Harold Washington’s 1983 Mayoral Election: How He Won Chicago


As published in the Chicago Daily News and its sister publication, the Chicago Sun-Times:

In the days leading up to the March 1978 primary, the editorial board of the Chicago Daily News ran a short, outspoken candidacy for a state senator.

“Any Democrat in the South Side’s 26th District who does not vote for Senator Harold Washington in the March 21 primary is a fool,” the paper said. “Washington is not only the pre-eminent promoter of justice and opportunity for minorities, but also one of the best legislators in Springfield. His presence there benefits citizens across the state, not just those in his county.”

Voters listened, and Washington won the primary and general election later that year. He served in the State Senate and later in the US House of Representatives, but in 1983 he decided to serve as mayor of Chicago a second time.

This week marks Washington’s 100th birthday (April 15) and the 39th anniversary of its mayoral victory (April 12) over State Representative Bernard E. Epton, a wealthy insurance attorney. At the time of his election, the Daily News had closed, but the Chicago Sun-Times followed Washington as he struggled hard through the city in the days leading up to the Election Day showdown.

In a “horse racing” article by political editor Basil Talbott Jr. on Saturday, April 10, 1983, organizers from both campaign districts expected a turnout of about 1.2 million, similar to turnout, with Washington still leading in the polls be leading.

Meanwhile, in the past few days of campaigning, Washington has gone offensive, dispelling rumors and proposing against the machine, Talbott said. He dispelled unfounded rumors that he was a child molester and lashed out at Epton’s racist campaign slogan “Epton – before it’s too late”. Epton media consultant John Deardourff, who allegedly wrote the slogan, accused Washington’s “It’s our turn” primary testimony to be a racist slogan.

On the same day, reporters Lillian Williams and Brian J. Kelly released their report after following Washington around the city the previous day. He began that morning at Palmer House, delivering a “fiery speech at the breakfast of a minister of 1,000.”

“He accused ‘greedy merchants’ – who he said were politicians and businessmen who profited from the city – for bringing race into the campaign to cover up their fears of his proposed reforms,” ​​the reporters wrote for the article that appeared on the April 10 edition of the paper. Later that day, he delivered a similar message to a 500-person rally at the Belmont Hotel.

Speaking on Sunday’s talk show This Week with David Brinkley — just two days before Election Day — Washington told Brinkley that Epton’s promise to serve only one term suggests he “thinks the city of Chicago is a toy , which some can play with a rich man like himself,” Williams wrote in her synopsis Monday.

Later that day, he went on to tell a group of Jewish voters on the North Side that Epton was not a “serious candidate,” Williams reported. “He doesn’t have a transition team. … He would be a city government puppet for the next four years,” Washington said, also questioning the insurance attorney’s ties to city business.

Like the Daily News, the Sun-Times editorial board endorsed Washington for mayor. And again the voters agreed. The next day they elected Washington mayor of Chicago.

The front page of the Chicago Sun-Times announcing Harold Washington’s 1983 mayoral victory on April 13, 1983.

From the archives of the Sun Times.


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