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Harold Washington: Interview with Mark PoKempner

Wed, Apr 17, 2013

Mark PoKempner – an independent journalist for New York Times magazine, Newsweek, Time, Fortune, Forbes, In These Times, People, Mother Jones and other publications. He and Antonio Dickey were the photographers for Harold! Photographs from the Harold Washington Years, (with text by Salim Muwakkil) whose photos are used in this edition of StreetWise.

Harold was warm, wise, humorous and sharp witted, with an encyclopedic understanding of government and what it could do to improve the lives of the people. Following him in his campaigns, hearing him speak and address the specific concerns of every group, from business executives to welfare mothers, was like attending a graduate program in urban civics.
It was clear that he had acquired a deep understanding of the workings of government through years of experience and ongoing study. His apartment contained a reading room, lined with books and reports of studies on all the problems of today’s society. After a 16-hour day, he’d come home and spend more hours reading and studying.

He was guided by a clear set of values: fairness, compassion, and an understanding of the many ways that collective and collaborative action could benefit society, and boost the quality of life for all its members.

The tragedy was that after slaying the electoral and political dragons which blocked his way, this great man simply worked himself to death. Throughout his term as Mayor, he never took time to get away from the job and relax.

I hope that young people will learn his story, follow his example, and remember him for his commitment to true public service.


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