Friday, January 22, 2010

Washington remains a potent image

Who knew that Harold could still influence the outcomes of elections, some 22-plus years after his death?

That seems to be the case, as both of the candidates who desire the Democratic Party’s nomination for governor are trying to use the image of Harold Washington (the city’s first black mayor) to bolster their own support in the African-American community.

HECK, WE HAVE young voters who weren’t even alive back in the days when Chicago politics was largely about whether or not one supported H.W.

Yet that isn’t stopping Illinois Comptroller DanHynes from using a new broadcast campaign ad that reminds us of the fact that incumbent Gov. Pat Quinn was once the Chicago city revenue director, and that his performance in that job was subpar to the point where he became one of the many political officials who were pressured to “resign” their position to pursue other opportunities.

In Quinn’s case, those opportunities included one term as Illinois treasurer, unsuccessful bids for the U.S. Senate and Illinois secretary of state, and some time as lieutenant governor, which put him in place to become governor when Rod Blagojevich was impeached and removed from office by the Illinois Legislature.

Yet Hynes dredged up the old news footage of Washington being asked about Quinn’s termination in the revenue department position. The footage shows Washington calling himself “nuts” and “blind or staggering” to even hire Quinn, and has him describing Quinn’s performance on the job as “completely undisciplined.”

OF COURSE, AS Quinn points out, he voted for Washington for mayor both in 1983 and 1987. It also is unlikely that the split between the two men would have turned into a lasting grudge that would continue to this day – if Washington had really be able to fulfill his rhetorical boasts of wanting to be Chicago mayor for 20 years.

It probably is a stretch for Hynes to use this, although it is far from the most outrageous campaign advertisement I have ever seen. It also is not even the most outrageous use of Harold Washington videotape I have ever seen.

That latter “honor” is one I would give to Neil Hartigan – the one-time Illinois attorney general who in 1990 tried running himself for Illinois governor.

Hartigan’s campaign gained access to some old video where Washington said some nice things about Hartigan in general and added a line something to the effect of “I’m for you.”

WHICH HARTIGAN SHOWED at a press conference in Chicago and claimed constituted an endorsement by Washington – who at that point had been dead for only three years.

A part of me thinks for that gauche maneuver alone, Hartigan deserved to lose the election that year to Jim Edgar.

Back to the present, where Hynes is trying to use Washington to take down Quinn, whom various polls show having the bulk of voter support among Chicago’s African-American population (which is nearly 40 percent of the city as a whole).

That’s a nice base, and it is part of the reason why Quinn is considered the front-runner in the Democratic primary over Hynes.

I DOUBT HYNES seriously thinks he’s going to sway many people to vote for him through use of the Washington ad. This is more about making people who would be inclined to support his opponent so disgusted with Quinn that they might be inclined to say “forget them all” come Election Day – which is only a week-and-a-half away.

If he could cut into one part of Quinn’s political base, that could help make his own political bases (those white ethnic voters on the city’s Southwest and Northwest sides who rememberr his father – one-time county assessor and Illinois Senate President Tom Hynes) more significant.

But it also is Hynes’ father that causes some people to be offended by Dan’s use of Washington’s image.

For too many of us of a certain age remember Tom Hynes as one of the outspoken critics of Washington as mayor who went so far as to run a third-party campaign for mayor against Washington.

HE MIGHT NOT be remembered as vehemently as Ed Vrdolyak, but there is a degree to which Dan Hynes (whether fair or not) will always have to pay for his father’s sins in the eyes of black voters in this city.

Which is why Quinn aides on Thursday resorted to the cliché of Washington “spinning in his grave” at the thought of his image being used in support of a Hynes. I guess this means Harold is spinning just like Abraham Lincoln is spinning at the thought of Rod Blagojevich’s behavior in office.

Of course, all of this rhetoric has a touch of “ridiculous” to it. Hynes using Washington to smack Quinn reeks of a cheap-shot payback for all the attacks Quinn has dished out to Hynes trying to put blame on him for the mess that became of suburban Alsip’s Burr Oak Cemetery.

So what should we really believe?

THE BEST WAY to approach campaign ads is to remember that virtually every claim made by every candidate is an exaggeration. The only definite in all this is that the primary season for us comes to an end in 11 days.

If Harold Washington really could communicate to us from the great beyond, my guess is that what he’d really say is that the nonsense can’t come to an end too soon.


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