Is Chicago not ready for "reform"?
When Harold Washington ran for Chicago mayor, there was no doubt he was running as a reform candidate.
But James L. Merriner, author of several books about local politics and corruption, including Grafters and Goo Goos: Corruption and Reform in Chicago, 1833-2003, points out that no candidate is running under the reform banner in the current mayor race.
"Is anyone saying, 'I am the reform candidate?' " Merriner asks.
Yet, several candidates have said they think Washington was the best mayor Chicago has produced.
"He brought all kinds of people in," candidate Patricia Watkins said Tuesday,
Jan. 18, at a meeting with the Chicago Sun-Times Editorial Board. "He was open to Asians and Latinos and the GLBT community and he was open to all kinds of people and he engaged them and ... they were a part of government. I think that's what's missing now."
Candidate Gery Chico has two favorites: "I'm torn," Chico said. "So I am going to say two people, but for different reasons. First, Harold Washington, because what I think he did in changing the trajectory of how we think about the city and the people who are in it and how we incorporate their interests in the government was absolutely revolutionary. On the other hand, I think that Richard J. Daley was an outstanding leader because of what he was able to do to build the city in coalition with a lot of different interest groups in the city: business, labor, communities."
As for Merriner, he says his favorite mayor was Carter Harrison II, who served from 1897 to 1905 and again from 1911 to 1915 because "he was the source of my favorite all-time Chicago political anecdote."
As Merriner told it Jan. 11 at a meeting of the Society of Midland Authors at the Cliff Dwellers Club in Chicago, Harrison - while running for re-election about a century ago - asked a friend to put in his safe $15,000 that gambling lords had given Harrison. If something happens to me, Harrison told the friend, give it back to them. If I win re-election, I'll give it back myself.
The friend, confused, asked Harrison why he took the money if he intended to give it back. Harrison's answer: If I don't take their money, they might think I'm a reformer and work against me.
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