To the editors:
I’ve finally been frustrated enough by your biased and inept reporting to express my own myopic views.
In your lead article “Rate the Records: Each Candidate Has Served One Term. Which Deserves Another?” [February 20], you ask the wrong question. Does either candidate deserve another? No, not really. The point, however, is that we’re likely to get stuck with one of them and if so, which one is the preferable one to get stuck with? I did not need to read too far into the David Moberg piece which compared Harold Washington with Lech Walesa to realize which candidate Moberg felt comfortable with. I think comparing Harry to Lech is stretching it a little bit. Don’t you? Harold Washington’s record goes back a fur piece too, eh? Do you remember the tax evasion charge while he was a congressman? (Wonder what Lech would say.)
I like a reformer better than most Chicagoans like a reformer. But Harold Washington is no reformer. He is a manipulative yet naive politician. Are the three years of council wars Jane Byrne’s fault? Or can we credit them to a posturing mayor and some staunch, bigoted adversaries? Were the council wars necessary? Could good ol’ Harry have averted them? How did Ronald Reagan manage to pass legislation when one house of Congress was controlled by an opposing group? I’m not keen on Reagan, believe me, but his effectiveness in implementing his programs has to be respected even if not agreed with.
When we hear of Jane Byrne and her corrupt allies or cronies what do we see surrounding Harold Washington? What about McClain? What about Renault? What about the rather racist statements spilling from Washington supporters such as Dorothy Tillman?
Did you read Royko’s article on Kozubowski, city clerk, I believe, who has served dutifully and efficiently in his office? Did you comprehend why Washington wants to replace him with one of his own supporters? Is it because Washington is really no reformer at all, but maybe a new political chieftain of a different stripe? Heaven forbid the thought.
When we talked about Washington’s performance versus Byrne’s performance, where are the outstanding qualities of honesty and reform we listened to in 1983? For all the tax increases Washington has presided over what benefits have we derived? A lower city bond rating, yes? An inadequate police force and an increase in crime statistics? Less satisfied populations in public housing — yes to both? Those minority contractors for city projects, are they coming from Chicago? Mainly no. But Atlanta minority contractors are quite pleased with Washington. When Byrne was in office did it not seem that the initiatives toward a world-class city were worthwhile? What happened to ChicagoFest? What happened to the World’s Fair? Why is Chicago faring less well economically as Boston, New York, and other cities continue to build their economic bases? Ask Harold Washington. I’m sure he has some very lyrical-sounding excuses.
I know if this is printed it will be too late to have any positive effect. The damage has already been done by your rather biased reporting. But at least maybe you will attempt fairness the next time you are given the opportunity.
I know you would like to soothe your consciences with the thought that this writer must be a racist — that must be my motivation. I am sorry to disappoint you. I have several black, Jewish, Hispanic, Arab friends. My voting record in the past would have to be labeled as dyed-in-the-wool liberal Democrat — i.e. I voted for George McGovern in the Democratic primary of 1984 — even though he had already dropped out of Illinois’ primary by the time my absentee ballot arrived.
I did not live in Chicago at the time of the 1983 mayoral race. However, Washington would have received my support then as he seemed more progressive than Byrne or Daley. I talked him up among my Chicagoan friends and would have given him the chance. He had it and he has blown it.
I will support Byrne in this race and Ron Sable in my ward’s aldermanic race. I believe Byrne has been roundly chastised and may be a little reformed herself now. I also contend that Byrne can manage this city more effectively. Of all the candidates running, I prefer Thomas Hynes, and if he gets to the general election he will receive my support no matter who his opponent is. Basically this is because I feel both Byrne and Washington will be divisive factors if elected. We may have some unity if Hynes becomes mayor. Have I disappointed my liberal associates? Not the ones who still think while they speak.
David Moberg replies:
If MacMahon had finished my article, he would have found answers to many of his questions, most of which are grounded in misinformation. But I’ll try to deal with a few of them here. First, the comparison of Washington and Walesa was not personal but rather a comparison of models of government. If machine government under Daley was like Eastern-bloc communist politics, as machine sympathizer Milton Rakove said, then by analogy the change in pattern with Washington is like what Solidarity and Walesa wanted — an opening up, a democratization. My comparison was an exercise in analogy, an attempt to help readers think about what is going on. (Incidentally, again for the record, Washington’s crime was the misdemeanor of failure to file income tax returns covering income from which taxes had been deducted, not the felony of tax evasion).
Since most of the article was devoted to showing some of the ways Washington is a reformer, I won’t repeat it all. Could Washington have averted Council Wars? I spent a fair amount of time looking into that early in the administration. I think relations with the council were botched, in part because Washington delegated the job to Wilson Frost, a man he thought knew the aldermen better than he did, and Frost ruffled a lot of feathers. But Vrdolyak was hard at work exploiting fears and organizing against Washington. Also, the price set by many of what became the 29 was essentially a continuation of the old politics of patronage. Some of Washington’s ex-machine supporters wanted the same for themselves, but Washington could refuse them, and because of his personal popularity in their wards, they couldn’t balk.
With Iranamok in the headlines I admire you for still citing Reagan for his effectiveness. In any case, Reagan won by a wide margin; Washington won narrowly. That makes a difference in dealing with a legislature. Also, whatever the party label, many Congressional Democrats are ideological conservatives, frequently inclined to go along with Republicans. Indeed, your example disproves your own argument: Democrats in Congress never organized to fight Reagan the way Machine Democrats in the council organized to fight Washington. Council Wars were simply a continuation in a different arena of the battle for reform. Peace and quiet are nice, but principle is worth some noise. Finally, Washington did get much of his legislative program through by using his veto and forcing the council majority to compromise and at times, most notably in passing the general obligation bond capital improvements, by organizing support in the neighborhoods to pressure aldermen.
No one has yet suggested Renault Robinson was corrupt, just not capable of doing the job. And, as I noted, even the much-maligned Clarence McClain still hasn’t been indicted for anything, even if he’s not a paragon of reform. Dorothy Tillman? Her comment that racism was the only reason lakefront whites wouldn’t support Washington was impolitic, dumb, abrasive, and half-accurate but hardly racist.
Yes, I read Royko’s column on Walter Kozubowski. He greatly exaggerated Kozubowski’s effectiveness in office. For example, Kozubowski still does not keep council records in any readily accessible form, as recommended in Dick Simpson’s transition reports on city government. Washington supported Gloria Chevere partly because he was tired of having Kozubowski work hand in glove with Vrdolyak, partly because it was tactically wise to endorse a Hispanic woman, and partly because Chevere is a bright, competent, well-trained and reform-minded politician.
Gary Rivlin earlier discussed the crime issues in the Reader quite thoroughly. The police force is at the same level as when Washington took office (with more of the force assigned to street patrol). Crime statistics, a crude measurement tool at best, are even less reliable when we remember that under Byrne, and before, the police deliberately minimized crime by labeling cases “unfounded” at an extraordinary rate. Also, the rapid jump in some statistics from 1985 to 1986 in part reflected a rapid drop in 1985, which created an uncharacteristically low base of comparison. (Overall, in any case, Chicago’s increase in ’86 was less than the national average.)
Again, although Atlanta contractors certainly have gotten some jobs, in 1986 two-thirds of city contract dollars were awarded to firms within Chicago; under Byrne only about 40 percent were.
ChicagoFest was fun for some (boycotted by others), but it was also a money loser and a source of patronage payments through Byrne slush funds to major campaign contributors. If you miss it, you might try joining the throngs at the Jazz Fest, the Blues Fest, the Gospel Fest, Taste of Chicago, and the dozens of neighborhood festivals that continue. The World’s Fair, if you recall, was killed by top state Democratic legislators after it became apparent that it was a bad deal for the city, an awareness that Washington helped to foster by setting reasonable guidelines for public support of it.
The division in this city has a history: briefly, while counting on black votes, the Democratic Machine systematically fostered segregation in housing, schools, and city services, shortchanging blacks and Hispanics. It would be great for the city to come together, but on what terms? Sending uppity blacks back to the plantation will no longer work. Mindless calls for unity are for many an attempt to turn the clock back to a fictional past that ignores the real problems of the city. It is only by addressing those problems that unity can be created, and I argued that if Washington hasn’t done all that is needed or all that I would like, he at least has taken some significant first steps.