An article in yesterday's Washington Post incorrectly stated that Chicago Mayor Harold Washington succeeded the late Ralph Metcalfe as a congressman from Illinois. Bennett McVey Stewart served a term in the 1st Congressional District before Washington was elected.
In a primary campaign that may tell a lot about Mayor Harold Washington's political clout, 19 candidates are fighting to succeed him as the U.S. representative from Chicago's 1st Congressional District, the oldest northern black congressional constituency in the country.
The primary election is Tuesday, and because the district is one of the most heavily Democratic in the nation, whoever wins the Democratic nomination is considered an automatic victor in the general election in August to fill the unexpired portion of Washington's two-year House term.
The nomination fight, however, has created political strains in the mayor's back yard when he is struggling against an entrenched white majority on the City Council to get his administration off the ground.
After waiting for weeks while Democrat after Democrat filed for the nomination--14 in all--Washington threw his support to a close friend who some say had little personal interest in running--and who now appears to be running behind.
The mayor's supporters say he was waiting for the best possible candidate to emerge before endorsing anyone.
His detractors counter that he hesitated unnecessarily, then threw his support to Charles Hayes, 65, a veteran leader of the United Food and Commercial Workers union who has always supported Washington with money and volunteers. They contend that Washington chose Hayes because he would go along with him on every issue and would pose no threat to Washington's position as the leading black spokesman for Chicago.
In the diverse yet relatively compact world of black Chicago politics, the three front-runners among the 14 Democrats have special ties to Washington, whose elective career spans more than 20 years of machine and independent politics.
The generally acknowledged leader up to now has been Lu Palmer, a journalist, community activist and black nationalist. Palmer's advocacy of Washington for mayor last fall caused his sponsor, Illinois Bell, to drop his widely known news commentary radio show, "Lu's Notebook."
Palmer's two closest rivals are Hayes and Al Raby, a civil rights leader who was brought in as Washington's campaign manager early this year.
In the next tier and considered long shots are Alderman Marian Humes, Ralph Metcalfe Jr., son of the late first district congressman whom Washington succeeded, and two state legislators. The rest of the field, given little chance of success, includes a man who says he has invented a flying motorcycle and a woman who espouses something she calls "laser energetics" as a means of saving the United States from communism.
Four Republicans and one minor-party candidate also are competing for the seat.
Although the South Side boiled over last spring with a political crusade to put Washington in City Hall, there is little apparent voter enthusiasm for the congressional campaign.
The explanations begin with a look at the thermometer.
Wilting candidates and prospective voters are caught in one of the hottest recent summers on record here. Candidate forums have been lightly attended, and few crowds have assembled in the sticky, baking heat.
"We're all just plain exhausted from the mayor's race," said a woman on 47th Street as she watched Hayes on a handshaking tour across the street. "And the heat," she added, making no move to get any closer to the candidate.
With a small turnout expected and candidates such as Humes and the legislators operating from their political bases, the victory margin may be narrow.
Hayes, however, can draw on financial and organizational support from labor that the other candidates cannot match.
Raby concedes that Washington's endorsement of Hayes has hurt.
"Without the mayor's endorsement, Charlie Hayes wouldn't be in it--so it's hurt," Raby said. "Finding money is very difficult, and I would normally expect labor backing and that's closed off."
Hayes says he always wanted the job.
Palmer, 61, says Washington "should not have endorsed anyone, because his movement was a people's movement from the beginning."
In a campaign where there are few discernible issues separating most major candidates, Palmer stands out. Although he dislikes the term on the grounds that it is inadequate to the complexity of his ideas, Palmer voices many of the black nationalist aspirations that burst onto the American scene 20 years ago.
One keystone of his campaign, he says, is his denunciation of school integration.
"The community and parents ought to have the ultimate decision on how children are educated," he said. "Desegregation doesn't answer that need. The other problem with desegregation is that black principals and teachers have been fired or demoted in integrated systems . This removes role models for black children. Of course, it's the law of the land, but there is no definitive evidence that desegregation leads to higher quality education."