Richard M. Daley, the son of the legendary mayor who dominated Chicago politics for more than two decades, won the Democratic primary for mayor Tuesday in an election split overwhelmingly along racial lines.
In a contest punctuated in its last days by nasty racial appeals and inflammatory accusations, Daley, the Cook County states attorney, pulled together a coalition of blue-collar whites, affluent whites and Latinos to defeat Acting Mayor Eugene Sawyer.
With 97% of the Democratic vote counted, Daley was leading Sawyer 57% to about 42%, with the remainder split among three other candidates.
Counts on Big Turnout
Turnout was particularly light in the city’s black wards, where Sawyer was counting on a big vote to help him retain the office he has held for 14 months, since the death of Mayor Harold Washington in 1987.
Sawyer was stymied in his quest for black votes, however, by a continuing hostility toward him stemming from his alliance with white aldermen to win the acting mayor’s job after Washington’s death.
At the same time, white liberals who formed the margin of victory for Washington in 1983 and 1987 overwhelmingly abandoned Sawyer for Daley.
“This is not the end of Eugene Sawyer,” the soft-spoken acting mayor declared in his concession speech. “I will continue to work to help, to heal, to build and to bring people together in this city.”
This election marks one of the few times in recent Chicago history that the winner of the Democratic primary cannot count on automatically being elected mayor. Daley now must face black Alderman Timothy Evans, who is running as an independent, and former Alderman Edward R. Vrdolyak, the apparent winner in the Republican primary, in the April 4 general election.
Write-in Candidate Leads
Vrdolyak, who launched a last-minute write-in campaign seven days ago, was leading Herbert Sohn, the GOP endorsed candidate, 46% to 43% with 92% of the Republican vote counted. But a portion of those votes are expected to be disqualified for not conforming to write-in rules. Sohn refused to concede, noting that Vrdolyak’s write-in ballots won’t become official until the votes are canvassed on Thursday.
“We did it!” a triumphant Daley shouted to a cheering crowd at a downtown hotel. His victory proves that Chicago “is ready to rise above the politics of name-calling and confrontation,” Daley said.
He went out of his way to praise Sawyer, saying: “Gene Sawyer took over the reins of this city under the most difficult of circumstances. . . . He’s earned the respect and affection of all Chicagoans.”
In an election that drew fewer voters than any Chicago election since 1979, the black turnout Tuesday was particularly low. Sawyer campaign aides placed the blame for the loss squarely at Evans’ feet. They accused him of urging his supporters to stay home.
Sawyer polled 34,000 fewer votes in three key black wards where Washington had drawn heavy support. The wards are led by black aldermen who opposed Sawyer’s selection by the City Council as acting mayor.
An NBC exit poll showed that 86% of white voters chose Daley and only 12% voted for Sawyer. Sawyer won 91% of the black vote and Daley only 7%.
The NBC poll showed that Daley was favored by Latino voters over Sawyer 73% to 26%. Affluent lakefront voters, who provided the margin of victory for Washington in 1983 and 1987, favored Daley 73% to 27%.
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.
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.
Even before Tuesday, Jackson had let it be known that he intends to support Evans over Daley in the general election.
“When Daley had the opportunity to support Harold Washington, as sitting Democratic mayor (in 1987), Daley, a sitting Democratic official, chose to support a third-party candidate,” Jackson said in explaining his decision to oppose the Democratic candidate.
Jackson’s decision to support Evans puts him on a collision course with the national Democratic Party Chairman Ron Brown, a former Jackson campaign official. Brown says he will support the Democratic candidate.
“We certainly are disappointed” by the low turnout, said Reynard Rochon, a Sawyer campaign advisor. “What we found in this election on the part of white and black voters is just a feeling of disinterest.”
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.
The defection of many so-called “lakefront liberals” who helped elect Washington as Chicago’s first black mayor also hurt.
‘Represents More of Chicago’
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 had made anti-Semitic remarks.
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. But after viewing two videotapes of the speech late last week, CONDUCT decided to issue its reprimand.
Marshals on Hand
Sixty-five federal marshals and U.S. attorneys were on hand in case of allegations of vote fraud, which have marred past Chicago elections. They weren’t needed, however. George Dunne, chairman of the Cook County Democratic Party, called it “the quietest election day I have ever seen.”
John Farrell, an assistant U.S. attorney monitoring the election, said only 70 polling complaints were received Tuesday. “It was an unbelievably quiet evening,” he said. “It looks like it was a relatively clean election.”
Staff writer Larry Green and researcher Tracy Shryer contributed to this article.
Officials predicted 68% of Chicago’s 1.5 million voters would turn out for the Democratic mayoral primary. The winner will face Republican and third-party candidates April 4.
Daley 476,967 57% Sawyer 358,474 42%
Figures do not total 100%; three other Democrats were on the ballot.