Sensing that Vrdolyak had the upper hand, Washington’s forces played to delay. When the first session of the Council was convened in May 3, Washington immediately recognized the only white machine politician in his camp, who moved to adjourn. Washington adjourned the meeting. Then, amid calls for a roll call vote, the Washington bloc withdrew. Vrdolyak, the former pro-tern president, took the floor, was elected interim president by the general assembly and presided over 29–0 votes in favor of its rules and reorganization. With the exception of the only Hispanic, designated by a machine, the Vrdolyak block was all white. All sixteen blacks, the four liberal white reformers and one other white alderman were with Washington.
Some whites on the Council, some newcomers who ousted the old machine hackers, some who are loyal to Richard M. Daley or other figures who mistrust Vrdolyak, were seen as potential Washington allies. And, despite the vote with Vrdolyak, some of them continued to indicate a desire for compromise and a willingness to support Washington. “i’m not yet 100 percent in favor [the Vrdolyak plan for which he voted]”, new member Joseph Kotlarz said later. “I am very much in favor of a compromise.”
Fear of reform motivated most of the Vrdolyak. 29but in the opinion of the councilors, others came out of fear of supporting a black mayor and the feeling that “Fast Eddie” had the votes and that Washington, if it was really going to abolish sponsorship, had little to offer them.
“Vrdolyak took office sometime last week. [before the vote] that he was going to take control and that he was not going to talk to anyone,” said Liberal councilor Martin Oberman. “He took advantage of racial fears in some of these fellow wards. He took advantage of the fact that a new administration was coming in and he had many things to worry about besides talking to each alderman. And he mustered a majority… These weighty decisions were not made for lack of phone calls. They were made because Vrdolyak and his cronies want to rule the city.”
Washington could have made the same deal that Byrne did four years ago, but he is apparently determined to fight for reform. “If it was a loss, it can be a loss for good reasons,” said reformer Councilman David Orr. “Any mayor could win a victory by paying the price of the people. But at some point, if you have principles, you have to go down with your ship instead of giving up.”
Washington has not given up or fallen irrevocably. He immediately argued that the Council “rump session” was illegal and its decisions are not binding, and then he continued to negotiate to reach a compromise. He also ordered his new interim comptroller not to write checks for the new committees, which he estimated would add $500,000 in costs to the already beleaguered budget. Thrust early into a confrontation he wanted to delay, Washington must now grapple with a more highly polarized Council and a renewal of racial tensions he had hoped to defuse. But if Vrdolyak has shown that he has power, Washington can also show his muscle.
On his first day in office, Washington appointed a small core of officials, well balanced between blacks and whites, including newcomers from abroad and some of Byrne’s best administrators. Although the city’s bureaucracy is highly politicized (most workers owe allegiance to one political boss or another), Washington could not afford to get rid of many of them, even if he had a free hand. He needs her knowledge of how the city works, though as his transition team conducts its massive investigation into the city’s past practices, he is reportedly uncovering mind-boggling examples of waste, filler, and outright corruption.
Even if you can’t and don’t want to win Council support by offering jobs, you may be able to by agreeing not to fire certain friends and family members of Council members. Meanwhile, he is forced to work with a government apparatus that he often cannot be trusted. As this infighting continues, some of the Washington campaign staff are beginning work on a series of “town hall meetings” that will take place throughout the city and that will allow Washington to listen to the wishes of neighborhoods, establish better direct relationships with each part of the city and begin to mobilize grassroots support for its program.
Other reform elements are also moving to expand their efforts, including the Task Force for Black Political Empowerment, PRO-CAN (Chicago Area Progressive Network), and a new Democratic Unity Congress, organized by Slim Coleman, an organizer longtime target in poor Uptown neighborhood who will support Washington and defy the machine (for example, fielding delegates for the 1984 democratic convention).
The power struggles that marked the primary and general elections continue unabated. To generate the “spirit of renewal” that Washington called for in his inaugural address, the new mayor will have to trust and strengthen what he saw as the key to his recent election:“the greatest popular effort in the history of the city”.