The idea of a nonpartisan mayoral election with a runoff if no one got a majority was first bruited in 1986, during the runup to the 1987 mayoral contest. The intent clearly was to avoid splitting the white vote again and letting Washington be re-elected. Richie Daley among quite a few others supported the plan, but an attempt to put it up for a city referendum failed...Straight dope my ass. Straight racist crap is more like it. Here's some bits from earlier in the article:
A 1988 effort to push nonpartisan elections through the state legislature died, but the idea came up again in 1995, when Republicans took control of the General Assembly and the governor's office for the first time in 25 years. They used the opportunity to push through a long list of cherished measures that had gone nowhere while the Democrats were in control, one of which was nonpartisan mayoral elections in Chicago.
...Pretty much everyone else was in favor, and how could they not be? David Axelrod, who had worked for both Washington and Daley, told the Tribune, "It forces you to appeal to a broader constituency than to one ethnic or racial group."
Hard to argue with. Governor Jim Edgar signed the measure into law, and it's what we're using now. Is it fair? Yeah, it's fair. The fact remains that had nonpartisan elections been the rule in 1983, Harold Washington wouldn't have been elected, and breaks like the one that enabled him to become mayor are precisely what the system is intended to prevent.
For many Chicagoans, [democracy] is a frightening prospect. Those who've been around for a while recall that the last seriously contested elections took place during that brief period in the 1980s when the mayor of Chicago wasn't named Daley. This is now widely thought of as the Time of Troubles. The lesson many drew is that meaningless elections = peace and prosperity, whereas democracy = bad...Before I rip this article apart, just ask yourself this: to whom is it written? Who does the author mean when he talks about "most Chicagoans"? Who is "a lot of people" in Chicago?
...However virtuous the system may look now, it wasn't put in place because of saintly considerations. Rather, it was meant to ensure that an electoral outcome a lot of people weren't too happy with never happens again.
The most famous mayoral election in Chicago history … well, I shouldn't say that; all the inter-Daley elections were pretty memorable. But certainly the one with the most dramatic consequences took place in 1983...
...white Chicagoans may not have been wild about the city's first woman mayor, but better her than the first black one.
[For a far more accurate account of the Harold Washington election in 1983 please listen ot the following excellent edition of This American Life on the subject here.]
Though the gloss given in "straight dope" suggests otherwise, the fact of the matter is that the way that most of white Chicago reacted to Harold Washington, who won the mayoral election fair-and-square (with far more grass-roots organizing and support than any Daley could ever hope to obtain), was absolutely outrageous and self-consciously racist. The way that the white-controlled City Council tried to thwart his reformist agenda was criminal and reprehensible.
But the tone of the straight-dope piece expresses none of this obviously unsavory truth. It adopts a tone of faux-objectivity that paves over the very real, disgusting attacks that Washington faced. It tacitly endorses the disgusting attacks by giving the voice of white outrage a veneer of credibility and universality. You'd hardly know from reading the article that white people make up only 1/3 of the population of Chicago- the article makes it sound as though "most", "many", "a lot of" Chicagoans are white, whereas a small fringe aren't.
Strangely, at one point the article complains that Harold Washington "split the white vote", but later on it defends the new (quite obviously racist) "non-partisan procedures" on the grounds that they force candidates to "appeal to more than one ethnic or racial group". This is flatly contradictory.
If Harold Washington indeed "split the white vote", then in what sense didn't he already have to "appeal to more than one racial group"? Moreover, if the "problem" for those wishing to maintain white political hegemony in Chicago was that Washington won by "splitting the white vote", in what sense were "non-partisan" procedures (which, if we believe Cecil Adams, are supposed to split the white vote) the "solution"? This is obfuscatory non-sense. On the one hand, the "straight dope" story is that Washington committed the sin of "splitting the white vote" and was, therefore, attacked by the Machine for having done so. On the other, we're told that the "solution" to the Harold Washington "problem" was the "non-partisan" mayoral procedure, which, we're told, has the virtue both of solving the Washington "problem" and forcing candidates to appeal to voters across racial divisions.
The fact is that the "power brokers" that the article seems to side with did not want there to be a Black mayor and they used every available means to try to thwart his plans and have him removed.
The article also suggests that most white Democrat Chicagoans voted for Washington, whereas some voted for the white Republican. In fact, 90% of white Democrats defected from their party to vote against Washington for the (white) Republican, whose campaign slogan was "Epton for Mayor: Before it's too late".
The bottom line is this. As I've noted elsewhere, the typical white racist line in Chicago is a Hobbesian one. Their paranoid, irrational view is that Chicago can either have (a) a chaotic, disastrous "rule of barbarians" if it allows full democracy, or (b) it can have an autocratic white ruler who "maintains order". Though some white apologists for the Machine may reproach Daley in certain respects, most consent to its top-down domination of politics insofar as it ensures the political subordination of the "barbarians", i.e. the people of color in Chicago who make up 2/3 of the population (1/3 Black, 1/3 Latin@). This is the politics of white paranoia playing itself out (listen to the This American Life episode for more details here.)
Despite the actual divisions, inequalities, and the demographics and history of Chicago, most of the mainstream white population in Chicago thinks it deserves permanent domination over the municipal and county government. Thus when a white candidate runs for Mayor, that's just "normal". But when a person of color runs it's "divisive" and "racially exclusive". As the "Straight Dope" article suggests, it's a "problem", it's "an outcome a lot of people weren't too happy with", which they want to make sure "never happens again".
This "analysis" of recent Chicago electoral politics seems rather nakedly racist. And it appears in affiliation with Chicago's so-called progressive publication no less. While The Reader is easily the best leftish news and analysis one can find in Chicago (certainly it's many, many light-years ahead of worthless tripe like the Trib or Sun-Times), I'm always bothered by how goddamn white (in the pejorative sense) the publication is. What I mean is that it is consciously written by and for a slice of the white population in Chicago but nonetheless understands itself to be a publication representative of the city writ large.
In reality, The Reader does not really express the needs or interests of people of color in Chicago. Indeed, even when it adopts a sympathetic attitude towards the other 2/3 of Chicago, it typically does so from an outsider, observer perspective, rather than from the perspective of fellow city-dwellers and comrades. It's not that I'm arguing that the Reader should focus exclusively on the topic of race and nothing else --but I think it's problematic how little it reflects the social or political interests of black Chicagoans. That can and should change.
Most of the time, there is not a lot of discussion of race in the Reader. So far as I'm aware, there is no regular input from a person of color in the paper about issues facing people of color. In a city so segregated that sociologists had to invent a new word to describe it ("hyper-segregation"), you'd think that the allegedly progressive publication in the city would be a bit more sensitive to the historic and ongoing subordination of black people in the city of Chicago. But apparently not. Hence you find ridiculous "maps" of Chicago among some of these folk which don't even bother to include much of the west-side or south-sides on the map of the city.