By LINDSAY WELBERS
When Jayne Byrne ran for a second term as mayor of Chicago in 1983 the Democratic Party vote was split between her and then-Cook County State’s Attorney Richard M. Daley, creating an opportunity for Harold Washington to win the primary with the support of an enthusiastic African American community’s vote.
Former CBS and NBC newsman Peter Nolan has chronicled the story of that mayoral election in his book “Campaign! The 1983 Election that Rocked Chicago.”
Nolan worked as a reporter covering the election for CBS. The book begins with Mayor Richard J. Daley’s death in office in 1976. It details Jayne Byrne’s term in office and the 1983 race that pitted Byrne, Republican Bernie Epton, Ricard M. Daley and Washington against each other.
Washington was the son of a South Side preacher and lawyer. His parents divorced when he was a young boy. He and his brother were sent to a boarding school in Milwaukee that they had a habit of running away from.
After a few years the boys’ father brought them back to Chicago and Washington eventually became a hurdles star at DuSable High School. He left after only three years, saying the curriculum no longer challenged him. Later he was drafted into the Army Air Corps during World War II. He earned his high school diploma there.
When he returned he attended Roosevelt University on the GI bill and earned his law degree from Northwestern University.
He was a clear product of the Chicago Democratic Party machine, but would separate himself from it after he reached the Illinois legislature. He said the split came after the Democratic Party was at odds with the civil rights movement.
Nolan said that Washington wasn’t a saint. He was known to drink and gamble, he had a history of not paying his bills and would occasionally disappear for days. He had a no-show job as the assistant corporation counsel in Cook County and coworkers would joke “Harold believed the time to show up was for the paycheck.”
His law license was suspended in 1970 for accepting fees without performing the legal work he was paid for. During the hearings he said the clients hadn’t paid all the fees and acknowledged he didn’t do the job they had paid him for. And in 1972 he spent 36 days in jail for failing to file his income taxes.
“Both of these transgressions involved small sums of money and probably could have been resolved easily. It remains a mystery why a person as politically astute as Harold Washington let them slide and become a permanent part of his record,” Nolan wrote in the book.
He served in the state House and Senate. He ran unsuccessfully for Mayor Richard J. Daley’s seat in 1977 and was elected to the House of Representatives in 1980.
In Congress “he loved railing against Reganomics and what it was doing to the Black community,” Nolan wrote.
He was encouraged to run for mayor by Chicago’s Black leaders. He was reluctant and requested a large campaign budget and high numbers of newly registered voters. Chicago’s African American community was able to provide both.
The book is part history account and part Nolan’s memoir.
Nolan interviewed people he worked with regularly during that period and people close to the campaigns. When called for, Nolan inserts himself into the story.
The book reads like a novel, providing insight into a noteworthy and occasionally forgotten election in Chicago’s history.
“It was such an interesting campaign,” Nolan said. He began work on the book roughly one month after the election was over, but seriously began writing it in 2004. It was published through Amika Press last year.
“Campaign! The 1983 Election that Rocked Chicago,” is available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble at DePaul, 1 E. Jackson Blvd., and amikapress.com.