To the editors.
In his Nov. 25 tribute "One Year Without Washington" Dave Moberg once again, as he did while Washington was alive, tried to present a glowing picture of a great reformer. Yet the tribute boils down to assertions that Washington deserves praise for driving nails into an already dying political machine, as well as making government "run more rationally and slightly more efficiently." On those grounds, one could just as easily lionize a Mussolini for making Italy's trains run on time and burying the corrupt previous regime.
The question remains: what did Washington actually accomplish? Certainly he showed blacks, as Jane Byrne showed women, that one no longer has to be a white man to become Mayor of Chicago. In that sense his position in and of itself was inspirational to many. However, what few want to admit is that as a mayor, Washington was completely ordinary. This does not make him any worse than most other Chicago mayors; indeed, he was better than most, for what that is worth. But that would be like calling recent Cub Jody Davis a great catcher simply because he was better than the numerous awful catchers that preceded him into Wrigley Field.
Under Washington, Chicago's major problems--a declining tax base, horrid schools, unsafe public transportation, declining neighborhoods and massive crime--were all allowed to continue unabated. Faced with all this, Washington did what all recent mayors have done: kept big business happy with new building projects downtown while largely ignoring the neighborhoods. When the city coffers needed more money, Washington begged for a state or federal bailout. When this failed, he raised property taxes, the favorite liberal solution to every financial problem. These were the typical moves of a leader with no vision for the city except to continue the old, failed ways of his predecessors.
Some of the better minds of the city have long maintained that the way to rebuild Chicago to its onetime greatness is to recapture our once booming tourist industry by making our city the Las Vegas of the midwest by legalizing sports and casino gambling. Building several casino-hotels here would bring in badly needed revenue that presently goes to Nevada, Atlantic City, local bookies, and even the blackjack casinos of North Dakota. This would additionally bring in jobs and take gambling out of the hands of Syndicate sleazebags and into the hands of legitimate businesses and city services. But Washington, with his do-gooder ideology that gambling is somehow "immoral," would not even consider the idea, instead sticking it to home owners for additional revenue.
As to crime, under Washington the street gangs and drug empires continued to grow. Washington's sole answer was to continue Jane Byrne's program of making the police a more professional and representative outfit, as opposed to the Daley-Bilandic years when the police often resembled a cross between extortionist thugs and brownshirts. While this was a needed reform, any cop will tell you that even the most professional police force imaginable cannot in and of itself stop crime. Its job is not exactly enhanced when City Hall looks the other way when solutions are needed.
Finally, the wheels of government became Washington's means not to open city government, but to wipe out the old machine so he could more easily build his own. This he did, becoming a true boss in the tradition of Al Capone and Mayor Daley. He talked about reform, but when true reformers like Patrick Quinn tried to effect real change, Washington got rid of them.
But the real proof of Washington's' boss status was best seen after his death. Like every political boss from Alexander the Great to Mayor Daley, Washington took great care not to groom any successor, the better to hold power personally as long as life allowed. As a result, political warfare broke loose immediately upon the boss's death, since nobody could lay full claim to being next on the totem pole. History buffs will recognize this as the same thing that happened upon the death of Alexander the Great, when each of his generals tried to take power and ended up dividing the empire and going to war against each other. It is the inevitable political result of boss rule.
Last but hardly least is the matter of character. A real leader understands that politics is the art of compromise and that true leadership implies knowing one's limits and that nobody is always right. Washington, intelligent as he was, no doubt realized this intellectually, but was never able to act on it; with him, ego was everything. When he failed, as he so often did, he was never able to accept responsibility, instead always seeking to blame anyone from the "Majority 29" to Gov. Thompson to Reagan. I cannot remember a single time when Washington had the humility to face the people of Chicago and say "I was wrong; this project was a bad idea."
Chicago needs a mayor who has vision and a grasp of the issues. Unfortunately, this is not anything I see in any of the present candidates, black or white, Democrat or Republican or third party. We hear much about so-and-so being the "black candidate" or the "white candidate" but nobody has come forth as the issues candidate. Until that changes, we figure to end up with a mayor who is exactly like every other over the past forty years.