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Chicago divided: the making of a black mayor.

Chicago Divided: The Making of a Black Mayor.

Paul Kleppner. Northern Illinois University Press, $26.00. In 1955, Richard Daley, just elected major, reneged on his promise to resign as head of the Cook County Democratic Party. While earlier mayors had to appease neighborhood committeemen (who ran their wards like fiefdoms and cared little about citywide problems), Daley sought and gained control of all the levers of political and governmental power--candidate selection, endorsements, patronage, and the like.

Chicago blacks were a part of the machine until the mid-1960s. They didn't have must choice: black citizens needed the machine for public employment, and black candidates relied on the machine for their political survival.

This uneasy alliance ended in the 1960s when race was pushed to the top of the political agenda--and blacks saw an indifferent Daley turn hostile. Kleppner gives it scant attention, but surely a signal event came in 1966 during Martin Luther King's Poor People's Campaign. With the major civil rights legislation behind him, King settled in the Chicago tenements to draw attention to that city's slum conditions. When he tested Illinois's openhousing laws, whites greeted him with rocks and fists. For many Chicago blacks this was proof that they had it as bad as their Mississippi brethren. Two years later the mayor, confronted by rioting on the night of King's death, issued "shoot-to-kill' orders to Chicago policy.

Black political fortunes began to rise in 1975 when Daley's death set off a feud within the machine. By the 1983 election, the rift among machine politicians had widened so much that half of the party backed June Byrne and the rest sided with prodigal son Illinois Attorney General Richard Daley Jr. This split plus a mobilized black electorate allowed Harold Washington to win the mayoral nomination.

It is hard to forget Harold Washington's campaign. Everywhere he went, Washington drew throngs of placard-waving youths shouting "Nigger Go Home!' Leaflets trailed him; one asked Chicagoans whether they wanted to see Richard Pryor appointed fire commissioner. Another depicted a newly elected Washington putting basketball hoops on the Picasso in Daley Plaza.

When it comes to explaining why whites were so hostile, Kleppner shrugs and surmises that Chicago middle-class whites are really Klansmen in disguise. But Washington was a threatening candidate for reasons besides race. True, there were many who voted against Washington simply because he was black, but after eight years of Byrne and Michael Bilandic, what many Chicagoans wanted was stability, a return to the efficient municipal services they had known under Daley. Vowing to crush the machine, Washington promised Chicagoans no such security.

Nothing justifies the venom that seethed from white Chicago. But it seems possible that a different black candidate, one who simply campaigned for better services and who promised to cut blacks in rather than cut the system out, would have garnered a larger share of the white vote and soothed racial tensions.

The sad truch is that when it comes to voting for blacks, white voters often need coddling--the kind that Washington, who at times intimated that violence might follow his electoral defeat, refused to provide.
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Copyright 1986, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Author:Cooper, Matthew
Publication:Washington Monthly
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Apr 1, 1986
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