The most vicious part of the Chicago mayoral race is being carried out in crude, unsigned fliers distributed on street corners and in work places by opponents of Rep. Harold Washington (D-Ill.).
The one-page fliers are full of racial slurs, innuendos and falsehoods about Washington, who is seeking in Tuesday's election to become the city's first black mayor. Republican Bernard E. Epton has repeatedly deplored the fliers and denied that the persons distributing them are connected with his campaign.
Last Friday, Epton sent a strongly worded letter to each of his 38 campaign headquarters instructing them to make sure that no unsigned campaign literature was distributed by campaign workers.
"Such literature has no place in my campaign," he said, adding that "such literature is illegal and will not be tolerated."
But today, Washington campaign counsel Thomas P. Coffey said he has given the U.S. attorney's office and the Cook County state's attorney evidence linking at least three neighborhood Epton headquarters with the fliers.
Coffey told a news conference that Epton "continues to employ persons distributing racist and false literature from his campaign office." He said the U.S. attorney is also investigating an allegation of "an organized effort to prevent Mr. Washington from campaigning in certain neighborhoods," which would constitute a violation of his civil rights.
The flier that has caused the most stir was passed out in front of City Hall on several days last week. It said: "Rumor has been circulated that Harold Washington was arrested for sodomy with a 10-year-old. Is this truth or fiction? We should know the facts before we vote."
Investigations by several news organizations determined that the allegation was false and, when Washington was shown a copy of the flier, he exploded at a reporter.
Among other fliers was one that asked whether, if elected, Washington would name comedian Richard Pryor as fire commissioner. Another, distributed at the police academy, pictured a fictitious police insignia featuring a watermelon slice and crossed drumsticks, and another listed fictitious Washington campaign promises, including one that he would "change State Street to Amos and Andy Drive."
Epton, who is Jewish, has also been the victim of anti-Semitic jokes in at least one flier during the campaign. A. Abbot Rosen, midwest director of the Anti-Defamation League, said he has been shocked by the degree of "racial and religious bigotry" reflected in campaign material.
"I've been here since the late 1940s, and I've never seen so much racism in a campaign," he said. "Ninety-five percent of what we've heard about is against Washington."
Rosen and others here, including Epton spokesmen, have said they believe the fliers are the product of "random bigots" rather than persons formally associated with either campaign.