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Ghosts of Mayors Past Haunt Chicago Voters : Issues in Election Campaign Taking Back Seat to Pro-Washington, Anti-Daley Sentiments

April 03, 1989|ERIC HARRISON | Times Staff Writer

CHICAGO — More than 20 years have passed since Mayor Richard J. Daley gave police the infamous "shoot to kill" order after rioting erupted in the city's poorest neighborhoods, and 13 years have passed since the legendary mayor died.

But attend a political rally on Chicago's South Side or listen to current black political leaders speak, and you would think those turbulent times had never faded.

In the campaign for Tuesday's mayoral election, the ghost of Richard J. Daley is almost as real a presence as the lingering Chicago winter that refuses to step aside for spring.

That is because Daley's 46-year-old son, Richard M. Daley, is leading in the polls. Alderman Timothy C. Evans, a black who is the stronger of Daley's two opponents, has continually evoked Daley's father in trying to galvanize black voters who remember the 21 years of Daley rule as a time of "plantation politics," when blacks helped to keep the Democratic machine in power but received little in return from City Hall.

'Plantation Days' Recalled

"Daley is getting ready to reopen his father's plantation," Evans told a cheering audience last week, "and the new machine is going to be just as bad as the old one, if not worse."

Daley has been visibly stung by some of the more vicious attacks on his father's memory. He responded to Evans' comments last week by saying quietly: "It's a small person who does that. I'm proud of my father. I think he's proud of his father."

Daley rarely mentions his father's name, although, before black audiences, he does sometimes speak respectfully of the late Mayor Harold Washington, Evans' mentor.

But at the South Side rallies, vendors hawk buttons and T-shirts depicting the 1968 "Shoot to Kill" headlines. In his speeches, Evans refers to the raid on Black Panther headquarters the same year. During that raid the police, in what a federal grand jury later called unprovoked shooting, killed two Panther leaders. Brochures and leaflets recall the rampant patronage and graft of the Daley years.

This election, as all elections, is to determine Chicago's future, but for many voters the battle lines have been drawn across bitter memories of the past.

'Politics of Memory'

It is what political scientist and author Paul M. Green calls "the politics of memory," and who will be the next mayor may be determined, to a large extent, by how effectively Evans exploits that memory.

Green predicted a Daley victory months ago, based on Daley's ability to distance himself from his father's image and appeal to a broad spectrum of voters, including white liberals who became disenchanted with the elder Daley during the 1960s. "The politics of memory in Chicago doesn't take you very far," Green said.

Last week, though, it took Evans to the University of Illinois Pavilion and a mostly black crowd of 12,000 cheering, chanting supporters--a thunderous replay of the shows of strength that helped propel Washington into office in 1983 and 1987.

A listener would almost think it was an election battle between two ghosts, that the mayors Daley and Washington were squaring off in the firmament.

'Washington Lives'

"Right here we all are Harold Washington, because Harold Washington isn't dead!" one speaker told the crowd. "Harold Washington lives in all of us."

Two gigantic portraits hung high above the stage. One was of Evans. The other was of Washington, who died in 1987 after five years in office. Evans, a Democrat running as an independent to fill Washington's unexpired term, has named his organization after him.

The event was orchestrated not only to emphasize Evans' ties with a mayor who is venerated by blacks here, but also to place his own "crusade" for office in the continuum of the civil rights struggle.

"I believe in God and history and poetry," the Rev. Jesse Jackson intoned from the stage at one point, after the showing of a lengthy film linking Evans with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and to Washington. "On April 4, 1964, I was in Memphis," Jackson said. "Dr. King was crucified. We could do nothing about it. On April 4, 1989, the stone will be rolled away. . . . There will be a resurrection."

In an atmosphere that more closely resembled a national political convention than a local rally, banners exhorted voters to "Remember Dr. King. Vote Harold Washington Party."

Third Candidate

Issues have taken a definite back seat in the campaign, which also includes Edward R. Vrdolyak, a Republican and former alderman who has not risen above single digits in the polls.

All of the candidates are for better schools and against drugs. They all say they want to stamp out gangs. All three say they want to help heal racial divisions in the city and run a fair government. They want to help create jobs.

Vrdolyak, the most conservative of the three, has tried to distinguish himself from his opponents by taking stands against school busing and charging that Daley and Evans both come from a "liberal Democratic" tradition.

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