ACCORDING to the latest dispatches from Chicago, the prospects for truce are uncertain. Mayor Harold Washington seemed to have won a battle when he strode into his first meeting of the city council, called it to order, and adjourned it all within five seconds--a pretty fast gavel, even by the standards of the late Richard J. Daley.
But his opponents on the council, led by Cook County Democratic chairman Edward Vrdolyak, recouped quickly. By a 29-to-21 vote, they declared the council still in session, and proceeded to vote new rules and elect new committee chairmen. The mayor says he has vetoed those acts. The Vrdolyak 29 say they are not subject to veto.
All this sounds something like the Dorr War, a political altercation in the 1840s when two separate groups claimed to be the legally constituted government of Rhode Island. Mr. Dorr was convicted of treason. The worst that is likely to happen to anybody in Chicago is that he will be ordered by a judge to sign a piece of paper. So both sides, while crying "rule or ruin!" for the television cameras, are negotiating and seeking the best deal they can, before the courts step in.
Given the nature of the mayoral campaign that Mr. Washington recently won, some may see this dispute as a matter of great principle. But the real question is whether Mr. Washington's supporters will have important committee chairmanships, and whether Mr. Vrdolyak will be a power on the council or will have to be content with the chairmanship of the committee overseeing plans for, yes, the 1990 World's Fair.
We can't help noting that opponents of home rule long told us this sort of thing would happen if voters got to choose their own elected officials. Only the city officials in this case are in Chicago, which has governed itself for more than 100 years. And what would the same soothsayers say about San Francisco, whose political activists include Sister Boom Boom, a transvestite who dresses in modified nun's habit with white face and black net stockings, and where the mayor herself faced a recall effort backed by opponents of gun control and supported by some gay rights organizations?
Our civic affairs here in Washington--where home rule was once supposed to be such a threat to the republic--are, by comparison, a model of decorum. We expect that the other cities will manage: San Francisco's Mayor Feinstein won her recall election handily, and Mayor Washington and Mr. Vrdolyak will probably reach a truce. Let others decry civic chaos. Here in Washington, we know that home rule works--not always smoothly or without controversy, but better than any other system anyone has come up with.