A majority coalition of rebellious white aldermen today stepped up efforts to wrest control of the city government away from Mayor Harold Washington by seeking a court order to prohibit him from interfering in the affairs of the City Council.
The aldermen also scheduled a special session for 3 p.m. Saturday, which is intended to ratify the committee appointments and rules changes they enacted last Monday to weaken Washington's powers.
Washington, inaugurated just a week ago today as Chicago's first black mayor, maneuvered frantically but unsuccessfully to seize the advantage.
First, he sent teams of policemen out Thursday night to deliver midnight notices to the homes of the 50 aldermen who make up the City Council to warn them that the council meeting scheduled for this morning was illegal. Then he vetoed the ordinance that under city law is required to authorize such special meetings just as it was to begin.
The 29 rebel aldermen, led by Cook County Democratic Chairman Edward (Fast Eddie) Vrdolyak, held a bombastic session anyway before a cheering crowd of white supporters. No substantive business was conducted, but the rebels, who call themselves the "Vrdolyak 29," decided to come back into session Saturday.
One alderman said Washington's veto message read like "Doublespeak" from the "Minister of Truth" in George Orwell's novel, "1984." Another said the midnight police visits were a "fascist" tactic, "a raw and blatant attempt to intimidate and threaten members of this body."
The moves today were the latest in a series of bizarre episodes that began Monday when Washington, who with 21 supporting aldermen lacks the votes to elect his supporters to council posts, adjourned his first council meeting and walked out with his aldermen after two seconds.
Vrdolyak and his supporters promptly reconvened the session, establishing new rules and installing Washington opponents in key committee posts. The purpose of the unusual Saturday session is to approve the official minutes of the Monday meeting, in effect, making official the actions taken that day. Attorneys for Washington tried unsuccessfully tonight to get an injunction to keep the city clerk from printing the minutes.
Washington said at an afternoon news conference that he might attend the Saturday session if he decides it is legally constituted. He also said he was disappointed to hear that Alderman Edward Burke had filed a lawsuit on behalf of the 29 charging the mayor with improperly meddling in council affairs.
"I don't think the court is ever a place to settle legislative matters," Washington said.
Burke, a Vrdolyak ally, said he was seeking a declarative judgment to prohibit Washington from interfering with City Council business.
"We want the circuit court to explain the law to the mayor," Burke said.
Although his opponents today held the upper hand in the struggle, Washington appeared to be in surprising good humor. He did concede, however, that there was "no question" that the battle "hurts" his hopes of overhauling city government.
"The momentum has been lost," Washington said.
Today's activities were the type of high political drama Chicagoans have come to expect since Washington won the Democratic mayoral nomination Feb. 22, defeating the incumbent, Jane M. Byrne.
The high point of the day came at the rump council session. Washington had instructed all city employes neither to cooperate with the rebel group, which holds a 29-to-21 majority, nor to attend the meeting.
Fearing they might be locked out of the council chambers or have the public address system shut off, the 29 aldermen went to the morning session with bullhorns, candles and folding chairs.
They also packed the semicircular chamber with hundreds of white supporters, most of whom appeared to be city workers. As the meeting was to begin, Washington unexpectedly sent the council a carefully worded message vetoing an ordinance passed Monday that called for the meeting. The mayor said he believed that the Monday session was a "unlawful assemblage" and "no ordinance was validly passed," but said he wanted to veto it anyway.
As hundreds of spectators looked on, the rebel forces huddled for 35 minutes trying to decide what to do. When the council meeting finally began, Vrdolyak declared that the veto message represented a victory for his side.
"You're either one thing or another," he said. The mayor, he said, has the right to veto any ordinance from a legal meeting of the council "but he doesn't have the right to veto a non-ordinance from a non-meeting."
He said Washington, in effect, had admitted that "everything we did Monday was legal and proper."
Vrdolyak urged Washington to "come on home. It's time for all of us to act together." He said Washington should bring the city's longtime power brokers into his fold rather than trying "to put us in a corner."
"We might even have an idea some time," he said. "We might even show you how not to get in a box like this again."
The chamber was filled for more than an hour with oratory from the city's power brokers, who repeatedly quoted from the Constitution and the writings of Thomas Jefferson.
"The mayor has to get his act together," said Alderman Roman Pucinski.
Only one Washington supporter, Alderman Marion Volini, attended the session.
"I want you to know even this day the eyes of the world are on this city. I want you to look around and see who isn't here. We don't have a single black alderman in this room," she said. "A house divided against itself cannot stand."