Don Rose is a political strategist who worked on Washington’s campaign. He spoke to StreetWise over the phone about Washington’s progressive vision, the resistance he encountered, and the limitations he felt.
It’s the most inclusive, and it represented ideas like sending the money out to the neighborhoods, instead of downtown. He had envisioned some more substantial programs, but as I said, he was a man whose vision was progressive, but for the most part he was unable to execute it.
Focus on the Neighborhoods
He had plans for distributing the benefits of government to the neighborhoods, and empowering them. It was a different kind of budgeting; it was going to be more inclusive. There were going to be more services to a broader array of neighborhoods. It was an economic redistribution, without a formal agenda.
The only positive thing about Council Wars was that it demonstrated that in fact we had a strong council, weak mayor system, which not many people understood that we had because of the mayors before. The improvements he made at least got it started.
The coalition fell apart [after Washington’s death] because a good portion of the African-American aldermen and committeemen were afraid that if they differed with Washington they could be defeated. Washington could make or break the black aldermen or officials. Half of them were old-line machine guys. It was the same old goodies offered by the other end of the machine. Many of the black aldermen were actually not truly progressive, but they had to follow Washington’s dictates.
He was for many reforms and was able to execute a few as mayor, but he had a city council that was against him. So he was candidly unable to do much outside of executive orders and defending things like the Shakman decree [which made hiring and firing based on political loyalty unlawful].