SEQUESTERED ballots, charges of vote fraud, last-minute controversy and huge turnout -- it had the feel of a Chicago election. But the result of the Democratic primary Tuesday was enough to send the late Richard J. Daley spinning. A black congressman, Harold Washington, has won the Democratic nomination for mayor. The incumbent, a woman named Jane Byrne, came in a close second. In third place, close but very definitely not the winner, was Cook County State's Attorney Richard M. Daley. A black and a woman running ahead of a Daley in Chicago? What's going on?
What's going on is that politics in Chicago, despite the persistence of colorful traditions and old boilerplate, has gotten to be pretty much like politics in other big cities. Mr. Washington, like black candidates in many cities, got almost all his support from black voters, and owes his victory to the fact that they turned out in record numbers and gave him about 80 percent of their votes. About 40 percent of the primary voters were black, and the congressman won with 36 percent of the votes.
As for Mayor Byrne, like many mayors and governors with low job ratings, she rallied support with an expensive media campaign paid for with money raised mostly from those who do business with the city. The $9 million she raised far exceeded anything seen in Chicago before. The often merely nominal support she had from Chicago's patronage employees counted for far less.
The same can be said for Mr. Daley's support from anti-Byrne politicos. Voters in Chicago can make up their own minds, and no longer rely on the recommendations -- or obey the orders -- of ward leaders or precinct committeemen. Why not? They don't depend on the machine's Christmas turkeys or buckets of coal anymore, and they can read the newspapers and watch TV as well as voters anywhere.
As for endorsements by national figures, we suppose that if you looked hard, in a city of 3 million people, you could find voters influenced by Walter Mondale's endorsement of Mr. Daley, Edward Kennedy's endorsement of Mayor Byrne, or even Alan Cranston's endorsement of Mr. Washington. But we don't think you'd find many.
So a mayor who won office largely because her predecessor failed to clear the streets after a snowstorm loses it because blacks voted for a black candidate.It's the sort of thing that could happen anywhere. We're sorry to see Chicago politics lose its special flavor, and we hope that reporters will keep covering the aldermen and ward leaders who help determine who gets local judgeships and no-show jobs at city hall. But when it comes to big decisions, like choosing an mayor, times have changed: the nation's last political machine has gone the way of James Michael Curley and William Marcy Tweed.