Late this week, after ordinary voters had put behind them the issues of the primary election, members of the watchdog group VIADUCT were winding up conferences with experts in the fields of psychology, mythology, anthropology, and political science--part of a far-reaching effort to plumb the meaning of the controversial preelection remark made by State's Attorney Richard M. Daley.
Opponents of Daley have charged that in the last days of the primary campaign, he told a crowd of southwest-side voters, "You want a white mayor to sit down with everybody." Daley supporters maintain that their candidate actually intended to say something quite innocent: "What you want is a mayor who can sit down with everybody." Now VIADUCT has released to the press its official report, which considers a number of alternative interpretations:
"You want a white mare to sit down with everybody." This, obviously, would be a reference to the white mare that appears throughout Indo-European mythology and history. In one documented 12th-century Irish ritual, the king would perform bizarre acts with a white mare, and conclude by eating it. The mare represented the raw, untamed force of the goddess. Daley may have meant this reference sarcastically, to wit: You want a dangerous, untamed white mare to sit down with you; don't be naive, the world is unsafe, and I, Rich, will lead the city to safe ground. Daley's erudition in the history of his ancestral land can be surmised from his antipathy toward Russian literature. Last week some voters received a large postcard from him that said, "To some people, CRIME AND PUNISHMENT is a Russian novel. . . To Rich Daley, it's a mission." If Daley doesn't like Dostoyevski, he may well prefer Cambrensis (the writer who recorded the above ritual in 1185).
"You want a wet mayor to sit down with everybody." This interpretation is also based on Daley's strong sense of history. He knows that people link Chicago with gangsters and bootleggers. Perhaps some voters are worried that Richard M. Daley, the born-again reformer, will bring back Prohibition; by this remark, he is reassuring them that he will not.
"You want a watt mayor to sit down with everybody." VIADUCT thought it quite likely that Daley was contrasting himself with acting mayor Eugene Sawyer, boasting of his vibrant, electric personality. One member, however, thought that he was emphasizing his support for Commonwealth Edison.
"You want a lite mayor to sit down with everybody." Perhaps Daley was making a blatant appeal to the yuppie vote, the lakefront liberals, showing he is sensitive to their needs.
"You want a Watts mayor to sit down with everybody." VIADUCT saw this as a possible appeal to black voters, which would explain why Daley was especially galled at the misinterpretation. One VIADUCT member insisted that Daley was making a sophisticated extension of an old analogy: some pols have said that city politics is Chicago's Hollywood; Daley was soberly reminding voters that Los Angeles is ghetto as well as glamour.
"You want a night mayor to sit down with everybody." VIADUCT members were divided on this interpretation. Two of them insisted that this was Daley's subconscious mind baring itself for an instant, revealing the candidate's uneasiness about taking the mayoralty as his inherited right. This was his way of saying, albeit quite cryptically, that he would like to share power with Sawyer; Sawyer could be mayor by day, and Daley by night. (It was significant, said proponents of this interpretation, that Daley did not state it the other way around.) One VIADUCT member thought Daley meant "night" in a symbolic sense; i.e., that he would be involved in the dark side of politics, the power-mongering, while Sawyer controlled the light, open democratic process. This seemed improbable to the other members.
Shortly before the VIADUCT report was released, Daley supporters put forth another interpretation. "What he really was trying to say," said one aide, "was, 'What this city needs is a good five-cent cigar.' It's an old American expression, but he meant it like a Zen koan."
At press time, VIADUCT was examining what Eugene Sawyer's campaign manager, Reynard Rochon, meant when he said "the sheets are finally off" Daley strategist David Axelrod. Three VIADUCT members were overheard under a bridge, one insisting that Rochon was referring to an unreported protest earlier that week in which demonstrators released sheep in Daley's campaign headquarters, a symbolic accusation that Daley harbored plans to fleece the taxpayers.
Another member insisted that Rochon was referring to a bevy of socialites ("chics") who had been giving Axelrod a hard time.
The third VIADUCT member argued that the remark was still more nefarious, that Rochon had been trying to smear Axelrod personally by dredging up half-baked stories about the strategist's attendance at toga parties in his youth.
The report will be released soon.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Marc PoKempner.