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Sins of the Father

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James Krohe Jr. makes some telling points in his quasi-revisionist view of Richard J. Daley but misses several others and makes a few misstatements of fact along the way ["Politics of Necessity," January 16]. In debunking RJD as a fiscal manager, he correctly notes that Chicago never went bankrupt under Daley in large part because so many governmental entities (parks, schools, welfare, etc) were not part of the city's corporate budget. But perhaps the most important issue was overlooked: by law there could not be an imbalanced budget. He would be breaking the law by going into debt. His solution, in some cases, was simply to cheat: the school system was deeply into debt because of phony accounting, in which he, the school board, and local financial institutions as well were complicit--as finally exposed by Mayor Jane Byrne.

Much of that debt related to Krohe's larger theme of race: in order to maintain and run a segregated school system, there had to be massive overspending to build and staff dual black and white neighborhood schools. The view that neighborhood integration was based more on class than race--that "the real crisis in Chicago was not that white residents were being replaced by blacks but that middle-class residents were being replaced by the poor"--is bunk. The fact is that many white south-side neighborhoods such as Chatham and Chesterfield actually experienced an upturn in their basic socioeconomic levels when they became black. Yet these were among the fastest to turn over during the accelerated racial change of the early 60s. "White flight" is indeed an accurate description, not the mischaracterization Krohe asserts. It is also a little silly to suggest that perhaps Daley was doing blacks a favor by maintaining the ghetto, because within that frame he did everything possible to deny the kind of beneficial community building and self-sufficiency envisioned by today's communitarians. Through gerrymandering and the use of political force he did all he could to deny political representation to the various black communities--he did not see the ghettos as a means of empowering an ethnic group. There were, however, visionaries such as the often assailed Gus Savage who constantly campaigned for the political and economic empowerment of black communities rather than for the abstract ideal of integration. This view made Savage a "black racist" in many eyes.

Krohe is simply in error in some assertions that understate black political independence. He says "The five middle-class black wards beat the machine in two races between 1963 and 1975." In fact there were four black independents elected during those years: Charles Chew (17th) in 1963, A.A. Rayner (6th) and William Cousins (8th) in 1967, and Anna Langford (16th) in 1971. He goes on to say that "independents never kept their seats for more than one term against an embarrassed and aroused machine," yet Cousins was reelected in both 1971 and 1975 before going on to run for judge. (Krohe mistakenly suggests that Cousins was bought out by that judgeship: he actually ran against the machine's slate and embarrassed it more by winning citywide.) Further, Chew went on to beat the machine for a state senate seat in 1966, winning his own and other wards overwhelmingly. He would surely have been reelected had he chosen to run again for alderman, as would Rayner had he chosen to run rather than retire. (Chew did not make his compromise with the machine until after he was in the senate.) It is also interesting to note that Ralph Metcalfe was returned to office in 1976 not only by the black voters of those middle-class wards south of 63rd Street but by large margins in every ward in the district, including the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 20th of "the original Black Belt."

Don Rose

N. Sedgwick

James Krohe Jr. replies:

My thanks to Mr. Rose for setting the record straight. I remain less convinced than he is that the results he cites contradict, rather than merely complicate, the judgment that Chicago's black people were politically impotent under the elder Daley.

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