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Chicago Mayor Dies After Heart Attack at His Desk : Washington 1st Black at City's Helm

November 25, 1987|Times Wire Services

CHICAGO — Mayor Harold Washington, the city's first black chief executive, died today after suffering a massive heart attack in his City Hall office.

Washington, 65, was pronounced dead at 1:36 p.m. CST at Northwestern Memorial Hospital.

The mayor was rushed by ambulance from City Hall after he slumped over his desk during a meeting in his fifth-floor office, said his press secretary, Alton Miller, who was present when Washington was stricken.

Doctors said he never regained consciousness and had been kept alive only by a heart-lung machine.

"He was unconscious from the time he slumped over at his desk until the time he was pronounced dead," said Dr. John Sanders, chief of staff at the hospital.

He said that Washington had no vital signs when he was brought to the hospital and that his heart beat and respiration could not be restored.

Washington's fiancee, Mary Ella Smith, a teacher, was picked up at her school by police and brought, crying, to the hospital. Smith and Washington had been engaged since 1983.

Vice Mayor Takes Over

Alderman David Orr, the vice mayor, told reporters at the hospital that he had taken over as interim mayor and will serve until the City Council elects one of its members as acting mayor.

Washington was meeting in his fifth-floor office with Miller and other aides when he collapsed on his desk, Miller said, adding that Washington appeared to be unconscious when he was taken from the office on a stretcher.

"I was talking to the mayor and he slumped over," Miller said. "I thought he had slipped down to pick up a pen."

The mayor had attended a ground-breaking for a housing project this morning where he lifted several shovelfuls of dirt and posed for photographers.

Washington became the city's first black mayor in 1983 and was reelected to a second term this spring.

Washington defeated his Republican opponent, Bernard Epton, by only a few percentage points in 1983 in a bitter, racially charged election.

The victory marked Washington's second try for the top job in America's third largest city. In 1977, he ran unsuccessfully against Michael Bilandic, tapped to succeed the late Mayor Richard J. Daley, who had ruled Chicago for decades. Washington collected only 11% of the vote that time.

Washington's first four-year term was marred by a roguish band of 29 aldermen on the 50-seat City Council who made a sport of blocking his appointments and programs.

The infamous "Council Wars," however, ended up working in Washington's favor as the city's voters got fed up with the constant bickering and replaced the mayor's opponents with new aldermen aligned with Washington.

As a big-city mayor, Washington most often has been compared to Daley, who ruled City Hall and Chicago's legendary Democratic machine for more than 20 years.

But Washington shuddered at the comparisons.

"I guess there are some similarities," Washington conceded in an interview with United Press International earlier this year. "But I'm not 'Boss.' The 'Boss' sat on top of a (political) machine kind of structure and that, to a great extent, has been eroded. Daley wouldn't recognize this government."

Washington served in the state Legislature as a representative and a senator from 1965 to 1980, when he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives from the 1st Congressional District.

He was reelected to Congress in 1982 and launched his mayoral campaign soon after.

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