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Harold Washington: Interview with Jacky Grimshaw

Wed, Apr 17, 2013

blogpix 008Jacky Grimshaw was a campaign organizer and political advisor to Harold Washington. She met with StreetWise to discuss the “movement” behind candidate Harold Washington, as well as his approach to bringing fairness and equity to Chicago government and Chicago.

African-American Civil Rights
The whole Civil Rights era created a different perspective, particularly on the part of the African-American community, about not having to settle. To realize, particularly in Chicago and other places outside of the South, that they did have electoral power… From Martin Luther King to Wilson Frost to Jane Byrne, a kind of impatience was growing and manifesting itself on the part of Harold Washington. On the part of the white community it was just not an appreciation of what the housing covenants had done to people, how the unions had treated black workers… it was all of those things that were going on in the black community that the white community had no sense of. The black community, for a lot of whites in the city, was invisible.

Washington’s Early Legislative Career
It was his legislative experience that, I think, made him a good mayor. If you were to ask Harold, he would say that he wasn’t well-suited to be mayor, since he was a legislator for most of his career. He had never managed anything as big as a city. But, in my opinion, it was his ability and his intelligence that made him well-suited to be mayor.

1983/87 Campaign
There were really two campaigns. There was the organized, structured campaign — that I have to say that I ran–and then there was the street campaign… The organized campaign was really about why Harold would be a good mayor, all the policies and programs he would do… That’s on the educational side. Then there’s the emotional side that the street campaign was producing… Blue buttons everywhere, Harold Washington signs everywhere. Tim Black likes to say ‘you weren’t well-dressed unless you had a Harold Washington pin.’… You ride the CTA and people weren’t necessarily looking at you, they were looking to see whether or not you’ve got the button on… I could identify over 10,000 workers that I had names, and phone numbers and addresses of. But there were probably 10 times as many folks out there working that I knew nothing about. Everybody took it upon themselves to be a Harold Washington worker, and Harold Washington fundraiser.

Leverage within the Party
Harold didn’t have the Democratic party, he didn’t have committeemen, etc., except from the part of the people. If you wanted to be elected, you better have Harold say it was okay for you to be elected, otherwise you weren’t getting elected… There are people in this office right now that were elected because of Harold Washington.

It was really his interaction with a variety of people that gave him his strength. He was able to assimilate information very easily, he could identify the best practices, or kernels of innovations from the variety of conversations that he had, which could then be used to move the government forward.

Washington’s “Fairer than the Fair” and Emphasis on Equality
Harold campaigned in all parts of the city… He was going to be mayor of the whole city, not just mayor of the South and West Sides. It was the way he governed, that he was going to be ‘fairer than the fair.’ He believed in diversity. He believed in fairness. He believed in equity. And the racial division as expressed by some members of the City Council was not going to deter him… If he had acted like white mayors have acted [in favoring their race’s needs over others] then that would give cause for people who opposed him to say ‘see, I told you so.’ He was not going to be lured into that trap of not being equitable. On the values part of it, that’s just the kind of person he was. He was not going to benefit one person at the expense of someone else. He took a lot of heat from Lu Palmer, and other folks in the black community, because of that. But these were folks that were not strategic, not political. They were into the “where’s mine” attitude, but Harold was never going to be pulled into that kind of game.


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