tv 2018 Printers Row Lit Fest - Roger Biles Mayor Harold Washington CSPAN June 9, 2018 11:21pm-12:12am EDT
the book is great. it's a fascinating read. thank you for being here. >> thank you. >> books can be purched outside the auditorium. thank you. >> welcome to the 34th annual book fast. i want to give a special thanks to our many sponsors. today's program will be broadcast live on c-span2 book tv. there will be time at the end of the session for q&a. then you can join us at the microphone w and show that question with the audience so
the viewing audience can hear you. before we begin today's program, we ask that you silence your cell phone andse turn off your camera flash. please welcome elizabeth taylor, chicago tribune literary editor at large. >> thank you so much for the introduction and i'm thrilled to see you all here. here we are and it's been in the shadow of the harold washington library and a stone throw away from the college and this unbelievable that it's been 35 years ago that harold washington was elected mayor of chicago. he became the first, and only so far, african-american mayor. today we have the author of this biography of the mayor,
roger biles, author of harold washington, champion of race and reform in chicago. now we have people p who actually knew harold washington personally proved before he was elected they predicted imprints that washington would win the electionon and then he ended up covering him in office. it's pretty amazing. here we have it, and insider, a journalist and historian and we are here to bring harold
washington back to life and into this room to try to understand that incredibly interesting time in the city's history and really in american history. so we will talk and will have questions so please hold them and then start angling over to will see where you the microphone and it will work better from there. so, let's start, roger, you didn't know him personally and so what was the key to your getting to know him? what were the documents, interviews, archives, how did you first get to know him?
was there a rosebud moment for you? >> i guess i would start by saying i wife and i left chicago in 1981. we were out of the city when the 1983 election occurred and we followed it from a distance, watching wgn television and reading accounts of various newspapers , and it was, as you can imagine, a pretty remarkable thing to look at from a distanc distance. the people we knew wondered what had happened to chicago, frankly, and then many m years later i was doing research in the harold washington library on the ninth floor, and i was working on another project and in the process of doing that i was talking and they commented that the harold washington papers had not been looked at
very much yet by scholars and i was really surprised by that because it's a very large, very rich collection. i started sampling in its and reading, and pretty soon i decided this really was a treasure trove of information and from that point i read the existing literature out there on harold washington and decided that the harold washington i was getting to know in the archives was not necessarily the harold washington i was reading about and some of the other books and articles. that's when i decided to do the book. i spent an awful lot of time on the ninth floor of the harold washington library pouring through those boxes and letterso and memos, and then i wash fortunate enough to talk to a number of people like jackie and some others
who have been in the washington administration in one capacity or another, who knew him personally, and that's how i pieced it together. >> you are with them for so long, how did you first encounter harold washington? >> ralph metcalf had a political organization. and he went to church where i grew up and sundays after the 12:00 o'clock mass, a lot of folks would gather and go to
the parkway ballroom where there was brunch and my family usually went there as well. i got to know him as a kid listening to grown folk conversation going on in the ballroom. give ahead a few years, i graduated from college. the friend of mine was working foras harold as he was running for state senate and she said jackie, you have to come over and help us with this race. the main opponent was the committeemen by the name of jim taylor who had, as part of his tricks, he would put up other candidates with the same name so there were two other washingtons on the ballot to try to confuse the voters. i job was to put together precinct operation that would
overcome that, and from that election until the 87 election i did that for every one of harold campaigns. >> i want to get back to the amazing. [inaudible] monroe, talk about young reporter. >> i wasn't that young. i had been in the business for 13 years. i was much younger than i am now. i met harold right after he had been elected state senator. i was on a radio program with him. i had just done an investigation on car repairs
in city of chicago and we had been ripped off half the time. it was a three-month investigation. i'm on the show and heralds on the show and the first thing he wants to know is did we come to his war. of course i had been there. as a matter of fact, the way i got to become involved in the campaign is because i made it a point of covering the black community. i thought the black community was not covered enough so i covered the westside in the south side. i'd come up with stories and after they became mayor and put in office by the black
voters, there were these meetings throughout black chicago on electing a black mayor. they didn't have anybody in mind in particular atti the time but they wanted to know who we would have to represent us but i kept hearing about these meetings so i started paying attention to them. jesse jackson had a boycott at chicago fast and i covered that. i went into chicago fast and there were no black. they told me there was support. i also did a story about voter registration or they had set up voter registration boots in front of wealt welfare offices print interviewed people and there were people who had never voted before who said they wanted to vote for a black person. i knew this was serious.
high road and op-ed piece predicting that the mayor of chicago could be black andco because of my community connections, i also discovered that he was going to run so i broke the story in thexp tribune. >> you were quite a predictor. maybe i should ask you later what you things going to happenap today. >> it's more difficult today. >> you had two popular white candidates, one popular black candidate in the black community was upset because the predictions was. [inaudible] for the most part, they split the white vote.
>> fascinating. metcalf famously broke withh the machine and, actually, this one line i attributed to him, he said it's never too late to be black and actually, it was his amazing son who brought along. how did harold washington break from machine. how did he? i used to always d describe harol harold, he would never disagree with me, he was in the machine but not of the machine. as a result of his father who was a precinct worker in the third war, he was a
committeemen of the third war, and he had promised harold's father that when it was up he would support him. what happened was one reneged and supportedhi archibald and his fatherr was extremely disappointed and hurt and harold had been working with his father on various campaigns and saw what the machinemi did but understood that if he really wanted to be in politics, he had to be in the machine, but he was never really internalizing that after the disappointment with his father. >> roger, do you look into
this question of him breaking with the machine or more evolving out of it or having a dualul existenc existence. what did you find in your research? >> when harold washington was elected he was part of the cook county delegation that went down to springfield, and all the democrats went down there and they were expected to vote the way the party told them to vote. each morning when they went in to the house chamber they were given a piece of paper that told them how they were supposed to vote. the representatives called thesee our idiot sheets and they took the paper and went into the house and they voted the way they were told to vote. according to adlai stevenson the third who was the seatmate
in the house, washington didn't like that from the beginning, but for while he continued to vote the way he was supposed to vote. it was a political matter of fact, but after a while he started to show some independence. he started to cast some votes that didn't sit very well back in cook county, and over time, i think he saw enough things that made him realize that blacks in chicago were not being treated very well and they were being treated the way they should considering the political support they gave. i think it evolved over a period of time. by the time he left the illinois house and moved over to the illinois senate, by that time he was recognized in the black community as a democrat to be sure, but an independent democrat.
>> during the mayor's race, he would tell people take the turkey, but give me your vote. >> and does everybody know what he meant by that? >> it's the chicago way where they try to buy votes so they go into various communities. in fact, it still. practiced today. they're keeping up witho tradition.pe i'm sure it will happen somewhere. >> andnd public housing was a big part of that. it's easier to control vote if you had h public housing to bring turkeys up a few flights and there you have it. so, he gradually sort of evolve evolved.
the debate platform. before then, no one was sure al all. he would be the person everybody knew that richie daley was not very articulate in the way he tried to present himself. it was assumed he would be a less successful debater and harold blew everyone away with his performance. we knew who he was and what he was about, but the rest of the city really got to see who he was. >> , and roger, did you, in your research, did you find
how did harold washington prepare for debates? he was a national speaker, he was entertaining, but did he work to prepare or did it just come naturally? what did you find out? >> for those whote don't remember, he was a terrific public speaker on lots of different levels. he could be funny or serious or really goeo after people who had irritated him. he was really a a galvanized public speaker. in addition to that, he did prepare very hard for those debates because i think there was a realization in the 1983 more mayoral race that burn and daily had the support of the media. people talked about the big showdown and washington was something of an afterthought to that point.
he didn't have the name recognition throughout the city. he certainly well known in the city. asthink there was a t recognition in the washington campaign that those debates were essential. they were very important as a way of showing to the people chicago that their guy was capable and articulate and a legitimate candidate. i think a lot was riding on it, and i think washington prepared very hard for it. >> if you think about it it was very hard for that state. we have people standing in. i think we threw harder questions that he got to debate. knowing him and his background, also knowing the city and the issues at the time, he was talking about the obscene amount of money he had
and then harold wins the primary, and overnight. >> he built a coalition that got him elected. was not only the african-american vote that got himm elected. was that purposeful or spontaneous. >> the thing is, now we have computers to look at that data. at the same time in 1983 we didn't have that computer capacity.
david had spreadsheets that included every election since 1955. we knew every precinct in the city. we know how they voted. we essentially put together a target list of precincts from the 77 run that monroe mentioned he lost, we knew where he got support particularly in the eighth ward in the 21st ward, et cetera. we got very few votes out of the west side. we also knew where the democratic vote was on the westun side. they knew where we could potentially get those there. we targeted every single precinct in the city.
we just didn't waste any resources. >> the way he ended up getting the lakefront liberal votes was harold and walter mondale were campaigning on the northwest side at the catholic church, and the crowd was the ugliest raciall confrontation since doctor king came to chicago. somebody had spray-painted on the church and it was just ugly. both time and newsweek magazine did a a cover story. they talked about how ugly it was. the lakefront liberals between the appearance because they
had plans elsewhere. >> and then ugly turns to the general. he won the primary, but the general was rough. >> democrats had one every year since the 1930s, and the republican party didn't amount to a whole lot when harold washington won the primary, the assumption was he would win the general election easily. he and his people started making plans, not publicly of course, but they began to talk about appointments and policies and so on and so forth. the assumption was that the general election wasn't going to be much of anything. that didn't turn out to be the case. the republicans ran a fellow
who had been harold washington's. in the illinois house for many years, bernard and i think it's fair to say he was an undistinguished state legislato legislator. he had just retired and was really ready to sort of put politics behind him. the republicans thought nobody they ran would win so they decided bernard would be a good candidate and this would be a way for him to sort of round out his career and so forth. to just about everybody surprise, the republicans started to gain in following and allotted to democrats decided they were republicans after all. >> there is this one interview where this guy said he voted
for that guy epstein pretty didn't even know his name. he knew he was jewish but he didn't know his name. they talked about some of the rallies how he would be up there speaking to the crowd and people in the crowd would be yelling you tell him and things like that. it was pretty obvious what was going on. >> that continued for a while. they were called council wars. >> it was really the leader trying to make the whole split of the city's counsel as a result of the integral speech
that harold was essentially going to put them on the shelf as democrat. it was just r an excuse. was really the fact that this was a black mayor and they do notot want to follow him and they started this and put together the 29 white members of the city council. there were several white that stuck with him as part of the 21, but for the most part the ethnic were in opposition to him until we won a court case and the redistricting that was icracially biased and that gave us additional special
elections and we were able to get to 2525 and he had the deciding vote in city council. we were able then, at that point, two years into his administration to really start working with them. >> there was one thing he told me back then that sticks with me today and it's that every other ethnic group in america can run as an ethnic person. if you're italian, then all the italians will vote for you, et cetera. for black candidates becomes racialre, black versus white. we are an ethnic society. those in the harold pointed
out and you've seen it played out many times. >> when you look back on his time in office, what dot you think was his greatest accomplishment? what is the greatest lasting accomplishment? what do you think he thought his great accomplishment was when he was mayor. >> he had a saying that he set often, and i think this is wonderful. he said no one but no one in the city will be safe from my fairness. he made that word fairness the touchstone. he wanted people to know that as mayor he was going to be fair and treat all groups
fairly, and in some ways i think that was a great accomplishment that he changed the tone in government. he opened it up, he issued executive orders that opened up records to the public, he opened up the budget making process which previously had been done entirely, he opened it up to public participation, and i think he gave a lot of groups and a lot of people in chicago the very basic idea that they counted. he used to say he was t going be fairer than fair. that was his quote. some of them were upset about that because their opinion was when the whites were in charge they took care of the whites so he shouldn't be out there being fair, it's our turn. he should be taking care of us. >> exactly. now everybody wears flags on
their lapels as an indicationn of who he was. i think roger mentioned opening up torn government. harold was intent upon that and in preparing the budget hee made every cabinet official go with him to various communities throughout the city, and we would listen to people and hearhe their concerns and their complaints and their vision of what they thought the vision should be and it was based upon the input from the public that we then have to go back and craft a budget for the city, and more than that, he made the budget process a whole month of availability for folks to come in and see and talk about the budget and find out what was in the budget, et cetera.
there was a decree as part of it, but he planned to do away, he said he would stomp on the grave. [inaudible] >> when i first moved to chicago back in 1972, i was new to chicago. i didn't know my way around you could get addresses out of off light poles. >> and also it could mean that the light post, if you had someone who didn't support you , the lights were off. you just didn't have garbage
pickup. you had resources, services deprived. >> when harold took office we had a huge deficit. the city cannot have huge deficit budgets like the federal government or state government. we had to balance the budget and we looked at some of the personnel titles that exist in the budget, and it was a position called, a staff person who is charged with going around cleaning street signs as an example of the waste. we cut out all those strange things and got the budget in order. one of our big fights was over,
we were remodeling the o'hare airport and we had a fight regarding who were the people that were gngo be selected as the investment counselor, et cetera. the lawyers handle those deals. we had to fight that out as well. the 87 election was a tough election? what did you thinkot was going on there? >> i think there were an awful lot of people in chicago who 1 were reluctant to vote for a black man in 1987 as they were in 1983. i know, having gone through the papers, that there were some people around harold
washington in his administration who felt very confident that the vote would turn out better in 87 and had w 83 and when it didn't it was very similar. i know washington expressed some willsa disappoint appointment. the quote that comes from a comment that he made from david axelrod after the 1987 election. he said quote, in it ate bit to be a black man in the land of the free and the home of the brave. i think he was very disappointed and hurt because he felt he had really done a terrific job in four years despite the fact that he had the city council dabbling every step of the way and he had done some great things and thought this should count for something. >> he became the symbol of
chicago after he became mayor. before then, when you do foreign travel people would go to chicago. after that harold used to brag how they go places and first house harold. [laughter] >> jackie, what do you think about that? was it rough? can you believe it was that rough of a win? >> we had some of the folks who represented the ethnic ande vote pop back up 87. we had jane who thought she could make a comeback as an opponent. she didn't last very long. we had heinz who thought he could do it. we even had edward who thought he could do it.
we were fighting some of the same goes from 83. the ones who were physically out there as well as those behind the scene. heinz was a committeeman. he was not visible in 83, but he was one of those folks who was trying to defeat harold. : t : thing. by that : >> one found with putting together the coalition is that the mexican american community has always supported the incumbent. and 83, most of the mexican american community was with the jane byrne. a couple of them were folks that
supported -- lot of unsupported chamber. they are able to bring them in 87. we had a broader base of the lakefront. it was coalition politics that were used in 87. >> anybody who wishes to ask a question, please come over to the microphone. i think it's over there. >> while were waiting for them to join us, can you talk about the role lou palmer played in the election? >> lou palmer just generally with the black community kind of the last draw in a way.
there's a bunch of other insults in the black community like the public schools and so forth. but kata talk show. he started and put together a mantra of, we shall see in 83, meaning that all of the violations of -- it up black community would be resolved in 83. so it became part of the saying in the black community. >> another thing he would say is just enough to make a negro turn black. >> my name is joseph kelly. in the 80s there was chairman of the executive director and it was an interesting situation. some people confuse it but i
think i got myself an interesting conversations including in washington. we work for the centers of neighbors and technology. interesting things. >> thank you. with the 11th board and everything. >> their different times. next question. >> could someone talk about the role that ed gardner played in the mayoral campaign? >> i think munro who mentioned the ford registration that was
going on, harold was a reluctant candidate. one thing he learned from looking at the campaign for others was getting the support of the black community. that meant that you had to register and get on the voting role. ed was a black businessman, retired now. he sponsored our voter registration drive. with the black community you have to give them something to hang two. what the voter registration drive we have slowly come a live october 5. that was the gubernatorial election happened just before the mayoral election. so they refunded folks in the
black community on the south and west side. mainly was a black voter registration drive. i think we almost defeated jim thompson because we had gotten the blacks registered in the fall and they supported stevenson for governor. we continued that drive up until the mayoral election in february of 83. >> one thing that washington did before he agreed to run because he was reluctant, he set certain goals. he said i will run if there are so many additional voters registered. >> 100,000 voters. >> and that exceeded that number. then he said well, what can i
do. next question. >> i'm jim kaplan, loses husband. i was around in those days, one thing i'd be interested in your view as you said harold is one of the great legacy was the fairness. in 83, when they ran in the ugliest of that campaign it just cannot be overstated. one of the ideas was that a black person, at least in some neighborhoods in parts of opinion was that a black person cannot be mayor. the city would be destroyed. it was inconceivable. one of the great things that
heralded was that he disprove that. obviously nothing terrible happened. the city continued to function and grow. >> it was so bad they were predicting that chicago would become gary indiana. >> and then it would go the way of st. louis, detroit and all these other places. you flash forward 20 years later, the same wars that were heavily -- they all voted for barack obama. and there are still mostly or all white. one of the things even with the people who hated harold, i think he proved to them that a black man or a black person could be a high executive official of the
city, and nothing horrible would happen. >> one thing we saw on the election is that some that were anti- harold and 83, the voting totals were reduced. a lot of folks figured out but he had done a good job. they did not vote. >> were getting to my last question about legacy. >> in 2018, what is the legacy of harold washington and chicago politics? is there a possibility for a new mayor to take on his spirit? i'm relatively new into chai school here. i love to learn more. >> the biggest legacy is barack obama. he came to chicago because of harold washington.
he use those lessons in running for president of the united states. in terms of local legacy in the upcoming election, i'm not sure any candidates that have declared for mayor are of the same caliber of harold washington. one thing people did not understand was they thought harold got elected because of his rhetoric. did not understand the roots and foundation that harold had laid that helped form the coalition. a lot of people have not done the groundwork to get the community and base that's needed to be successful. i'm not sure there's that legacy in the current crop of
candidates. >> you are right about barack. i had lunch with him when he was a state senator. he said that he would like to be mayor of chicago one day. >> when you're predicting things, that's our mayor. and he just blew me away. >> i would say that if you look at the books that come before mine, most, not all but most say harold washington was a tremendous public speaker and charismatic politician. but not much of an administrator. somebody did not really have what it took to run a city like chicago. if i had to say there is a theme to my book, it is challenging
that idea and saying that he was those things. but when you consider the city council battles he had to fight and the diminishment of federal sources given to the city set that time and everything, i think he did a good job as mayor. >> as he was dying, and seeing the reporters and waiting outside, there was an incredible feeling of what is happening. then when we finally got the word of his death, it was shocking. i think it's taken the city some time to recover from a loss like that.
>> will answer any questions outside. thank you to c-span for doing this. thank you all for coming in caring so much about the city. thank you for coming and bringing harold to life. we will be outside signing his book. thank you for coming. [applause] [inaudible conversation] [inaudible conversation] >> welcome to the 34th annual lit fest. i want to say thank you to our