Fight for Successor Goes On as Thousands Mourn Mayor : It’s Politics as Usual at Washington Rites
Harold Washington, this city’s endearing first black mayor, was buried Monday with a send-off worthy of a savvy champion of partisan scuffling as throngs of mourners paid last respects and politicians jockeyed to replace him, even at the funeral.
In the biggest outpouring of grief since the 1976 death of the late Democratic machine boss Richard J. Daley, nearly 1 million people filed past Washington’s coffin over the weekend as it lay in state in City Hall. He died of a heart attack Wednesday at the age of 65.
On Monday, thousands gathered in the cold and rain outside the Christ Universal Temple on the city’s South Side where he was eulogized. Tens of thousands more, many wearing old Washington campaign buttons or clutching his picture, lined the 52-block route of the funeral procession for a last glimpse of the coffin containing a man considered a hero by many blacks.
At the funeral, friends, relatives and political allies recalled Washington’s quick wit, warmth and political triumphs that helped shift the balance of power away from the remnants of the white-dominated Daley machine.
But there was a tone of political urgency to the ceremony that underscored a fierce scramble under way in the City Council to fill the power void left by Washington’s death.
His permanent successor must be selected by a majority of the 50-member body. Two black aldermen, Timothy Evans and Eugene Sawyer, have emerged as the leading candidates to become acting mayor.
Both men backed Washington, but Evans was much closer to the mayor and is clearly the choice of staunch Washington loyalists.
However, Sawyer--also linked to old-line machine loyalists--appeared to be gaining an edge as his support grew among many whites in the council and among a smattering of blacks. Late Monday, three Sawyer supporters, apparently smelling victory, filed a motion to force a City Council meeting late today to vote on the mayoral succession.
At a rally late Monday, Democratic presidential candidate Jesse Jackson, an Evans backer, called on blacks to converge peacefully on that council session to pressure black aldermen not to abandon Washington’s coalition--a signal they should not support Sawyer.
Administration officials clearly arranged the funeral ceremony to give Evans a boost. As Sawyer looked on with other council members from a VIP section of the audience, Evans was selected to sit on the dais and deliver one of the many eulogies.
Jackson, another of the eulogists, used his speech to telegraph warnings to black supporters that Washington’s coalition was in danger of unraveling.
“We who live must keep the team together,” Jackson stressed to the wild applause of many of the estimated 4,000 mourners inside the church.
Ironically, Jackson’s involvement in the succession battle may have hurt Evans. Some white liberals on the council, angered by their exclusion from weekend bargaining meetings with Jackson and several black aldermen, appeared to be edging toward supporting Sawyer.
Meanwhile, an official city-organized memorial service Monday night took on the flavor of a pro-Evans political rally as his supporters, many of them chanting his name, packed a college auditorium. Again, Jackson was one of the key speakers.
Despite the political sideshow, the services Monday underscored the intensity of emotion and admiration many blacks in Chicago and elsewhere held for Washington.
“He is the compendium of all our historical struggles as black people in America,” said the Rev. Herbert Martin, Washington’s pastor, in a spellbinding speech. “He is the epitome of all of our precious achievements and the symbol of all of our future aspirations and yearnings. . . . In a very real sense, he is the embodiment of our last 33 years of civil rights struggles in this country.”
A diverse cross-section of local and national political figures mingled in the audience before Washington’s coffin, which was draped in an American flag and flanked by an honor guard of Chicago police and firefighters.
Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) and his nephew, Rep. Joseph Kennedy (D-Mass.), sat in the front row of dignitaries, one row ahead of Louis Farrakhan, the controversial leader of the black separatist Nation of Islam group.
The entire City Council attended, including white aldermen who had fought bitterly with Washington after he was first elected in 1983.
Former Mayors Jane M. Byrne and Michael A. Bilandic were also there, as were Daley’s three sons and three of the six Democratic presidential candidates--Jackson, Illinois Sen. Paul Simon and Rep. Richard A. Gephardt (D-Mo.).
Staff writer Frank Clifford contributed to this story.