Archive Dive: A look back at the 1983 mayoral election | Feature | Chicago Reader

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Archive Dive: A look back at the 1983 mayoral election

David Moberg offers a guide for the perplexed.


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"In the simplest of terms, the novel and fluid political climate makes this election a choice between those who hope for change and those who fear change," David Moberg writes in 1983 in the article "Guide for the Perplexed." Moberg covers the race for mayor between Bernard Epton and Harold Washington. It was a battle between a candidate closely connected to the Chicago political machine and a liberal reform candidate. Sound familiar?

Moberg outlines the ways each candidate handled their campaign and talks to Chicago voters about which way they're leaning.

Epton has successfully made Washington's past personal problems the central issue for many white voters. By constantly repeating his charges (indeed, Epton campaign speeches include little beside attacks on Washington), by referring to them in a sneering manner no matter what other issue may be raised, and frequently by exaggerating or simply misrepresenting the offenses, Epton has inflated the issue so that many people can't see beyond it. It is clear that a very large number find it a convenient excuse to dismiss Washington without thinking about him.

Above all, Washington has tried to find a common ground above the racial strife with his emphasis on neighborhood strength, good schools, and economic development. He has won over the leadership of labor unions—sometimes grudgingly, often enthusiastically—with his voting record. On issues important to working people and unions, he has taken the positions they favor close to 100 percent of the time, compared to Epton's 38 percent in his most recently evaluated year in the legislature.

Less than a week after the article ran, Washington was elected as the city's first African-American mayor.

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