– By Tom Schaffner
Harold Washington: A New Kind of Mayor
On April 12, 1983, more than 35 years ago, Harold Washington was elected Chicago’s first African American Mayor. He won the race because he amassed a never-before-assembled coalition of local supporters — African Americans, Latinos and “progressive whites” — all of whom voted for him in droves. In doing so, Washington was the first candidate to beat Chicago’s long-entrenched Democratic “Machine,” the veritable puppet-master behind all Cook County elections for the previous 60 years.
Harold Washington was much more than just a savvy political strategist and tactician, however. Although he was in office a little more than four years (his second term was cut short by a fatal heart attack), Washington accomplished much during his tenure as mayor. He is noted for increasing the number of underrepresented groups in city government and in city contracts, making government more open and transparent, achieving more balanced economic development between neighborhoods and downtown and for opening the city’s budget process for public input and participation.
Harold Washington Library Exhibit: An Undiscovered Gem
Washington was also a leading proponent for building a new central Chicago Library in Chicago’s South Loop and created a citywide cultural plan to help make it happen. His efforts to make the library a reality are the reason why it bears his name today.
On the 9th floor, immediately adjacent to the Library’s beautiful Winter Garden, is a permanent exhibit in the Special Collections Exhibit Hall that contains pictures, tapes, artifacts and documents from the life and political career of Harold Washington, 42nd mayor of Chicago. It doesn’t receive the attention or publicity that other Chicago museums do and, as a result, is an uncrowded, undiscovered downtown gem.
The Harold Washington Library L Stop
Harold Washington Library
Winter Garden on the 9th Floor
Holder of two journalism degrees, including a masters from Northwestern University, Tom Schaffner is a native of the Chicago area and has spent nearly 50 years as a writer, editor, publisher and professional communications consultant. He was also the founder, editor, and publisher of the Chicago File, as well as the co-owner of L Stop Tours.