Mayor Harold Washington faced down his critics today in a tumultuous City Council meeting that stymied hopes of negotiating an end to the battle over control of the city government.
The session erupted into a finger-pointing and name-calling contest as Washington tried to use conciliatory words, the legislative veto and a firm gavel to silence his council opponents.
"This is government by chaos. You don't care about the city of Chicago," Alderman Edward R. (Fast Eddie) Vrdolyak shouted at one point. "Rule or ruin! Rule or ruin!"
When Washington, chairing his first complete City Council meeting, threatened to clear the packed council chambers if disruptions continued, Vrdolyak yelled, "Get the handcuffs if that's the way you want to run this place. Get the handcuffs."
At another tense moment, Vrdolyak, who also is chairman of the Cook County Democratic Party, accused Washington of "running away" from his critics by walking out of two previous council meetings. Washington, sharply pounding his gavel from the podium, sternly shot back, "Mr. Vrdolyak, I have never run away from anybody, including you."
Today's two-hour session was the fourth rambunctious meeting of the deeply divided City Council since Washington's inauguration as Chicago's first black mayor April 29. Afterward, anti-Washington forces said the mayor had "created an atmosphere in which it is impossible to negotiate," and refused to attend a scheduled session with supporters of the new mayor to discuss organization of the council. Negotiations, however, are to be renewed Thursday.
"This is the first time we've seen the mayor in action," said Alderman Roman Pucinski. "If this is a preview of things to come, it's going to be a long four years."
Washington is supported by 21 of the 50 alderman. His opponents, called the "Vrdolyak 29," hold a majority on the council.
The bloc, made up of old Democratic machine politicians, last week pushed through a council reorganization plan that gave white aldermen 26 committee chairmanships and blacks only three. It also filed a lawsuit, seeking to prohibit the mayor from interfering in the affairs of the council.
With an abrupt end to negotiations today, settlement of the stalemate that has paralyzed city government for the last 10 days now apparently is up to the courts. A hearing on the suit is scheduled Friday, and a decision is expected Monday. On Tuesday Washington presented the Vrdolyak bloc a plan calling for reorganization of the government into 27 committees, 14 controlled by Vrdolyak supporters and 13 by allies of the mayor. Negotiations on the conflicting plans were scheduled to begin in earnest after today's council meeting. As the session began, Washington urged that the council recess until negotiators could settle the power dispute.
"I'm a peacemaker who reaches out to each and every one of you," Washington told the council and hundreds of onlookers.
The Vrdolyak bloc resisted this move.
When the motion to recess was defeated 29 to 21, Washington announced that he was vetoing the committee assignment and rule package approved by Vrdolyak forces last week. Two thirds of the council, or 34 votes, are required to override a veto.
"We don't have 34 votes now. And you don't have 34 votes," Alderman Marion Volini, a Washington supporter, said before the vote. "The only way we're going to do business for the next four years is to compromise."