Mayor Marion Barry and Democratic National Committee officials waded into the increasingly bitter and racially divisive Chicago mayoral race yesterday, staging three fund-raising events here for Rep. Harold Washington (D-Ill.), the Democratic nominee.
Washington, the first black to win a major party's mayoral nomination in Chicago, predicted he would score a landslide victory over Republican Bernard E. Epton, despite what he described as the Republican Party's effort to exploit racial fears.
"Yes, race is a factor in the campaign," Washington said at a press conference prior to a fund-raiser sponsored by Barry at the Washington Convention Center.
"I did not inject it," Washington added. "I've not tried to stimulate it . . . but it's a fact of life. If I were white there would be no contest. I wouldn't be standing here . . . I wouldn't need all this money I'm trying to raise."
DNC officials and local Democrats estimated that at least $50,000 was raised here yesterday for Washington, including approximately $20,000 at the convention center reception and about $30,000 raised at a private dinner for 30 contributors at the Northwest Washington home of Democratic Party Chairman Charles Manatt.
An additional $1,300 was raised at a potluck luncheon at the DNC's headquarters on Massachusetts Avenue.
Manatt, while expressing confidence that Washington will be elected, said he wasn't concerned about talk of a black backlash against the Democratic Party if Washington loses because of defections among Chicago Democratic voters.
"With the range and level of activities we put into this campaign, there need never be doubt of our commitment," Manatt said.
Barry, who has tried to enhance his national political image since winning election to a second term last November, spent a day campaigning for Washington during Chicago's Democratic primary and plans to return there to help campaign in the general election.
Yesterday Barry escorted Washington throughout the city and led a crowd estimated by organizers at 1,000 at the convention center in chanting, "Washington for Chicago, Washington for Chicago."
An array of local Democrats including D.C. Del. Walter E. Fauntroy, City Council Chairman David Clarke, Democratic National Committeeman John Hechinger, and most of the members of the D.C. City Council attended the convention center event.
Barry and Fauntroy said that the outcome of the mayor's race in Chicago would have a profound impact on presidential politics in the coming year. "I think April 12 will prove to be a watershed date for Democratic politics in this country," Fauntroy said. "If Washington is elected . . . it will look good for the Democratic Party. But if racism claims the day, it will be a day of infamy for Democrats."
While Washington exuded confidence about his chances for victory, some of his Chicago supporters who attended yesterday's festivities here said they thought the election would be quite close.
Chuck Renslow, a Chicago gay activist supporting Washington, said he was concerned that the debate between Washington and Epton had become too strident and personal.
"I do wish Washington would come out with some of his positions on issues a little more," said Renslow, who publishes Chicago Gay Life. "He has much more of an oversight of the city than Epton ever could."
Washington spent several hours later in the day at a low-key candlelight buffet dinner at Manatt's Georgetown home. The $1,000-a-plate gathering attracted a cross-section of businessmen, labor officials, D. C. government leaders and political activists.
"Chicago seems to be a focal point," Washington said at the dinner in explaining why he believes he's had so much success with out-of-town fund-raising.
Earlier in the day, he raised an estimated $90,000 in New York City. Washington said he hopes to raise about $1 million for his general election campaign.