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February 2010
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Dan Hynes’ dirty campaign

Last week, a few people told me I was dead wrong when I called Dan Hynes’s campaign filthy. I felt that way because of a commercial Dan Hynes aired with Harold Washington explaining from the grave that “Pat Quinn is a totally and completely undisciplined individual” after Washington requested Pat Quinn’s resignation as City Revenue Director.

One person noted that everything Dan Hynes’s ad said (through Harold Washington) was true and not taken out of context. Another noted that Dan Hynes’s ad mirrored his campaign message that Quinn is not a good leader and not qualified to be governor.

I agree with the Hynes campaign on both points: I have said over and over that although Pat Quinn appears to be a nice guy, he is simply not a good leader and last year’s record proves he is incapable of being governor. That basic campaign message is not dirty, however, Dan Hynes’s use of Harold Washington’s words from 23 years ago against Quinn, even if true and not out of context, was absolutely wrong.

If you lived in Chicago thirty years ago you would remember the us and against them mentality– whites against blacks– ushered in after Harold Washington won the democratic mayoral primary in 1983. Not only that white versus black mentality, but how open it was when Washington campaigned and was elected. Do you remember Harold Washington campaigning at St. Pascal, a catholic church in a predominantly white neighborhood on the northwest side in 1983:

The crowd of whites outside St. Pascal Catholic Church in a white working-class section of northwest Chicago seethed with racial rage. As Congressman Harold Washington, the black Democrat who would be Mayor, arrived, he was met with jeers and epithets: “Blacks go home. Get out of our neighborhood.” Many of the people clinging to lampposts and standing on cars claimed to be lifelong Democrats, but they taunted Washington with placards proclaiming their new allegiance to his Republican opponent, Bernard Epton, 61.

The Rev. Francis Ciezadlo, who had invited both Epton (he declined) and Washington, led former Vice-President Walter Mondale and the candidate past a door defaced overnight with the spray-painted message “Nigger die.” The mood of the pastor’s flock was far from welcoming. In the church vestibule Washington and Mondale sized up the situation and left abruptly. A lawyer on Washington’s staff, a veteran of the civil rights marches of the 1960s, was stunned by the demonstration’s virulence. “It’s like Alabama was,” he said.

(John Saar, Hatred Walks the Street, People Magazine, April 19, 1983).

That episode is an excellent example of the atmosphere in Chicago not only throughout the campaigns, but also during the Washington administration. The unfortunate legacy of racial politics after the Washington primary victory include: prominent white democrats– including the chairman of the Cook County democratic organization, Ed Vrdolyak– endorsing and supporting the Republican nominee; the refusal of the City Council to allow any legislation from Mayor Washington pass; the deadlock in the City Council during “Council Wars” led by the Ed Vrdolyak; and the democratic council majority overtly refusing to work with the mayor because of the color of his skin.

Mayor Washington won his second term in 1987 after beating two prominent democrats in the general election: the aforementioned Ed Vrdolyak and the then Cook County Assessor Thomas Hynes, father of Dan Hynes. In 1987, Thomas Hynes said “Harold Washington should be the last person in this city to question the integrity of anyone… His history and record are one of sleaze.”

I find it ironic that the son of a man who went after Harold Washington because he was black would then invoke the name of Harold Washington to get elected. Dan Hynes invoked Washington’s name to the very constituency that his father was trying to silence. Thomas Hynes said in 1987: “Vote of Tuesday because the future of Chicago is on the line.”

That Dan Hynes invokes Harold Washington after all that his father and other prominent democrats did to Mayor Washington in the 1980s is not only ironic and disingenuous, but disgraceful.

Dan Hynes could have used another method to communicate his message that Pat Quinn is not a good leader. The Washington commercial might have cost Hynes the primary election– considering the backlash after the ad aired. Bringing up memories of the 1980s where the politics of race were played out in the open on the nightly news definitely put and bad taste in a lot of mouths– especially the mouths of the people Hynes used that commercial to reach. Dan Hynes’ use of Mayor Washington’s words in a campaign commercial opened up an old wound; the memories of the words and actions of Dan’s father Thomas Hynes, for many people, was the salt.

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