If you want to know what's wrong with any of the current candidates for president of the Cook County Board of Commissioners, check out his opponents' TV sound bites on the news at ten. If you want to know what's wrong with Cook County government, consider the massive, decrepit structure on West Harrison Street that serves as Cook County Hospital.
Like much of county government, it is invisible to most people, known only from occasional headlines linked to one or another crisis. Once a nationally acclaimed leader in both medical care and education, Cook County Hospital is now an overstressed, antiquated, and inadequate health-care provider of last resort. Many skilled, dedicated staff are still giving quality care against the odds in many areas (such as trauma and occupational medicine), but they are frustrated by myriad physical and bureaucratic obstacles. The hospital faces imminent loss of accreditation.
Since 1934 there have been proposals to replace the old building, where patients still are treated in large open wards instead of semiprivate rooms. But Democratic machine politicians have viewed the hospital mainly as a fount of patronage jobs and contracts. Despite long-standing debate, county government has failed to plan for the hospital's replacement and has been forced to spend $100 million in recent years simply to keep within city building codes a structure whose life expectancy extends to the middle of this decade at best. It would take another $130 million to bring the building fully into compliance.
The failure to plan for the future of the hospital itself is only part of the problem. More serious has been the county's failure to figure out and respond to the health needs of its citizens in a more general sense. The medically poor--including about one-fifth of the county population who have no health insurance--need above all good outpatient care, but the county's few outpatient clinics are poorly distributed and overcrowded. It isn't unusual for patients to wait eight months for an appointment at Fantus Clinic, the outpatient facility near County Hospital. Ultimately the lack of good primary health care leads to a sicker population and greater public and private costs. There has been no real accountability to the public or sensitivity to the needs of those whom the county health system is intended to serve.
Even the existing facilities are poorly used. A new study of county government by the Office of Social Science Research at the University of Illinois, "Cook County: The Sleeping Giant," reports that there is a costly lack of coordination between city-operated clinics and the County Hospital; for example, patients sent from the clinics to the hospital often have to repeat diagnostic tests because the doctors at County don't trust or can't get access to the results obtained at the clinics. Meanwhile more than a dozen inner-city hospitals have closed, as have parts of the University of Illinois Hospital, which is located just a few blocks from County but has not been linked with county health-care needs. This lack of coordination and planning will end up costing county taxpayers millions.
Like the rest of county government, the hospital has been a victim of external economic, governmental, and demographic changes: The county's population has become poorer, and even many nonpoor working people now find themselves without adequate health insurance. Cuts in federal funding have strained all hospitals, and marketplace pressures on even nonprofit hospitals have led to a drop in charitable care. The buck stops at County, which is required by law to provide care to those who can't get it elsewhere.
These external problems are shared by most cities, but Cook County has done an especially poor job adapting. "Chicago is abysmally behind other urban centers, way behind Dallas, Boston, Milwaukee, and Seattle, for example," argues Dr. Quentin Young, former director of internal medicine at County Hospital and founder of the Health and Medicine Policy Research Group, a local organization of community and health-care activists. "Each has solved comparable problems with comparable resources much better than Chicago. There are lots of places you can lay blame, but right at the pinnacle is George Dunne."
Dunne, retiring president of the County Board of Commissioners, managed to run county government without drawing much attention to it for most of his 21 years in office. But in recent years the festering problems nurtured through decades of passivity, neglect, and old-fashioned machine politics have burst open in public view: in addition to the ongoing hospital crises, we've had the Greylord scandal of judicial corruption; patronage abuse in the sheriff's office; and $1,000-a-day court-imposed fines for overcrowding at Cook County Jail. For years Dunne held taxes down but did little else other than keep the old political machine well-greased. To keep the politicians working together he indulged them their overlapping and uncoordinated fiefdoms. That produced what the "Sleeping Giant" study calls "the waterhole syndrome," referring to the jealous defense of turf that undermines both efficiency and rationality.
But in recent years taxes and county government employment have spiraled upward rapidly: from 1980 to the present the property tax levy for all county government has increased two and one-half times, with increases in each of the past three years to fund a budget that now stands at $1.6 billion. Two thousand of the nearly 25,000 employees have been added since 1986. Yet during the past decade, services have deteriorated.
County government may be invisible or sleeping, but it is not unimportant. It is roughly two-thirds the size of Chicago's city government, runs the world's largest single court system, maintains the jail and the offices of state's attorney and sheriff, operates the forest preserves, assesses and collects taxes for local governments, and has home-rule authority to take on many other tasks.
The three key failings of county government, as exemplified by County Hospital, have been in planning, coordination, and accountability, according to Jeanne P. Quinn, a former suburban county commissioner who is now an assistant professor of public policy at Roosevelt University.
Quinn, author of the "Sleeping Giant" report, offers repeated examples of how county government fails to plan the two major systems for which it is responsible--health care and the criminal justice system (including courts, jails, prosecutors, public defenders, and the sheriff's office). Occasionally there are plans for building programs, such as new jails, but little attention is given to long-range strategies. The jail problems, for example, are hardly new: the county has been under court orders for ten years to correct overcrowding. That's how inadequate the planning has been.
Also, the county government is plagued by fragmentation and duplication, Quinn argues: 5 different county offices play some role in taxing and disposing of property, and 11 offices have staff for processing county revenues. Lack of coordination in the criminal justice system lengthens the time inmates are locked up at County Jail, leading to overcrowding and the expensive construction of new jails.
And the budgeting process is way out of whack, Quinn argues: temporary and overtime costs are out of control (both are convenient patronage tools); budgets are always approved months late; each new budget simply takes for granted everything preceding and adds to it; vacant employment slots are budgeted to provide money to be spread about as needed, without planning. There is virtually no effort to involve or inform the public or to find out what people really need and want from the county; for example, the forest preserve system offers ten golf courses but has closed its only children's camp, Quinn says. Since commissioners are elected at large (seven from the suburbs, ten from the city), party loyalties have dominated, and voters have felt no connection with any particular commissioner. (Finally this fall voters can decide in a referendum on the single-member districts that are likely to provide more responsive representation.)
"For a long time county government was moribund, and people didn't care much about it," Quinn says. "Now all of a sudden people say, 'Where has the county been all these years? Why hasn't it taken prudent steps?'"
Some county functions could best be eliminated (everybody's favorite target is the useless post of superintendent of education), but others need to be expanded. For example, county government could play a much bigger role (it could hardly be smaller) in coordinating economic-development efforts throughout the county and linking workers (especially in Chicago) to jobs (increasingly in the suburbs). John Gardiner, director of the University of Illinois at Chicago Office of Social Science Research, argues that "most metropolitan areas around the country have some formal mechanism for coordinating planning of economic growth of the central city and surrounding areas. For an enormous share of the county outside the city there has been no planning."
Similarly, the state has mandated the county to take the lead in developing a program for solid waste disposal. What's needed is a coordinated system of waste reduction, recycling, and composting. But the county has done little, leaving the way open for private incinerator builders to organize waste disposal around their needs rather than those of county taxpayers.
County government now is the last vestige of the old machine--"like the city before Harold," according to John Cameron, associate director of the Illinois Public Action Council, a statewide citizens' lobby. But is there a Harold Washington among the candidates for president of the County Board?
Given the differences in background among the four contenders for the Democratic nomination, it is remarkable that at least on paper they agree as much as they do. Veteran state senator Ted Lechowicz, from Chicago's northwest side, is the candidate slated by the regular Democratic organization. County Clerk Stanley Kusper is a longtime machine Democrat whom Dunne dislikes and refused to slate. Richard Phelan is a successful corporate lawyer with some ties to the Daley wing of the party but little past political involvement, except for a high-profile fling in Washington as investigator of House Majority Leader Jim Wright for the House Ethics Committee. R. Eugene Pincham was until recently an appellate court judge who had a distinguished career as a trial lawyer before joining the bench but has had relatively little political experience.
The degree of consensus among these four is partly a testimonial to the force of varied reform ideas long bottled up. For example, all the candidates appear to favor a countywide "human rights" (including gay rights) ordinance and single-member districts for county commissioners. One can question how much the candidates are to be believed--a subject we'll come to later--but to judge from their campaign rhetoric, at least, they essentially agree on many of the county's problems and their solutions.
Here is a summary of their positions on some of the major issues:
Taxes: Everybody pledges not to raise taxes. (Phelan has pledged to cut spending by $50 million and return it to the taxpayers, but he also told the Independent Voters of Illinois that he favored limiting tax-rate increases to no more than the rate of inflation.) Don't believe any of them. Despite the waste, patronage, and inefficiency, savings are not likely to be large enough or quick enough to stop all tax increases; about the best one can hope for is that increases will be minimized and at least used for something worthwhile.
Health care: All the candidates favor some variation on the same basic theme: a smaller county hospital combined with now-shuttered Provident Hospital and possibly other hospital facilities, plus a new emphasis on walk-in clinics and a few "megaclinics." Proposals for the county hospital range from Lechowicz's estimate of 300 beds to Phelan's of 600 beds; as an economy measure, Pincham favors refurbishing the newest parts of County Hospital rather than constructing a completely new one, and he wants to compel the nearby University of Illinois Hospital to be part of the county health-care network. All the candidates favor some use of Provident, the closed south-side hospital that was recently turned over to the state; Lechowicz and Pincham want the county to purchase it outright (along with a west-side facility, such as the closed Saint Anne's Hospital). Phelan favors a privately reopened Provident; he wants it and other hospitals to provide the county some 400 beds on a contract basis. Kusper wants to contract with private hospitals and to buy Provident. All promise expanded use of clinics, but Lechowicz seems to give them the least emphasis, Pincham and Phelan the most.
"The differences are not that clear-cut," says Dr. Quentin Young. "Each has caught the message" of health-care reformers such as those who make up his Health and Medicine Policy Research Group. (However none of the candidates seems willing to adopt the HMPRG's proposal for a new independent health authority a la the RTA or the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District.) Young and like-minded reformers tend to favor direct county control or ownership of facilities, such as satellite hospitals, because they feel it allows better monitoring and coordination of care than contracting out. They think a new hospital clearly has advantages over remodeling--indeed, they say, it may be worth a tax hike if necessary--and they believe that expanding clinics is at least as important as a new hospital. No single candidate gives them everything they want, but all, Young concedes, appear to be pointed in the same generally acceptable direction.
Abortion: Here the lines are clear. All but Lechowicz favor immediate resumption of abortions at Cook County Hospital, reversing Dunne's unilateral order to stop. Lechowicz has long been against abortion but says he wouldn't stop County Hospital abortions in cases of rape, incest, or endangerment of a woman's life; nor would he veto a County Board decision to resume abortions at the hospital in general.
Courts and jails: One way or another all the candidates hope to alleviate jail overcrowding by putting the grossly underused courtrooms to work full-time. Phelan would put on two shifts of judges and court officials, but Pincham argues that would require hiring many new people at great expense. He claims the job can be done by simply getting a full day's work out of judges. Kusper and Lechowicz basically agree with him.
Phelan, Pincham, and, in a less clear fashion, Lechowicz have also endorsed a sensible, easily implemented policy most forcefully advocated by state's attorney candidate Ray Smith: review felony charges to weed out the small drug-possession cases that clog the courtrooms and jails; such charges are frequently dismissed anyway and rarely accomplish much when prosecuted.
Ethics and patronage: Both Phelan and Pincham have called for an end to patronage, extending the city's Shakman decrees against political hiring and firing to county government, which at present is not bound by them; both also favor a countywide ethics ordinance.
Waste and environment: None of the candidates has campaigned prominently on what he would do to fulfill the state's mandate to the county regarding solid waste disposal, but when asked both Phelan and Pincham have supported a more active county role in reducing waste and recycling or composting. Lechowicz is much more cautious about the county playing a strong leading role.
Development: Although Pincham and Phelan pay lip service to the virtually untapped potential of the County Board to work for economic development, neither has made it a major issue. Phelan wants to bring business executives in to work at county jobs, hoping that might strengthen their confidence in the county.
If any of the candidates implemented his platform, county government would change for the better. But at least as important as what they say they will do is a judgment about what they are really likely to do. As always, judgments about the person--how much the voter knows, likes, trusts, or identifies with a candidate--are likely to swamp all the debates about issues.
For anyone who is convinced that county government has to undergo dramatic change, Ted Lechowicz will be the least convincing candidate. He is Dunne's handpicked standard-bearer, and his assessment of the Dunne regime isn't surprising: "I think he's got a good record." Asked if there was any area in which Dunne had performed poorly or where he would act differently, Lechowicz, a lumbering character who could never be accused of resorting to the politics of glitzy imagery, said, "He's a very able administrator, very frugal, and has a good working staff. I would be a little more active trying to secure more money from Springfield."
Indeed, Lechowicz's main claim on voters is his record of service in the Illinois House and Senate, where according to the Illinois Public Action Council he racked up a fairly predictable Chicago blue-collar-ethnic machine record: generally proconsumer votes (except on insurance issues), conservative votes on social issues, and antireform votes on procedural issues. Above all Lechowicz was loyal to the party line and the party hierarchy, which is why he's the party candidate. Lechowicz is running as the insider who knows the processes of government; as he says repeatedly, "I know who to call."
As an anti-Dunne insurgent within the regular party structure, Stanley Kusper might have greater claims as a fresh voice. (His campaign did not return any phone calls requesting an interview.) Kusper, a smooth speaker with a wave of silvery hair, has taken forthright stands and broken with the Dunne tradition on a number of issues. But his feud with Dunne is primarily personal, not political, and little about his own performance in office suggests that he would change much for the better.
After serving as chairman of the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners--in which capacity he received severe criticism from reform groups such as LEAP (Legal Elections in All Precincts)--Kusper became Cook County clerk in 1973. He improved the efficiency of the clerk's office, although last year he spent $1 million on overtime for his office, $400,000 over his budget. He has repeatedly been attacked for letting no-bid contracts, often to firms that contribute to his campaigns. He has maintained a lucrative legal practice that has often involved politically connected clients, such as several suburban community colleges. (He earned $600,000 from all sources last year while supposedly working full-time as clerk for his $62,000 salary.) He's been criticized for serving as a paid agent for a company that sold $870,000 worth of voting machines to the county while Kusper was chairman of the Board of Election Commissioners. Later, despite the criticism, he had a similar relationship with a firm that sold the county $70,000 worth of computer voting supplies.
Kusper has been caught making numerous deposits of county funds into non-interest-bearing accounts at politically connected banks, including $6.8 million at Amalgamated Trust, where he received a personal loan. This was dismissed by Kusper as a "goof." It wasn't the only one. According to the Phelan campaign the county has paid $1.2 million in compensation to taxpayers who wrongly lost their homes in tax-redemption sales due to mistakes made by Kusper's office, and the now-depleted fund for such payments owes an additional $2 million. Phelan charges that some of the buyers in the tax-redemption sales were Kusper campaign contributors.
Last week the county auditor seriously criticized Kusper's performance as clerk. Since 1982 Kusper's office collected more than $9.4 million that was not turned over to the county treasurer promptly for disbursement to local governments. By depositing money in non-interest-bearing accounts, Kusper also lost taxpayers about $1.37 million since 1988. The timing of this report may be "political," as Kusper maintains, but the criticisms are part of a long-standing pattern.
This record raises serious questions about how much new leadership Kusper could bring to the office of County Board president. Even if he tried some new policies, the politics are vintage machine and are likely to vitiate any possible favorable initiatives.
That leaves Pincham and Phelan, both articulate, successful lawyers, both stylish dressers and confident public figures. Their candidacies have left most political reform groups seriously divided over endorsement. Each has captured support of some of the now-fragmented reform movement, but neither has excited political activists very much. Although both claim to have identified with Harold Washington and what he did for city government, neither is close to Washington in governmental experience, political savvy, or charisma.
Questions have been raised about how much either candidate was "with Harold." Although Phelan claims to have provided his office phones to Washington's 1983 primary campaign, several prominent participants in the campaign do not recall it and say Phelan shied from any public identification with the campaign. There's no proof available to substantiate his claim. Although Phelan attacks Pincham for publicly endorsing Washington while a sitting judge in 1987, he also claims that Pincham was on and worked for Ed Vrdolyak's regular Democratic slate in 1986, opposing Washington's slate. Pincham's campaign says Washington endorsed the judge in 1986, which would make him that rare candidate on which Vrdolyak and Washington agreed.
Both Pincham and Phelan have been attempting to undercut the other's reform credentials. Pincham, who resigned his judgeship to run for office, attacks Phelan for his intention to retain his private law practice if elected. Phelan says his firm won't handle local governmental business, that his role in the firm will be "circumscribed," and that the firm will reject work that leads to conflicts of interest (although he would continue to represent Jewel, for example, even if it was a supplier of groceries to the county jail). But Pincham insists that in other offices--state's attorney, the city corporation counsel, the recorder of deeds--top officials who are attorneys do not hold outside jobs. He warns that it is difficult to prohibit moonlighting among government employees, with all its potential conflicts of interest, if the boss does it. Even if there are no direct conflicts, much influence-seeking business can gravitate to politicians' outside occupations (indeed one of the major criticisms of George Dunne was his long, profitable interest in an insurance company).
(Kusper has also said he would retain his law practice; Lechowicz, who hopes voters will turn to him as the only nonlawyer, has a long history of "double-dipping," holding a county job while working as a legislator--and selling real estate and insurance on the side. Lechowicz insists, however, that he was never paid by the county while working in Springfield.)
Phelan has presented himself as a political outsider. That is certainly true by comparison with figures like Kusper and Lechowicz. But several partners in his firm, Phelan Pope & John, are clout-heavy allies of Mayor Daley who worked for him or his father; moreover the firm has done governmental work, most notably the $1.5 million Jim Wright investigation. Phelan's personal ties to Daley and the support he enjoys among prominent Daley allies, fund-raisers, and the wealthy lawyers and developers who bankrolled Daley's mayoral bid all give rise to the impression that he is Daley's secret candidate. The campaign insists there have been no direct ties with Daley, who has endorsed nobody, but people who either dislike Daley or simply fear his having too much control over local government express misgivings about Phelan.
Phelan has taken the greatest heat for his membership in the Bob O'Link Golf Club, an exclusive all-male suburban country club that has never admitted blacks or Jews, from which he resigned last year before announcing his candidacy. Despite his apologies--he says he only wanted to play golf and was thinking of sponsoring black and Jewish candidates for membership--and despite work early in his career on behalf of racial integration in the Dewey community of Evanston, his past membership has created some distrust of Phelan's values. Pincham has challenged Phelan to join him in calling for suspension of the club's liquor license because of its discrimination, but Phelan is reluctant to challenge his golfing friends so blatantly and claims that he wants to work behind the scenes to persuade them to integrate the club.
Phelan has also been criticized for several cases he has argued as an attorney--defending the city against the Afro-American Patrolmen's League landmark lawsuit on discrimination, defending Jewel in the salmonella milk poisoning case, and defending Outboard Marine Corporation (OMC) in a long battle over the pollution of Waukegan harbor with PCBs. Phelan argues that he reached honorable settlements in all these cases, setting up guidelines to prevent discrimination in the fire and police departments, arranging compensation for the Jewel victims, and reaching an agreement on containment of the PCBs in the harbor, an agreement that the community supported, he says.
But it's also true that Phelan defended a racially discriminatory police department, and in the Waukegan case his client long argued that PCBs were not harmful to humans and fought the Environmental Protection Agency, which had put the harbor on its first Superfund environmental cleanup list, at every possible juncture. Some people in the community--especially charter fishing-boat operators, who didn't like the bad publicity--did back OMC, according to Bob Ginsburg, former research director of Citizens for a Better Environment. But, Ginsburg said, OMC "used all their legal resources to delay cleanup. They acted like any other company, saying it wasn't our fault, there's no problem, and we're not going to pay the money" to clean it up. Some environmentalists fear that the negotiated solution--containment of the PCBs within part of the harbor--may not work. Besides, argues Cameron Davis, deputy director of the Lake Michigan Federation, "there is contamination that goes way outside the scope of that cleanup plan that the EPA will not force OMC to be responsible for." That contamination will cost millions to clean up, says Davis. "Why should taxpayers pay for that?"
"That's what corporate attorneys do," shrugged one Phelan backer when these cases came up. Phelan, he argued, was simply representing his clients, not reflecting the values he would bring to office.
If parts of Phelan's record raise doubts among political reformers, so do parts of Pincham's. Many people know Pincham's name only because of one line quoted out of a PUSH speech during the 1987 mayoral campaign. Pincham's speech was an impassioned commentary on Afro-American history. He discussed at length a 1741 slave rebellion in New York City, in the aftermath of which 18 blacks were hanged, another 13 burned to death at the stake. Also, four whites were hanged for supposedly conspiring with--mainly consorting with--blacks. Speaking of those four whites, Pincham said, "And so it is, we are here on [their] shoulders . . . [and] on the shoulders of the unnamed slaves who were hung and burned alive in the New York rebellion. . . . We didn't get here by ourselves."
Then, after a long discussion of the early civil rights movement and the way in which Martin Luther King Jr. was as vilified in life as celebrated in death, Pincham turned to a discussion of the candidacies of Harold Washington and many other black political leaders "who ride on our shoulders." He exhorted the audience not just to vote, but "to create an atmosphere," to be vigilant about "the traitors . . . who have the slave mentality." With that he made his infamous comment that "any man south of Madison Street who cares to vote in the February 24th election who doesn't cast a vote for Harold Washington ought to be hung as those were hung in New York." He concluded with an admonition that "we're not talking about the election. We're talking about a crusade. . . . We're talking about an emancipation. We're talking about lifting the . . . slave mentality off of those who still have it."
Pincham calls the controversial remark "hyperbole," and argues that his comments on the election were reflections on black history that could hardly exclude Washington. But judges aren't supposed to campaign for other candidates, since that calls into question the political independence of the courts, even if one can plausibly argue that Pincham didn't violate Illinois law. His isolated remark could easily be interpreted as a racial appeal, even a threat; but compared to its reputation from the one quote, the speech as a whole is surprisingly inclusive of "our white brothers" in the struggle for black freedom.
Pincham has also been criticized for his rulings in rape cases. This issue first surfaced in 1986, when Richard Daley, then the state's attorney, was challenged by a community group for his office's handling of rape cases. As he often did when criticized, Daley defended himself by striking out at the judges. This time he singled out Pincham, who was being discussed as a possible challenger for the state's attorney's office. Daley accused Pincham of viewing rape as a "social gathering"; the Cook County Bar Association protested to the state disciplinary commission, accusing Daley of attempting to intimidate judges.
After circulating as an underground critique of Pincham, the rape issue again surfaced in a short paper identified as coming from "Chicago Women Against Violence Alert." It was written by Melanie Tagman, a University of Chicago law student, who attacked Pincham for consistently voting to overturn rape and assault cases on appeal. (Appeals are heard by three-judge panels.) In a great majority of the cases he heard, Tagman charged, Pincham sided "with the rapist or assaulter and against the victim." In her analysis one was either with the rapist or against him; she did not consider the legal grounds for overturning a decision on appeal.
The records of the 24 cases Tagman considered reveal that Pincham voted to uphold 7 convictions. In 11 of the 17 instances in which he voted to reverse, the arguments focused on inadequate legal representation or other constitutional rights of the defendant. In the remaining six cases the judge ruled that the defendant had not been shown guilty beyond reasonable doubt.
Doug Cassel, an attorney with Business and Professional People in the Public Interest who is not involved in any of the campaigns, reviewed the judge's decisions and Tagman's report. "To accuse the judge of being soft on rape because he upheld constitutional rights of defendants begins to sound like Strom Thurmond," Cassel said. On the other six cases, "The issue is never 'Did the defendant persuade a reasonable reviewer he was innocent?' but whether the state proved that the defendant was guilty beyond reasonable doubt.
"My impression was that reasonable people could disagree about whether one could find reasonable doubt," Cassel continued. "I could understand why Judge Pincham found reasonable doubt, but I could understand why others might arrive at a state of moral certainty. When you put it all together, it didn't seem fair to me that Judge Pincham should be attacked on the basis of these rulings. Either people [those preparing the Tagman paper] got carried away by zeal and tilted everything to make the judge look bad, or they were incredibly incompetent. Does that mean the judge was beyond criticism? No, I think there were areas where there are proper criticisms, and there were some statements he made that most people would regard as insensitive. But in my opinion the findings were certainly within the realm of reason. You could agree or disagree, but they weren't beyond the pale."
Many self-defined progressives do not see Pincham as advocating the same kind of coalition politics that Washington did. Their chief complaint in this regard concerns Pincham's decision to enter the race in the first place. Pincham said it was "wrong" and "immoral" for the Democratic Party not to slate Commissioner John Stroger as Dunne's successor. For 70 years, he said, the chairman of the finance committee had been elevated when the presidency came open: the party "violated the rules" this time, since Stroger, a black who "was efficient, competent, and had no scandal" was passed over. Pincham said he moved to fill the "leadership vacuum" that became apparent in the progressive movement.
There are two problems with that explanation. First, John Stroger cannot be construed as a leader of "progressives." He was the quintessential black machine loyalist. The party's refusal to slate him demonstrates the same disregard for blacks shown when the City Council shunted aside Alderman Wilson Frost after Richard J. Daley died. This is a situation that progressives certainly deplore, but that doesn't mean they see Stroger as their leader. Second, many have questioned whether the "leadership vacuum" Pincham stepped into was in the progressive movement or the black movement; progressives had a candidate who they felt was electable in David Orr. When Pincham entered the race Orr backed out, in deference to the judge's popularity in the black community. (For more on this subject, see the accompanying article by Roger Kerson.)
Many coalition-minded blacks, as well as old Hispanic and white participants in the Washington movement, were upset with Pincham and especially some of his allies, like Alderman Robert Shaw, another character who's nobody's idea of a "progressive." Although veteran political strategist Don Rose supports Pincham, he noted, "During the selection process, Pincham was quite obnoxious to many blacks and all of the Hispanics, who are now elsewhere, and to many white progressives. He was extremely hostile, berating many blacks who were even considering going with a white."
Pincham views his candidacy as a continuation of the Washington tradition, appealing to all who are outside "the clout." Throughout the county he campaigns on the issues and challenges his opponents' credentials but makes no special appeal to race. "The name of the game in politics is inclusion, not exclusion," he says. But the fragile bonds that once held the beginnings of a multiracial coalition together, frayed by many events since Washington's death, have not been strengthened by Pincham's candidacy. Pincham's liberal political credentials are not in question so much as the always tricky balance of narrow African-American interests and broader political reform goals.
Questions about the two more independent candidates are endless. Would Pincham be an easy target in November for the kind of low-blow Republican campaign favored by national party chairman Lee Atwater? Would Phelan be accountable, or would he be a free-floating politician with no real constituency in the county except perhaps the Daley Democrats and their financiers? What do their histories tell of what the two candidates would do in office? What aspirations for other offices, if any, drive them?
This much is clear: Both Phelan and Pincham would, in different ways, represent a break with the traditions of George Dunne, far more than either of the other two Democratic candidates. Both at least seem to recognize the need for more planning, coordination, and accountability in county government. Both have supported similar, if not always identical, policies in the campaign--a sign that whoever wins, a constituency for reform will have been mobilized among an otherwise dispirited electorate to wake up the "sleeping giant" of county government.
Research assistant: Julian Gowan
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): illustration/Kurt Mitchell.