change in Evans’s life: from a still officially segregated south, where blacks were kept out of just about everything, to Mayor Daley’s Chicago, where blacks were welcomed into the regular Democratic organization. Black men like Fourth Ward boss Claude Holman, who was both alderman and Democratic Party committeeman, could even become political cronies of the Boss himself.
While still in John Marshall Law School, and while his wife Thelma was in medical school, Evans met Holman, a Marshall alumnus. Holman asked them to help in a reading program for Fourth Ward kids. They agreed.
When Evans graduated, Holman sponsored him for a series of government jobs–assistant corporation counsel, deputy commissioner in the city Department of Investigation, and hearing officer for the Secretary of State. Evans began working a precinct for Holman. Though not officially an officer, he rose to become a de facto leader in the Fourth Ward organization.
When Holman died in 1973, the precinct captains unanimously selected Evans to run for his seat in City Council. According to David Fremon in Chicago Politics: Ward by Ward, the captains wanted to give Holman’s ward committeeman post to someone else, but Daley overruled them and slated Evans for that job too.
Running against Hattie Williams, a Girl Scout organizer and civil rights activist supported by KOCO (the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization), machine-backed Evans was elected alderman in November 1973 by well over a 2-1 margin.
“I viewed the machine as a vehicle for getting involved in the political decision-making process,” Evans explains. “I always thought it could be changed from within. I thought, somehow, as a young man, that someone was at the controls of that machine who had blinders on, who failed to realize that there was something going on in this country, in this city, that was being ignored by the machine. And all one had to do was get involved with it, work hard enough to reach the controls, and one could then importune those operating the machine and let them see the error of their ways. And reorient that machine so that it would work for good.
“I discovered that there were others who felt the same way. Ralph Metcalfe . . . Harold Washington . . . Seymour Simon. People of principle were trying to redirect the machine, but one by one, they had to climb out again. No one was listening. Not only weren’t they listening, I discovered, no one wanted to hear what we had to say. They actually knew all that I thought they were ignoring.”
Evans’s 1973 campaign was blessed by a visit to the Fourth Ward by Mayor Daley himself. The occasion was provided by a pair of odd ceremonial bedfellows: the ground-breaking for the Martin Luther King Community Service Center, where Daley hoisted a shovel, and the renaming of a local health center as the Claude Holman Health Center. Daley lauded Holman, while machine aldermen worked the crowd to get out the vote for Evans.
Despite this largesse, Evans credits his election not to Daley but to “the little folk, people who worked with me. . . . We didn’t receive political donations from Richard J. Daley. We didn’t go down to invite him to come out and campaign for us.
“Clearly, I was a Democrat and Daley was the chairman of the party, but I can recall on the day following my election someone said to me, ‘There’s the mayor, and he’s coming over to congratulate the Democratic winners. Why don’t you say thank you?’ And I said, for what? He wasn’t actively involved in my race. ‘Yeah, but he’s the chairman of the party.'”
“And I said, well that is true; and the mayor came down, he congratulated me, and I thanked him for congratulating me. But I never thanked him for participating in the race, because he didn’t.”
Even so, by six months into his term, the Tribune was calling Evans one of the regulars “who support the Daley organization virtually without question.”
But not literally without question. Evans recounts one early exchange with Daley’s powerful floor leader, 31 st Ward Alderman Tom Keane. “I can’t even remember exactly what the circumstances were, but I was disagreeing with him. Tom Keane turned to me and said, ‘Young man you are new to this Council. I’ve been here x number of years. How dare you speak to me in those tones? How dare you challenge us on the floor of this Council? And more than that, have you talked to your committeeman about your stance?’
Of course Evans was the Fourth Ward committeeman. He explains, “He was confusing me with Gerald Jones, who was also black and about my age and who had come into the Council in a special election at the same time. Jones was from the Seventh Ward. His committeeman was Joseph Bertrand [later city treasurer].
“And before I could answer, Keane said, ‘Before this matter is voted on, go and talk to your committeeman and get back to me.’ So I looked at him and we went on and the matter came up for a vote, and I voted against him. He asked, ‘Did you talk to your committeeman?’ I said, ‘Yes I did. And my committeeman said it was all right.'”
But Evans’s committeeman was not usually so independent. Under Daley, recalls former independent 44th Ward Alderman Dick Simpson, “In City Council Tim was always a person we could go to and discuss the issues with. He was sympathetic to what we brought him, and seemed to agonize over the issues. But in the end he was caught in the machine. He voted with the Daley bloc.”
Daley died in December 1976. He was succeeded by the alderman from Daley’s 11th Ward, Michael Bilandic, under whom Evans wandered a little farther from the machine. “One particular issue comes to mind immediately,” he recalls. “It was clear to me that the Police Department had not reached out to the community at large. . . . They were discriminating. . .”
Beginning in 1973, federal lawsuits had charged that Chicago police hiring and promotion tests and standards discriminated against blacks, Latinos, and women. By 1977 the suits had prevailed at the trial-court level, and the city had to decide whether to press an appeal.
“I recall speaking out against that kind of conduct and people were ignoring what I was saying, acting like what I said, first, did not matter, and second, it didn’t matter that I was saying it. And by that time I was both an alderman and a committeeman, and nobody was listening.
“The only way we got Bilandic to finally listen, is Bilandic was himself a candidate following the death of Mayor Daley, and I raised the issue at a slate-making session where it could not be ignored. Everybody looked around at me, my fellow committeemen. ‘Hey, do you realize you’re confronting the mayor of Chicago on an issue this delicate, and you’re doing it right in front of the press?’ I realize that; now’s the time to do it.
“And I thought, well surely they know I’m doing the right thing. They didn’t, they didn’t. And even though we were able to get Bilandic under those circumstances to change his position, and to refuse to appeal the district court decision that found that people really were discriminated against, I got the distinct impression that this was not going to be a victory for the city that would permeate through to all levels in the machine.”
This was neither Evans’s first nor his last civil rights stand during his years in the machine. The very first ordinance he proposed, within one week of his election in 1973, was a new Fair Employment Practices ordinance that would deny city contracts to employers who engaged in racially discriminatory employment practices.
Six months later Evans, joined with most blacks and independents in supporting Leon Despres’ effort to deny an awning permit to the posh Lake Shore Club, on the ground that it discriminated against blacks and Jews. In the Council debate Evans argued that “the issue is not too small to be dealt with as an instrument against discrimination.”
In July 1977 Evans joined independent 43rd Ward Alderman Martin Oberman to cosponsor a resolution–which then passed by unanimous voice vote–condemning apartheid in South Africa and urging Chicagoans not to buy Krugerrands.
Soon thereafter Evans became outspoken on the issue of school desegregation in Chicago. A September 1977 Tribune article, headlined “Evans asks Bilandic to push busing plan” (and written by current Daley campaign aide David Axelrod), reported that Evans “became the first administration alderman to openly urge Bilandic to take a more active stand in favor of the busing program.”
Evans’s statement came one day after three Council independents–Dick Simpson, Martin Oberman, and Ross Lathrop of the Fifth Ward–had taken such a stand. Evans then became one of only two black aldermen to cosponsor a Council resolution offered by the three independents, asserting that “racial integration is constitutionally and morally required,” and calling on the mayor and Council to “firmly support the voluntary transfer plan.” A few days later, 13 black aldermen endorsed a slightly watered-down version.
The significance of Evans’s early civil rights positions should not be overstated. Evans was a regular, not an independent. Former alderman Oberman, a supporter of Daley in last month’s primary election, recently told the Tribune, “In a city whose most fundamental problems dealt with race and discrimination, the fact that we had 15 or 16 black aldermen who were unwilling to stand up for black issues was amazing. The only memory I have of Evans is that he was as undistinguished as the rest of them.”
That is not entirely fair. It’s certainly true that Evans usually ended up voting with Daley and Bilandic. But he did speak up more often and more consistently than most of the machine blacks. If the question is whether he comes lately, and opportunistically, to some of the progressive views he now espouses, the evidence suggests not. He was at least expressing those views when other black aldermen thought it wiser to keep silent.
Much the same can be said of Evans’s record during his machine years on several other issues that later became central in the Washington reform agenda.
Health and nutrition aid for the poor is one area where Evans–whose ward contains neighborhoods devastated by poverty–showed early interest. When first elected he announced that his wife, Dr. Thelma Evans, would chair a ward health committee to plan a program to find and treat high blood pressure among his constituents. In 1978, under Bilandic, Evans was one of only two regulars to join a handful of independent aldermen in cosponsoring repeated measures to provide more food aid for the hungry.
Upgrading the City Council into a true legislative body was another area of Evans’s interest. Under Bilandic he joined a group of ten regulars who came to be known as the “Reluctant Rebels.” After several meetings they produced a modest set of procedural recommendations, including a numbering system for Council legislation, broadening the Council’s power to monitor city billing practices, creating a committee to update the municipal code, and allowing each alderman to hire a legislative assistant to assist in reviewing the city budget. All of this, Evans explained to the Tribune, went toward the goal of making the Council a “co-equal branch of government. . . . What we have now is a group of aldermen who want to be legislators. We didn’t have that before.”
The Byrne Years
Evans’s hopes were raised in 1979 when Jane Byrne, promising to reform the machine, ousted the 11th Ward from the mayor’s office for the first time in half a century. He saw a “wonderful opportunity for her, in my view, to reorient that machine, to have it function for good. She said she wanted to change things. She had blacks and whites and Hispanics and Asians, she had talked about labor playing a greater role, She had given some recognition to the gay and lesbian community. She was a woman without saying that she was in the race just because she was a woman.
“And I thought, well this is great. We’re going to see some changes. She started to reach out to people like Leon Despres and Tim Black and Nancy Jefferson and she was promising to respect the opinions of Dick Simpson, for example, people that we knew very well. . . .”
In the February 1979 primary, Evans’s ward went heavily for Byrne. In April, he was rewarded with a new City Council committee chairmanship–the Health Committee.
Once Byrne took office, however, her tune changed. “Then I noticed Vrdolyak, Burke, all the people she had railed against, finally getting their chance to make the final decisions, oozing right in again, and taking control of the vehicle once again.”
Evans soon found himself repeatedly at odds with Byrne on issues of public controversy. In May, after Byrne’s much criticized appointment of Dr. Hugo Muriel as health commissioner, Evans used his new committee post to propose that City Council approval be required for the deputy health commissioner, Byrne parried by naming a new deputy within days, before Evans’s ordinance could be heard.
In June, Byrne announced that she had lined up enough votes in City Council to confirm former New York police commissioner Patrick Murphy as Chicago police superintendent. Evans was quoted in the press saying that black aldermen would prefer a Chicagoan. Naming acting superintendent Sam Nolan (who is black), Evans predicted a hot debate. As for Byrne”s supposed City Council head count, he commented, “If there was such a survey going on, I’d expect to be contacted.”
He hadn’t been. Nor had most aldermen. Murphy never got the job.
As he had under Bilandic, Evans also staked out a position opposed to the mayor on school desegregation, although now in the company of other black aldermen. In April he joined six other black aldermen (led by Clifford Kelley) in a resolution urging the school board to dump Superintendent Joseph Hannon for his alleged “dogmatic refusal” to carry out desegregation requirements. In September, Evans joined 11 black aldermen (again led by Kelley) in calling for censure of the board for giving Hannon a pay raise, and urging the Council to condemn Hannon as an obstacle to desegregation.
Ten months later, Evans drafted an ordinance–opposed by Byrne–to require Chicago schoolteachers to live in the city. The school board had imposed a residency rule for new teachers, but it allowed current teachers living in the suburbs to remain there. Evans’s ordinance sought to close that loophole.
In June of 1980, Evans joined another group of aldermen similar to the “Reluctant Rebels” under Bilandic. This time it was called the “Legislative Study Group,” and its membership was expanded to include independents, bringing the total to 18 aldermen. Evans, elected as the group’s initial chairman and spokesman, assured the press that it was not “anti anybody.” Alderman Oberman described it in terms strikingly reminiscent of Evans’s statements three years earlier about the Reluctant Rebels. “It’s a good start,” Oberman said, “if it means the aldermen are going to function as real legislators . . .”
That same summer brought Byrne’s ChicagoFest and a series of highly publicized incidents of police brutality, at the fest and elsewhere. In August the Reverend Jesse Jackson and Operation PUSH called on the Justice Department to investigate police brutality in Chicago. Joining them at the press conference were three black aldermen–Niles Sherman, Eugene Sawyer, and Tim Evans.
Meanwhile, State Senator Richard Daley (who was having his own differences with Byrne) had announced for state’s attorney. In the early 1980 primary Daley beat Byrne’s candidate, Ed Burke, and in the November general election he beat Republican Bernard Carey, whom Byrne tacitly supported.
In this battle between Daley and Byrne, Evans sided with Daley. His choice, however, appears to have been more an assertion of independence from Byrne than of affection for Daley. In late October, less than two weeks before the general election, Byrne charged Daley with complicity in 11th Ward housing discrimination against blacks. Although still backing Daley, Evans told the Sun-Times that Byrne’s charges “will have a devastating effect on Daley’s candidacy unless he can respond in a way to clear the air.”
Daley denied the charges, and Byrne stumbled in her attempts to back them up. Daley won.
Not long after Daley’s election, Byrne insulted the black community by naming two white women to replace blacks on the school board. In April the City Council–with the support of five black aldermen–confirmed the appointments. In May more than 1,000 people attended a south-side rally where the 11 black aldermen who voted against the nominees–including Evans–were presented with plaques praising their “leadership, consistency and service.”
Ominous statements were made by one speaker at the rally, Congressman Harold Washington. “No black person in this city has any power,” he told the crowd. “Some of us have prestige and some of us have stature, but we don’t have power.”
The power, he said, was “downtown.”
The momentum was building. Black activist and radio journalist Lu Palmer, while blasting the five black loyalists, noted that “11 voted against Mayor Byrne and I don’t know when there’s been a vote like that in the City Council.”
Byrne’s school-board appointments were not the only ones that riled Evans and the black community. Evans says, for example, that he “watched her put people on the board at CHA who had . . . no experience at all dealing with public housing . . . had no conception of what it’s like to be in a corridor having to walk up 15 flights in the dark with people on all floors, or on any floor, waiting sort of like highwaymen for you to come through there with your bags or groceries or with your daughters or with your sons who were in the wrong gang or in no gang. These were not people who were coming to cure the problems of public housing. These were people who were coming there to do the bidding of the power brokers.”
Despite these repeated public clashes, Evans continued to side with Byrne on many issues. In July 1981, as Health Committee chair, he even got Byrne to join him in sponsoring a nursing-home-reform law, including a “patient’s bill of rights.”
Nonetheless, Evans’s repeated affronts, including his support of Daley, were not forgotten when the time came for the Byrne administration to draw up a new ward map in 1981. Byrne’s remap was designed (in part by former alderman Tom Keane) for two purposes: (1) to protect white incumbents, by minimizing the number of new black and Hispanic wards resulting from population shifts, and (2) to chasten certain aldermen who, like Evans, had been insufficiently docile.
Saying he opposed the remap for both reasons, Evans’s current campaign literature contends that he “led the fight on the ward remap.” Former Alderman Clifford Kelley, one of the plaintiffs who successfully sued to overturn the remap, recently told the Tribune that Evans’s claim is “total unadulterated bull.” But it may depend on which remap fight is meant. Kelley is correct that Evans cannot claim a leadership role in the lawsuit, in which he was not a plaintiff (although he did testify in the trial in late 1982). But the record does support Evans’s claim of a leadership role in the fight against the remap in City Council.
The map was first presented to most aldermen in late October 1981. It passed its first floor test on November 13 by a vote of 34 to 15, with 8 black aldermen in support. Following up with an article on those “Ornery 8,” the Defender quoted one of them, Alderman Eugene Sawyer, candidly explaining, “The city’s map is not bad for me.”
Among the opponents of the map, Alderman Evans was quoted saying, “Someone is attempting to turn the clock back–perhaps even to smash it, but we will see in 1982 and 1983.”
On November 28, a front-page Sun-Times story led with Evans saying that at least ten aldermen had agreed on an alternative map, based on a Chicago Urban League draft that would create more black and Hispanic wards. Byrne’s map ignored the black community, Evans charged, predicting that she would discover widespread black resentment in the February 1983 mayoral primary.
On November 30 the alternative map failed to pass, and a revised version of the Byrne map passed by a vote of 29-7.
Two days later Vernon Jarrett’s column credited Evans with having “taken the leadership in trying to block the Byrne map.” Saying “I must admire” Evans’s stand, Jarrett wrote, “Keep in mind that under the [Byrne] map . . . Evans could run for reelection and win. It might take a little more work than under the old map, but the pundits believe that Evans easily could keep his seat.”
(As noted earlier, Evans did run and win under the new map in 1983, but only after being forced into a runoff.)
Evans now comments that “everybody conceded that the map was not designed for political empowerment for the citizens and residents of this city, but was designed, they say, to protect incumbents, but I would add, to specifically demonstrate that it was possible to discriminate. . . . And those of us who were speaking up against it were told, ‘You don’t matter. Nobody’s going to be listening to you. We’re protecting the incumbencies of your colleagues, and they’re going to vote for this map no matter what you do. And oh, by the way, since you are raising some legitimate points, if you will tell us what your map should look like in your ward and will agree to support the map, then everything will be fine. You’ll be happy, and your colleagues will be happy, and we’ll have a map that everybody will support.”
“Anyone can see under those circumstances,” Evans concludes, “that the machine is headed for a cliff, nobody’s going to stop it from going over that cliff, and it’s time to get out. That’s what happened.”
In the Movement
In 1968, the year Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated and a stormy Democratic National Convention was held in Chicago, Tim Evans was a 25-year-old law student.
After King’s murder, young blacks rioted in cities across the country, including Chicago. Mayor Daley responded by ordering police to “shoot to kill” looters.
A few months later at the Democratic convention here, violent clashes–described by a subsequent official investigation as a “police riot”–took place between Chicago police and demonstrators protesting the Vietnam War.
“As a law student,” Evans remembers, “I saw a mayor who was able to describe what was later dubbed a police riot as a proper response. I saw that same apparatus respond in a cold and callous way when Dr. King had been assassinated and people were, out of deep pain and frustration . . . reacting in a way that led someone to say, ‘They’re stealing property, they’re burning property, shoot to kill.’ . . . I thought at first it must be some kind of bluster . . . surely somebody’s going to say, ‘Well you know I didn’t mean that. I didn’t mean that if they’re stealing televisions, that’s tantamount to giving you the right to kill that person. I don’t really mean that the ten-year-old who sees his friends doing this, who’s not a thief–but who sees somebody drop something that belongs to somebody else and he picks it up, you just shoot him.’ Yeah, I saw that.”
One year later, under the direction of Democratic State’s Attorney Edward Hanrahan, Chicago police burst into the apartment of Chicago Black Panther Party leader Fred Hampton, killing him in his bed. A federal lawsuit charging that the police and the state’s attorney had violated Hampton’s civil rights was later settled for $1.85 million.
Evans saw that, too. “I saw our party wrap its arms around a guy named Hanrahan, who thought it was all right to conduct himself and his office in a way that could in effect condone homicide.”
Black public officials in Chicago saw these events, too. But most of them held back, afraid to challenge the Daley machine, which had nurtured, profited, and–ultimately–controlled most of them.
Finally, in the fall of 1972, one prominent black beneficiary of the Daley machine dared to break ranks.
For U.S. Congressman Ralph Metcalfe, the last straws were the police beatings of two prominent black dentists–one of them Metcalfe’s finance chair. Metcalfe announced his opposition to the reelection of Hanrahan. Many black voters deserted the machine, and Republican Bernard Carey won the office of state’s attorney. Daley was incensed.
At about that time a meeting of black politicians and activists convened at Army and Lou’s restaurant on East 75th Street. Among many others, Harold Washington and Tim Evans were in attendance.
Years later, in 1984 or 1985, Washington and Evans were riding in the mayor’s car. Evans recalls Washington “telling me that one of the first speeches he ever heard me utter was at that meeting at Army and Lou’s. I was suggesting that Ralph Metcalfe was correct, and he knew that I was ‘the newest thing in the room,’ is the way he [Washington] described it. This was something that I frankly had not remembered Harold Washington had attended. But he said that even then he saw something different about the approach I was taking.”
About a year after that meeting Evans was elected to City Council. In his first week in office, he told the Tribune that he was working with district police commanders to improve the quality of officers in the Fourth Ward. “We want officers with a high level of sensitivity, not those with a brutal approach, and that includes both black and white.”
Police-community relations were also part of the background of Evans’s decision, during his first aldermanic term, to assist an outspoken progressive and former Black Panther Party leader, Bobby Rush, in his 1975 campaign to unseat the machine hack alderman of the Second Ward, William Barnett.
Like a number of other former Panthers, by the mid-1970s Rush had become more mainstream in his political approach although still firmly committed to the needs of the poor and minorities. In 1975 he first ran against Barnett. Although he lost, he came within a few hundred votes of forcing a runoff.
Eight years later the same movement that elected Harold Washington mayor elected Bobby Rush Second Ward alderman. Since then, according to political writer David Fremon, Rush “has been anything but strident on the Council floor. He generally is considered an effective representative of his community and one of the Council’s few real reformers.”
In 1975, however, most regular Democrats would not have had the slightest interest in helping Rush. Mayor Daley would have blanched.
But Evans was different. Back in Rush’s Panther days, although Evans did not know him, “I knew of him. I had talked to various people who knew Bobby and I knew [Fred] Hampton’s brother, who knew Bobby.” After being elected alderman, Evans met Rush through their mutual acquaintances. From time to time “we would talk and exchange points of view.”
By the time Rush ran against Barnett, “I knew that Bobby Rush had moved forward from where most people saw him,” Evans explains. “I think most people had him trapped in a moment in time, politically and socially and otherwise, when clearly Bobby Rush was moving beyond his ties with the Black Panther movement, but continued his commitment to try to help people who were not able to help themselves. One of the things that we talked about was a program that they had which fed people who were hungry. Just that simple. And that was the Bobby Rush that I knew, that I thought could make a difference.”
Rush remembers Evans’s calling and suggesting that they meet to discuss the campaign. To avoid Barnett’s (and Daley’s) notice, they met at the Wendy’s on Cedar Street. “We talked about changes that might be possible in the city,” says Evans, “talked about people who were seemingly trapped under their sets of circumstances, locked out of the process.
“I didn’t attempt in any way to impose my ‘will’ in the Second Ward, as though I had any way of determining the outcome of that race. It wasn’t that kind of assistance. But I knew something about organizing and I shared that with Bobby. I knew something about the issues and I had what I thought was some vision on how we might solve some of the problems. . . . I just thought that he was a man interested in my ideas about what we might do for people who were similarly situated to the people in my ward.
“We had similar problems,” Evans says. “The El Rukn gangs were known as the Blackstone Rangers at that time, and they were active in my ward and in Bobby’s ward. We both also had highly affluent areas in our wards. Bobby had Prairie Shore and Lake Meadows and so forth. I had Kenwood and Hyde Park.
“I wanted to help, at a time when people were saying that our areas were going to be no more, and that’s what everybody assumed. They said the developers are going to come into the Fourth Ward, the Second Ward, they’re going to wipe out the people who are there and no one will know what happened to those people, and instead you’re going to have a wall of high rises and you’re going to have people scattered to the wind.”
By election day Evans was sharing more than ideas. “He had some of his precinct captains help out in two precincts in the southeast corner of my ward on election day,” Rush remembers. “They might have been the only two I carried.”
Rush, who is now one of Evans’s closest allies, needs no convincing that Evans’s avowedly progressive convictions over the last six years are for real. “Without a doubt,” Rush says, “he’s committed to open and progressive government.”
Real estate speculation may also have led to Evans’s first official encounter with Harold Washington. It took place in a small church near 49th and Vincennes, in Evans’s ward.
“I had not expected him to be there. . . . This was shortly after I had been elected in ’73 and there was a problem with an abandoned building in the area . . . purely a local matter, and my residents were interested in getting this particular building torn down. Apparently the owner of the building had been promising to rehab it and it became crystal clear that the owner was not going to rehab the building, and further may have been attempting to get title to other buildings on that same block, as a result of the reduction in market value, solely from the abandoned building that was there.
“So my residents had called me to come to this meeting as kind of an emergency matter. . . . I remember walking into church and getting to the pulpit where the minister was and seeing Representative Washington.”
The church was not in Washington’s district. So Evans “had not expected to see him there. No one had told me he was going to be there.
“We had not known each other well, and I said hello to him and he said hello to me, and instead of the minister introducing me [to the congregation], state representative Harold Washington introduced me. And he introduced me, even then, as–I want to get this straight–the first fellow from our community who will be the mayor of the city of Chicago.”
Evans didn’t take Washington’s introduction literally, of course, but the rookie alderman was nonetheless appreciative of being paid the “highest possible compliment” before his constituents.
(Not for nothing did Washington later, himself, earn that “highest possible compliment.”)
A decade later Washington won the February 1983 Democratic mayoral primary, beating Byrne and Daley. In that same primary, Evans, who had endorsed Washington three months earlier, faced four opponents. Among them was Toni Hood Preckwinkle, another Washington supporter, who had been endorsed by the IVI-IPO (Independent Voters of Illinois-Independent Precinct Organization). Evans came out in front with 46 percent–short of 50.1 percent, and therefore not enough to avoid a runoff against runner-up Preckwinkle.
In the runoff between his two supporters, Washington made no endorsement. Although Preckwinkle carried a number of traditionally independent Hyde Park precincts, Evans’s margins in the rest of the ward overwhelmed his opponent. He was elected with 11,200 votes to her 8,500.
No sooner was Evans reelected than Council Wars began in earnest. Washington and Vrdolyak had lined up their respective blocs, negotiators for both sides were haggling over Council rules and committee chairmanships, and each side was suing the other over who had the legal right to reorganize the Council.
In this setting Evans made at least one public stab at heading off the impasse. The Sun-Times reported that on May 12, “a Washington ally, Timothy C. Evans (4th), urged the mayor to recognize Vrdolyak as the opposition leader in face-to-face ‘hardball’ negotiations.”
But, the same article also reported, “Washington and Vrdolyak have refused one-on-one talks to settle the fight.” Evans’s public urging changed neither man’s mind.
When that overture failed, Evans took the offensive for Washington. He became the spokesman for a pro-Washington group urging Democratic public officials to boycott the official Cook County Democratic Party dinner set for May 25 by party chairman Vrdolyak. At a press conference of 14 aldermen, committeemen, and county commissioners, Evans combined political euphemism with progressive rhetoric, declaring, “The leadership of the Democratic Party has oriented the Democratic Party apparatus in opposition to the legitimate programs of Mayor Harold Washington and against the interests and aspirations of the urban masses who helped to elect him.”
Instead of going to Vrdolyak’s dinner, Evans’s group urged Democrats to attend a “strategy” session, to be held at the same time at Army and Lou’s.
The boycott was a failure among whites–the dinner raised more money than the previous year’s–but a success among blacks. Only a few attended, and of those only 16th Ward Committeeman James Taylor and Sanitary District trustee Thomas Fuller would own up to their names.
Meanwhile a crowd of 150, including all 16 black aldermen, jammed into Army and Lou’s to hear the mayor and other speakers. The fight wasn’t over race, Washington assured them. “It’s good versus evil.”
Reform, declared the mayor, “is no Mickey Mouse business. This is war.”
And war it was, for three more years. Not until court-ordered special elections in new wards, following a ruling that Byrne’s 1981 ward remap illegally discriminated against blacks and Hispanics, would Washington finally get a working Council majority.
Throughout most of that war, Evans was Washington’s top general.
He did not assume that rank immediately, however. Washington’s initial Council floor leader was the dean of the black aldermen, the man the whites had literally padlocked out of the mayor’s office when Mayor Daley died, Wilson Frost.
Frost’s performance as floor leader proved to be less than sterling. By the end of 1983, Frost was bidding for a spot on the county ticket, and Evans was emerging as the mayor’s de facto floor leader.
Later, in April 1985, after Joseph Gardner left the mayor’s Political Education Project (PEP) to become a CHA executive, Evans was officially named to head PEP too.
While the dates of his official designations to these posts were far apart, Evans recalls that Washington actually asked him to undertake both during a single discussion, probably in 1984, while they were onstage at Hayes Hall on South Wabash Avenue, where Washington had just given a speech.
At the time, Evans recalls, “I was supporting Harold Washington, obviously, but I didn’t have any particular high post in his administration. He was a relatively new mayor and he was struggling with the 29-21 forces.
“At the conclusion of his speech, while people were waiting to shake hands with him, coming up to the stage and so forth, he said, ‘Tim, I want to talk to you.’ And I said, OK, I’ll call and ask your secretary for an appointment. He said, ‘Well no, I want to talk to you right now.’ And I pointed out the people who were waiting for him. He said, ‘Let’s just sit here now on stage.
“‘I want you to help me,’ he said. ‘I’m having difficulty getting my programs through and I’m not being as effective as I want to be in the City Council. I want you to help me if you can.’ He asked me to take a leadership role right then and there.
“He was everybody’s hero and they were all clamoring, waiting to shake hands with him. And here he was, asking me to in effect take over what takes place in the City Council and to help establish a political organization for him that had never been in place.
“The success of his ’83 campaign had gone in a thousand different directions. Somebody had his volunteer list in his basement. Somebody had a list of the people who organized on a congressional basis in their attic. He had nothing in place and we were getting ready to try to move the city forward in terms of that map that I talked about earlier. By that time both he and I had testified in federal court on our position on that map and it became clear that we might very well win this thing.”
(The federal appellate court decision, holding Byrne’s map illegal, was issued May 17, 1984.)
“And if we did, we’d be able to throw out that map, have a new map drawn, and have elections that could change the political tapestry. . . . And so that’s when he first broke the news to me that that’s what he wanted me to do.
“On this occasion, on the stage, he talked about me being what he characterized as a quick study . . . he used to kid me about that all the time. So he talked about that facility and about speaking skills and about commitment to the movement.”
Sometime later in 1984 or 1985–Evans can’t pinpoint when–he and Washington were having a conversation while riding in the mayor’s car. “He said to me that he thought I should have become the first black mayor of the city. I said, why would you say something like that? He said, ‘Well, you actually believe in what we’re trying to do.’ I said, Yeah, I actually believe it.
“‘You are young enough to have an impact on what this city’s future really holds,'” the mayor continued. “‘And besides,'” he added with a twinkle, “‘you don’t even drink or smoke.'”
For the next three years, until Washington’s death, Evans compiled a record on progressive issues as impressive as the mayor’s–in fact, identical.
In the area of administrative skill, unfortunately, Evans’s record in those years also somewhat paralleled Washington’s. Reportedly Evans was habitually late to meetings, often failed to return phone calls, and neglected details. Sometimes important meetings would come up and Evans, still a practicing attorney, would miss them because he was in the midst of a trial.
One of those irked by such behavior was Washington’s campaign treasurer, Robert Hallock. As noted earlier, he recently wondered out loud why Evans needed to be paid for his work when many others volunteered.
According to an October 1988 Sun-Times account, Hallock says Evans collected $4,000 per month in 1985 and 1986 and $3,333 per month during part of 1987 for his political work for Washington. Over the three-year period, Hallock reportedly said, Evans also collected at least $92,000 in legal fees, as well as his $28,000 annual aldermanic salary. “His commitment came because we bought it,” Hallock was quoted as saying. (When I called for confirmation he declined comment.)
The same article quoted Evans as replying, “I was forced to cut back my law practice by substantially more than I was paid as the mayor’s political director.” He also said that he had stopped cashing the monthly checks during the mayor’s 1987 reelection campaign out of concern that “the mayor needed the money at that point more than [I] did.”
Fifth Ward Alderman Larry Bloom is another of those who notes Evans’s administrative shortcomings. But in his view, “I can’t hold it against him very much. Once Harold Washington got his staff in place, they convinced him of the necessity both of administering better and of creating an image of being in charge. Both are very possible for Evans.”
(Washington’s former chief of staff, Ernest Barefield, recently became Evans’s campaign manager, and is generally credited with a considerable improvement in campaign administration.)
Recently Evans was embarrassed by a Sun-Times disclosure that he has been consistently late in the last three years paying property taxes on the building housing his ward office–so late on two occasions that the county auctioned off the taxes, requiring Evans to redeem the taxes plus pay an interest penalty to keep the building. Evans emphasized that he always paid the taxes, albeit late and with interest. He explained that a tenant had gone bankrupt and failed to pay rent. The Sun-Times confirmed that Evans had obtained a $9,000 court judgment for nine months’ unpaid rent in 1987, but the tenant had filed for bankruptcy.
Since Washington died, Evans has continued to work within a progressive, multiracial coalition. While many issues have arisen over the past 16 months, two in particular–the Steven Cokely incident and the issue of whether to endorse Sawyer–have presented important tests for Evans.
The Cokely affair hit the fan on the weekend of April 30-May 1, 1988. Six months earlier, acting mayor Sawyer had been privately informed of anti-Semitic remarks made by his aide Steven Cokely. In the intervening months, Sawyer had done nothing. Now, over the weekend, the story of Cokely’s “ethnic slurs” hit the newspapers. Sawyer ducked questions from reporters. Even when surprised by questions from the audience at a neighborhood forum, he replied only that he would “counsel” Cokely.
Worse, a stalwart of Washington’s progressive movement, a black long active in multiracial coalition politics, west-side alderman Danny Davis, defended Cokely’s right to his views, and suggested that if Cokely were fired the mayor would lose valuable contacts with black activist groups.
Jane Ramsey, who had been director of the Jewish Council on Urban Affairs and Harold Washington’s director of community relations, later wrote about the incident for the Jewish quarterly Genesis 2. “Many close Black friends and allies,” she wrote, “apparently did not understand the pain and outrage we felt about the whole affair.
“Hard-core antisemitism was at issue. There was no place for equivocation.”
Over the weekend one black public official had spoken out “appropriately and immediately,” Ramsey wrote. Reached by telephone on Sunday and asked to comment by Tribune reporter Cheryl Devall, Alderman Timothy Evans had immediately replied, “I represent a community that has taken pride in the fact that it is cosmopolitan. Blacks, whites, Jews, and gentiles have coexisted in Hyde Park-Kenwood for decades. I am very comfortable in that atmosphere, and I abhor any statements or any comments that are anti-Semitic.”
Alderman David Orr, who also immediately denounced Cokely, praises Evans’s prompt response. “Tim got a call from the Tribune, was asked a question, and responded right away. It wasn’t, ‘I’ll call you back tomorrow (after I assess the political impacts).'”
Another important test Evans faced recently was whether to endorse Eugene Sawyer. On the one hand, Sawyer’s record, while mixed, is hard to characterize as “progressive.” On the other hand, many in the black community, including powerful political figures like Jesse Jackson, were not only urging but outright pressuring Evans to endorse Sawyer in the name of black unity. Evans’s advisers were divided.
Evans opted not to endorse. Alderman Bobby Rush–who serves as director of field operations in the Evans campaign, and who was one of those arguing against an endorsement–was especially impressed that Evans “withstood efforts by others to persuade him to compromise on principles. He could have endorsed Sawyer. He could have rationalized it. But he steadfastly refused.”
Rush adds that in the last 16 months, it has not been “convenient” for Evans to remain a progressive. “It’s been very difficult. He could have cut his deals and lived comfortably. But he believes in the principles of progressive politics. He blossomed under Harold Washington. His process of development is continuing.”
Again, not everyone is convinced of Evans’s reform bona fides. In addition to the reservations expressed above by former Washington campaign treasurer Robert Hallock, two Tribune series–one on Council reform and the other on housing development–have voiced extreme skepticism about Evans’s motives and commitment. We turn now to a consideration of these two criticisms.
City Council reform. Evans’s record on City Council reform is generally strong. He fought for Harold Washington’s ethics ordinance, which passed in 1987; he reduced his own Finance Committee staff and budget when he became chairman of that committee; and he immediately endorsed and called for prompt passage of the City Club’s recent reform package (some elements of which Evans advocated a decade ago under Mayor Bilandic).
Nonetheless, an incident in October 1987 understandably troubled two Tribune reporters. They had just completed a six-month investigation of waste and patronage in City Council committees. Mayor Washington had responded by proposing that as many as eight committees be eliminated, and by directing Evans and other Council leaders to look into the waste. Evans told the Tribune reporters, “We are prepared to clean up our own house as a city council.”
What he did not tell them was that on that very same day, the administration was proposing to add $61,000 to the budgets of six committees, including one that had not met in three months.
When the Tribune reporters found out, they were not enthusiastic. The proposal’s timing, they wrote, “illustrates the arrogance and duplicity that have prevented reform of a council that has seen 13 of its members convicted of crimes related to their offices in the last 15 years.”
Timing was not the only issue. The Tribune reported, for example, an unnamed City Hall official stating that some committee vice chairs “had complained that they were unable to put their own workers on the patronage-rich payrolls because the chairmen had filled all the committee jobs.”
And the $61,000 was only the latest straw. As the Tribune reported a few days later, Washington’s 1988 budget called for an overall 12.5 percent increase in Council committee budgets, up from $5.2 million in 1987 to $5.82 million in 1988.
Timothy Wright was then serving as Mayor Washington’s liaison to City Council. (He is a former colleague of mine at BPI–Business and Professional People for the Public Interest, from which I am currently on leave as general counsel–and he is now Mayor Sawyer’s Commissioner of Economic Development.) Wright does not dispute that the budget increases were proposed, but he argues that the Washington administration had little choice. Some of the increases were truly needed, he points outthe Municipal Revisions Committee needed to overhaul the building code, for example. While other increases were questionable, Wright argues that the time was not right for cutting committee budgets. “It’s all in the timing. We had a complete strategy laid out. Politics is all about timing. There were proposals under consideration to cut anywhere from 13 to 17 committees. That means you have to strip people of their committees. You can’t do that on the eve of bringing in a budget. [The 1988 city budget needed Council approval before the end of the year.] You need 26 to 28 votes to be sure of passing the budget, and some of those votes would probably have to come from people who would lose their committee chairs in any major reduction. So that kind of reform, if it can pass at all, needs to be tried in January or February, and that’s when we were planning to try it.”
In short, according to Wright, it was a case of taking one step backward in order to later take two steps forward.
Housing development. On August 30, 1988, the Tribune carried a front-page story headlined, “Votes give CHA slums a reason for life.” The story was about Tim Evans’s opposition to a developer’s proposal to demolish four of six CHA high rises along the South lakefront near 40th Street, and replace them with a complex of low-rise apartments and town houses. As the headline implied, the story strongly suggested that Evans opposed the plan because he didn’t want to lose the votes of the high-rise tenants.
The story was a cheap shot.
On May 26, 1986, a “Memorandum of Accord” on the six high rises was signed by CHA officials, representatives of tenant organizations in each building, two community organizations, and lawyers from the Legal Assistance Foundation.
Specifically, the accord was “Regarding Relocation of Residents From the Lakefront Properties Pursuant to [CHA’s] Rehabilitation Project.” The deal was straightforward: CHA wanted to rehab the six buildings. So it asked the tenants to move out, saying they could return later. Naturally, the tenants didn’t trust CHA. So before moving out–in fact, as a condition of moving out–they wanted CHA to agree in a written legal document that they had the right to return.
The key language of the accord provided: “All families who currently reside in the Lakefront Properties, and all families who have moved out of the Lakefront Properties since October 1, 1985, in connection with the proposed rehabilitation, shall have the right to return as a tenant in the Lakefront Properties after the rehabilitation is completed . . .”
The only exceptions allowed were for families who were no longer eligible for public housing, or who refused to pay their rent, or who otherwise fit similar narrowly defined exceptions.
A separate section of the accord specified that in “consideration”–legal lingo for a quid pro quo–of CHA’s agreement to “comply” with the relocation procedures, the Lakefront Community Organization “agrees to provide all reasonable assistance and cooperate with CHA to insure the prompt and fair implementation of the plan.”
In other words, the accord was not just a promise by CHA, it was a contract between CHA and the tenant and community groups.
Pursuant to the accord, in 1986 most of the tenants moved out. At the end of 1988, none of the planned rehab had been done, and the above-mentioned developer had stepped forward with an alternative proposal.
In attacking Evans’s opposition to that proposal, the Tribune story made some legitimate points. It argued, for example, that the new development would provide up to 6,000 racially integrated apartments for middle-class families in a desirable lakefront location, with enough units set aside for poor families to provide replacement housing for the families who had been forced to move out. It argued that the new low-rise apartments and town houses would be safer and more attractive for both the CHA tenants and the neighbors. It argued that funds would probably be available on time for the new development, but that funding for rehab of the high rises was uncertain. It argued that if the high rises remained, the new development could not go forward.
In short, there are plenty of good arguments for supporting the plan. Because of them, Robert Lucas, longtime civil rights activist and director of KOCO, for one, supported the plan.
But there are also legitimate arguments for opposing it–even apart from the tenants’ legal and moral rights. Why not, as Evans has suggested, develop new housing without demolishing the high rises? Although the Tribune implied that this would not be feasible, the evidence is less than conclusive. Only a few blocks south of the high rises, for example, KOCO’s development arm has recently completed construction of 70 town houses, of which 21 are for low- and moderate-income families, and the rest for market rentals.
While this is only a small start, Chicago has ample recent experience with development, once begun, “taking off” in formerly low-income neighborhoods. Usually, however, poor people are kicked out and dispersed to look elsewhere in the city’s dwindling supply of decent, affordable housing. Such experience argues for rehabbing, not demolishing, the 600 family units in the four lakefront high rises.
The point here is not to oppose the plan, but only that reasonable people can disagree about it in good faith. For example, KOCO director Robert Lucas, though he’s one of the plan’s leading supporters, has recently endorsed Evans for mayor. In Lucas’s view, Evans’s commitment to the movement “transcends the differences KOCO has had with Evans.”
The Tribune, however, gave little credence to any legitimate arguments against the plan. Instead, it punched Evans below the belt not once, but twice.
First, it made no mention of the accord signed by CHA with the tenants and community groups. It did say that the tenants had been “promised” they could return–but it failed to disclose that the promise was not mere magnanimity but rather a contractual obligation–and one, moreover, on which the tenants had relied as a precondition of moving out.
As a result, the article gave unfairly short shrift to one of Evans’s principal reasons for opposing the plan. It quoted him saying that “the promise must be kept. It’s a matter of keeping my word.” Readers were not told that Evans was referring to more than his gentleman’s honor–he was respecting a right for which the tenants had contracted.
This slight was coupled with a clear accusation that Evans’s real motive was to keep the high-rise votes in his pocket. Beginning with a tale of one Luella Young, Evans’s precinct captain in one of the high rises, the article noted Evans’s opposition to the plan and advised, “It’s not hard to figure out why Evans and Young like things the way they were.” It then went on to recount how many votes Evans got from the high rises in the 1983 elections.
Nowhere did the article mention the 1987 elections. In those elections–even after nearly all the high-rise tenants had already moved out–Evans swept 60 of 61 precincts, carrying his ward with 77 percent of the vote. The political value of the high-rise voters to Evans diminishes, to put it mildly, compared to numbers like these. And so does the central point of the article–Evans’s supposed opposition to decent housing for crass political reasons.
At the very end the long story did quote several of the few remaining tenants, including one who said, “We are going to make CHA keep their word. . . . The people don’t trust developers. We trust the alderman. He (Evans) has been working with us good. He’s been in our corner.”
The article identified that tenant as Carlos Roberts, “a self-described ‘youth worker’ and chairman of the group.” The “group” was not identified.
The Tribune reporter either did not know or did not mention that Carlos Roberts was one of the tenants who signed the 1986 accord–as executive director of the Lakefront Community Organization, the group that had agreed to “cooperate” with CHA’s plan in “consideration” of CHA’s commitment that the families could return after the rehab.
In presenting trumped-up charges of base political motives against Evans, the story was not only unfair to him, it also trivialized what it called “a growing political movement in Chicago–a movement that uses the fear of displacement to stop change in neighborhoods that need change the most.”
In Evans’s response (which the Tribune, to its credit, carried in a front-page story two days later), he pointed out a philosophical difference. “I believe in community empowerment, self-determination, development that minimizes displacement, and a principle that says a government that makes a promise must keep that promise.”
“The Tribune,” he said, “has a different philosophy. Their philosophy seems to be associated with people who believe in noblesse oblige, a kind of patronizing, condescending approach to poor people, people who are often called people of the lower class. It is the kind of philosophy that says only the rich and well-to-do can live on the lakefront overlooking Lake Michigan. . . . It is not my kind of philosophy.”
While Evans’s rhetoric may have been a bit strong, he was on the mark in suggesting a profound difference in philosophical emphasis.
The Tribune probably thinks well, for example, of the black middle-class Prairie Shore and Lake Meadows developments along the south lakefront. They were built in the early 1960s, soon after young Evans arrived in Chicago from Arkansas.
The city needs such developments, and more of them. (As chair of the City Council Finance Committee, Evans supported many developments all across the city, including some in the Fourth Ward.)
But there is also another consideration. As Evans reflected in our interview, “Where Prairie Shore and Lake Meadows exist today was a community a lot like the community that’s in the Fourth Ward. And someone came along and said, ‘Well this doesn’t look like it should look and the people who are here are not really people who have a right to be on the lakefront. This could be beautiful.’
“What about the people who are there? ‘Well, they’re going to find another place, don’t worry about that. This is Chicago, this could be beautiful.’ I always wondered about those people.”
“In the real world of politics,” says Alderman David Orr, “you can’t predict the specifics. So you want a leader who down deep has the right instincts–an intuitive instinct for fairness and racial justice. A commitment in his gut to human needs and to government reform.”
Is Tim Evans such a man?
Harold Washington “seemed to feel that this was a process where people got stronger as they went along,” Evans reflects. “He was concerned about what was going on now and what would happen in the future, more than he was riveted on the past.
“I used to think of it in a way that I’ve never really expressed to anybody else, except my wife. Usually on trips that we take, my wife will bring a camera and she likes to preserve the moment. And she likes to look back on it. And I do too. I like to, from time to time, see snapshots from where we were and what we did.
“But I always wanted to concentrate on enjoying wherever we were at that moment, and she’d kid me about taking binoculars everywhere we went. I don’t know anybody who took binoculars everywhere as I would do. It’s still a running joke with us now.
“But I took a trip with Harold Washington when we went to Asia. . . . And when we got to the Forbidden City in China, everybody started taking out their cameras and their photography equipment. I remember distinctly, just as I can envision us sitting here now, I looked up and there was Harold Washington, with a small set of binoculars.
“I knew it, I said. I knew it.
“I never told him that, but I remember that. I mention it now to say that I think we were philosophically in tune, concerned about the present, knowing the past, but always looking toward the future. What’s out there? What is it that we can do? What’s on the horizon? That’s what I saw in Harold Washington when I really got to know him. And I think that’s what many people see in leaders, a vision that can be shared by a large body of people, and a way to get us there that is not necessarily convenient but that is principled.”
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photos/Jon Randolph.