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Cassel's Folly



To the editors:

A few comments on Doug Cassel's "The Movement's Next Move" [April 14]:

(1) Cassel writes that "no movement candidate worthy of the name could legitimately support Sawyer." So much for Danny Davis, Ed Smith, Jesus Garcia, Larry Bloom, the IVI/IPO, and NOW, all of whom endorsed Sawyer for the primary. True, they also supported Evans in the general election, and for most of them Evans may have been their first choice. Yet when they backed Sawyer, they knew perfectly well that were Sawyer to win the primary, the Evans campaign would probably be effectively over. (In a Sawyer-Evans-Vrdolyak race, there would have been irresistible pressures for one of the African-American candidates to withdraw. And the one to withdraw would probably not be a well-financed incumbent mayor who had pulled off an upset against a strong white challenger.)

(2) Just what is there in the public records of either Evans or Sawyer to support the notion that one was a reformer and the other wasn't? Before 1983 they were both machine aldermen. From 1983 through 1987 they were both followers of Harold Washington (Sawyer actually hopped on the Washington bandwagon before Evans). Since 1987, Evans has backed Sawyer on almost every city council vote. And the few votes on which they disagreed were mostly things on which reasonable progressives could differ--e.g., the O'Hare lease, which Bloom supported as well as Sawyer. Moreover, on some issues (such as the human rights ordinance) Sawyer was more successful with the City Council than Washington had been.

(3) In Cassel's eyes, Sawyer's unpardonable sin was apparently that "machine hacks" put him in office. Let us leave aside the fact that Harold Washington was not above making deals with machine politicians, white as well as black. (Remember the 1988 county ticket, including Aurelia Pucinski?) Let us also leave aside the fact that Evans wanted the support of "machine hacks" as much as Sawyer did, and was merely less successful in getting it. The real point is this: any objection to Sawyer on the basis of Burke, Mell, etc. supporting him, should have lost its force, once these aldermen realized they would not have much influence with the new administration, and shifted their support to Daley.

(4) How well you do in politics depends not on the absolute number of votes you get, but on the number of your votes relative to your opponent's. It is thus misleading to suggest that Evans was a stronger candidate than Sawyer because he got 40,000 more votes in the general election than Sawyer did in the primary. Daley, after all, got over 90,000 more votes in the general election than in the primary. Regardless of the absolute number of votes, it is better to get 44 percent (Sawyer's showing) than 41 percent (Evans').

(5) Cassel does not really give any reasons to justify his optimism over the prospects of "movement" candidates in Chicago. As he himself notes, Harold Washington's 1983 showing would have been a landslide defeat in a two-way race, and Washington's subsequent victories were made possible by the prestige of being the Democratic candidate for mayor, and then the incumbent. Cassel admits that without these factors a movement candidate cannot win "every two-way race." It would be more accurate to say that, without these factors, a movement candidate cannot win any two-way race. (Remember Bloom's race against Daley in 1984, or Oberman's against Hartigan in 1986?) But, says Cassel, at least the movement can win three-way races. This is not much satisfaction, at least for mayoralty contests, where a 1983-style split is most unlikely to happen again. If, for example, there is a Daley-Evans-Byrne primary in 1991, Byrne would probably do no better than Vrdolyak did in the 1989 general election.

(6) But not to worry, says Cassel; maybe Daley will make such a mess of the city that the movement will have its chance in 1991. (This cheerful philosophy used to be called the-worse-the-better.) He invokes the authority of Tom Roeser. A list of Mr. Roeser's incorrect predictions could fill an entire issue of the Reader, a fine recent example being his forecast of Jack Kemp's 1988 presidential victory. Not surprisingly, Mr. Roeser is wrong about 1991. Do you really think that people on the Northwest and Southwest Sides will say, "Daley raised my property taxes, so I think I'll vote for Tim Evans or maybe Danny Davis."?

(7) Up to now, I have assumed that something called a "progressive movement" really exists in Chicago, but I actually doubt it. What actually exists is a black-empowerment movement. What it wants is not a "progressive" mayor, but a black one. (Note that in all the discussions of who the "movement" candidate for mayor will be in 1991, very little mention is made of Orr or Bloom--or for that matter of Figueroa or Garcia.) Within this movement, the division between "coalitionists" and "black nationalists" is largely tactical. In order to attract a few white and Hispanic votes, the coalitionists are willing to back whites or Hispanics for some positions where they know the incumbent is unbeatable anyway (e.g., State's Attorney in 1984, Illinois Attorney General in 1986), or for other positions which are of very minor significance (e.g., Chevere for City Clerk in 1987). The black nationalists, in declaring their disdain for white or Hispanic allies, are just a little bit more frank.

(8) Finally, one must question whether leftists like Cassel have their priorities straight. They seem to view everything as a battle between good "reform" Democrats and evil "machine" Democrats. They seem to forget that there is a third alternative, which from their point of view should be worse than either--namely, conservative Republicanism. This may seem like a negligible force in most Chicago mayoral elections, but it has, after all, won five of the last six presidential elections. To defeat the Right on the national and statewide levels is going to require something more than blacks and a few white leftists. Denouncing white ethnic aldermen as "machine hacks" and denouncing all blacks who cooperate with them may add to one's feelings of moral purity. The same is true of writing columns in defense of the FALN, as Cassel has done. But they do not exactly help in drawing undecided centrist voters to the Democratic Party. Unless Cassel wants the Supreme Court, the National Labor Relations Board, et cetera to keep going in their present direction, this fact should be of some concern to him.

Name Withheld

N. California

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