Chicago ended its most important recent special election campaign today with a zesty blend of two Windy City political traditions: charges of violent skulduggery by rival office-seekers and a St. Patrick's Day parade.
The allegations of violence were made by City Council candidate Manuel Torres, running in one of seven remapped wards where a federal judge has ordered special aldermanic elections Tuesday. The outcome could give Mayor Harold Washington a clear City Council majority for the first time since he won his office in 1983.
Torres, a candidate in the heavily Puerto Rican 26th Ward, campaigned today wearing a bulletproof vest, saying he did so "after the assassination attempt on my life yesterday."
Backed by the old-line, white-dominated Democratic machine against Washington's candidate, Torres told police Sunday night that someone fired three shots at him during a hand-shaking tour that day in the new ward.
Police said they have arrested an 18-year-old man in connection with the incident and charged him with attempted murder.
The mayor, who backs Torres' opponent, Luis Gutierrez, hinted today that the incident was a hoax. Washington said he found it strange "when shots don't hit anything . . . a building, a tree, even thin air."
But former mayor Jane M. Byrne, who plans to run against Washington next year and campaigned for Torres today, said "the police arrested a suspect, and they are experts. The mayor is not." She said she supported Torres because the three new Hispanic aldermen to be elected from the remapped wards are "going to have the representative power of the fastest-growing group in Chicago."
The alleged shooting tops a long list of reports of preelection violence in the seven remapped wards where candidates backed by Washington and those backed by his arch-rival, Cook County Democratic Chairman Edward R. Vrdolyak, have waged bitter campaigns.
Vrdolyak, leader of the party machine, has a 29-vote majority on the 50-member City Council. If the mayor wins four of the new wards, he can break the resulting 25-to-25 deadlock with his vote. Most political observers here think that at least three of the wards will require runoff elections next month.
The parade, a three-hour affair under sunny skies, attracted dozens of Illinois office-holders and office-seekers, each smiling more broadly than the last as they marched to skirling Irish bagpipes and tootling high school bands through the downtown Loop before thousands of spectators.
Washington was the leader, and right behind came Gov. James R. Thompson (R), seeking his fourth consecutive term. Resplendent in a shiny green high school warm-up jacket, the governor pumped hands, waved and hunted for support.
Later came county prosecutor Richard M. Daley, leading his own "Daley Family" float displaying huge photos of his family and of his late father, Richard J. (Boss) Daley, Chicago's mayor for 21 years.
Sandwiched between the politicians, and often drawing far more applause, were such familiar Irish-American organizations as the Shannon Rovers Pipe Band, the Connaught Social Club, and the Pioneer Total Abstinence Association.
The Illinois Board of Elections predicts that barely one in four of the 6.1 million voters in Illinois will go to the polls in Tuesday's statewide primary, in which the chief contest is for the Republican nomination to the U.S. Senate.
In the city elections, more voters than usual are expected to turn out in the three new Hispanic wards, but Hispanic turnout citywide is seldom more than 35 percent.