State’s attorney Richard M. Daley took an early lead in the Democratic mayoral primary here Tuesday, with light turnout in the city’s black wards working against the chances of Acting Mayor Eugene Sawyer overtaking him.
With 727 of 2,911 precincts reporting, Daley led Sawyer 63% to 36%. Exit polls showed Daley doing better than expected in Latino wards.
Both NBC and CBS projected that Daley would win the primary. CBS estimated a final margin of victory of 7 to 10 percentage points.
Still Face Opposition
If the projections hold up, Daley will be the first white to oust a black mayor in one of the nation’s largest cities. He will still face stiff opposition in the general election April 4 from independent candidate Timothy Evans, a black alderman, as well as from the winner of Tuesday’s Republican primary.
In the GOP balloting, former Democratic Alderman Edward R. Vrdolyak’s mounted a last-minute write-in campaign against GOP-endorsed candidate Herbert Sohn. Because of the difficulty of counting the write-ins, the result may not be known until Thursday.
The Chicago Board of Elections predicted before the start of voting that turnout would be light, perhaps as low as 68% of the city’s 1.5 million eligible voters. By Tuesday evening, however, the estimate had been lowered to 64.9%.
The turnout was lowest in black wards, where Sawyer was counting on a heavy turnout to help him keep the office he has held for 14 months, since the death of Mayor Harold Washington in 1987.
The low black turnout was seen as a blow not only for Sawyer, but also for the Rev. Jesse Jackson, who after a slow start campaigned heavily for Sawyer in recent weeks.
An aide to Daley said the campaign’s projections, based on a sampling of precincts, showed that voter turnout was down by about a third in black wards but running average in predominantly white wards.
Might Siphon Votes
Vrdolyak’s candidacy in the Republican primary was seen as a potential blow to Daley in the racially charged election because of the possibility that the controversial former alderman would siphon away white voters.
Apparently because of Vrdolyak, election officials said they received the largest request for Republican ballots in Chicago since 1979 and possibly since 1975. Their projections were that from 25,000 to 35,000 voters would cast ballots in the Republican primary.
This is Daley’s second attempt to be elected to the office held by his father, the late Richard J. Daley, for 21 years. He was defeated in 1983 when Washington was elected the city’s first black mayor.
This will be one of the few times in modern Chicago history that the winner of the Democratic primary won’t be considered the automatic winner in the general election. The winners of the Democratic and Republican primaries will face Evans in April and the victor will fill the remaining two years of Washington’s term.
Jackson has vowed to support Evans over Daley in April if Sawyer loses the primary. Evans, a popular black alderman, was Jackson’s choice to become acting mayor after Washington’s death.
Declines to Endorse
Evans’ candidacy has been one of the reasons Sawyer has had trouble igniting passions in the black community. Despite pressure from Jackson and other black leaders, Evans declined to endorse the acting mayor in the primary. Sawyer aides feared many of Evans supporters would stay home on primary day.
Sawyer also had trouble attracting the so-called “lakefront liberals” who helped elect Washington as Chicago’s first black mayor. It was projected that many of those voters would switch to Daley.
Mary Lou Molesky, an advertising sales representative who lives in a lakefront ward, said she voted for Washington in 1987 but supported Daley Tuesday. “He represents more of Chicago as a whole,” she said of Daley. “Some of the other politicians seem more sneaky. I think he’ll bring more stability to City Hall.”
Sawyer lost much of his Jewish support soon after he took office because of his slowness to fire an aide last spring who made anti-Semitic remarks.
Portrays Sawyer as Weak
In addition, Daley, who has strongly courted lakefront wards, has portrayed the soft-spoken Sawyer as a weak and indecisive leader who has awarded lucrative city contracts to political cronies.
Both Sawyer, 54, and Daley, 46, conducted low-key campaigns that stressed racial unity, but in the closing week of the campaign race emerged as the single most important issue.
Several Sawyer supporters were censured by a watchdog group, the Committee on Decent Unbiased Campaign Tactics (CONDUCT), for making inflammatory statements as they made increasingly overt racial appeals to black voters.
And Daley himself was reprimanded after he apparently told a group of Polish supporters, “You want a white mayor who can sit down with everybody.”
Daley denied that this is what he said and called the charge a “desperate ploy” by Sawyer supporters.