Chicago will soon have an African-American woman mayor. No big deal.
Though you may know her name when you read this, as I do not when I write this, the fact that it will be an African-American woman mayor, and the fact that this is inevitable since we are choosing from two African-American women, and the fact that it is no big deal, is a very big deal.
Newcity started in 1986, three years after the election of the last African-American mayor, Harold Washington, and that event was a very big deal. For those who supported him, it was a new beginning, a near-Messianic movement that would change the city forever, for the better. The vigor of his support was met with an almost equal share of antagonism from his opposition, who felt with equal certainty that the election of an African-American mayor would be the beginning of the end, the moment that would change the city forever, for the worse.
Harold’s opponent in the 1983 general election for mayor was Bernard Epton, a liberal Republican put forth to be the routine electoral victim of a city nearly unanimously Democratic. But when Harold won the Democratic primary, Epton’s political fortune soared and his campaign took on the tenor of the Last White Hope, even adopting the racist dog whistle campaign slogan, “Before It’s Too Late.”
I met Harold Washington once, in the earliest days of Newcity, when we had a booth at a street fair on Printers Row and he was out making the rounds and stopped by and said hello. Someone memorialized it in a photo and to this day it hangs proudly on my wall.
I never met Bernie Epton, but I would over time meet two of his sons. One was a South Loop resident active in neighborhood issues, the other started an alt-weekly in Dayton, Ohio. I recollect that both indicated a sadness in their family over the nature of their father’s campaign, that its tenor had been adopted against his better nature in the interest of political victory, a sentiment echoed in today’s campaign where the once-impeccably progressive Toni Preckwinkle is suffering from the burdens of her own opportunistic dealings with the Machine devils.
I met Richard M. Daley, too, right around the time of his first election in 1989. At that point, Newcity’s transition from a South Loop neighborhood newspaper to a citywide alt-weekly was underway, and we’d taken an aggressive position on the Daley candidacy, putting ourselves on the map with a cover that parodied the sycophantic way the local press was covering him, virtually coronating him before the election.
So on the day I met him, at the last-minute behest of someone or some organization long forgotten, I did so with a fair bit of trepidation. Would this powerful man be aware of the hard-hitting story that this tiny little publication had just published? If he was, he did not indicate such. He was gracious and friendly. I met him again at the end of his reign, just a month or so after he stepped down in 2011, when he was being honored by the Harold Washington Literary Award. While the crowd of literati and moneyed types mingled over cocktails at the Union League Club, Daley was stashed in another room nearby, a seemingly sad man alone with just a bodyguard for company. The gaggle of favor-seekers and suck-ups that always clinged to his power were nowhere to be found. Again, he was friendly, indicating no more awareness of Newcity than he’d had two decades earlier.
Earlier this year, his brother Bill Daley seemed to be on a similar inevitable path to be our mayor. He’d raised the most money, and gathered most of the trappings of power around him, from the business establishment to the endorsements of the Chicago Tribune and Crain’s.
But then, so much more quietly than in 1983, the people spoke and we’re going to have an African-American mayor again, a woman no less. No big deal.
Look for Newcity’s April 2019 print edition at over 1000 Chicago-area locations this week or subscribe to the print edition at newcity.com/subscribe.