East Blowing Wind

THE VICTORY of Rep. Harold Washington in last Tuesday's Chicago Democratic Mayoral primary brought to a symbolic end the political machine that has dominated the city for 50 years. The Black candidate has pledged to destroy the complex and entrenched system of patronage that became a hallmark of the late Mayor Richard J. Daley's administration. Backed by the city's large minority population. Washington will most definitely defeat Republican candidate Bernard Epton come April. And once the new administration takes office, the estimated 45,000 city employees who scratched backs with Daley and now-lame duck Mayor Jane Byrne may no longer be assured of a job and a fat paycheck each Friday.

The year's electoral strength and the future of the Chicago political machine should be of interest to Boston residents, where Mayor Kevin H. White now leads a political frame work consciously based on Daley's Chicago apparatus. The Hub may well feel the gales from the Windy City, and the populist backlash that dethroned Byrne may defeat Boston's four-term mayor.

The Chicago surprise was made possible by the swelling involvement of a traditionally dormant group-the Blacks. If a similar rebellion of outsiders against White's cynical politics takes place, two candidates stand to benefit-South Boston City Councilor Raymond D. Flynn and Black South End State Representative Melvin H. King. Both have fared well in low-income and minority areas in the past, and both, like Washington in Chicago, have made the machine a major target of their campaigns.

But the dynamics of politics in Boston are different from those of its Midwestern counterpart. The more personal nature of politics in this relatively small metropolis means that each candidate's character may play a greater role in the election than the simple Black-white polarity that characterized Washington's primary victory.

And the personalities are somewhat different. Though King, like Washington, is the only Black candidate in the race it is unlikely that he can unify a bloc the way Washington did. The Democratic nominee for mayor of Chicago was quite mainstream, himself a congressman from the area. But King-bald and bedecked in beard and mustache-is an original and radical thinker who may alienate the conversative-though steadfastly Democratic-electorate.


Furthermore, the electoral set-up seems less likely to allow the racial split which allowed Washington to walk in. Chicago's system says that anyone with a plurality of the votes in a crowded field cops the prize. But Boston dictates that a runoff take place between the two top vote-getters, so any candidate has to win over a majority of the city's ballots. Consequently, White can knock off five of his six challengers this year by garnering no more than 30 percent of the vote. Then, if he faces King in the final, the election may turn into a race issue, playing on the fears of Boston's obstinately parochial neighborhood.

THE KEY QUESTION is whether White's machine can wield the strength of the Daley version. White's apparatus has lost control over many traditional sources of patronage-the airport, housing, the school system-due to takeovers by the courts or the state.

Yet White is engineering it for all it is worth. Created by the once-reformist mayor after the 1975 mayoral election, the machine succeeded in giving him a fourth term of office. In the 1979 election ward and administration department heads were required to attend a weekly meeting led by the mayor himself, and so-called precinct area. Moreover, employees were told to contribute money to the campaign, conduct mail and telephone polls, and identify political supporters and opponents among the electorate-all in defense of state law. Should White choose to run again, he will likely employ the same methods.

At this point, no clear alternative has yet emerged to challenge White's corrupt administration. So White and his machine could keep City Hall by default, effectively negating his opponents through shrewd politicking and brilliant media manipulation. But if a viable alternative does emerge, Boston will be poised to replay the Chicago scenario, as one of the six challengers-all of whom, of course, decry corruption and machine politics-will take over City Hall.

In Chicago, where the machine was built in the 1930's, it has outlived its creator and taken on an independent identity which Washington must either give in to or destroy. But in Boston, the relatively new set-up is clearly a by-product of Kevin White, and it is less clear what will happen to it once the boss goes. The creaking political structure constructed by White will most likely collapse-at least for the moment-and Boston's government will have to be rebuilt from the group up.

THE MAYORAL elections are going to be turning-points for both cities. The last two major big city machines may grind to a half, leaving Daley, Byrne, and White in-the-history books next to Boss Tweed of New York's Tammany Hall.

But then again, power corrupts and every politician-Black, white, rich, or poor-can fall under its charm. Every candidate is a reformer, but what he does as mayor is a different story. It is, as of now, too early to count out the political machine, no matter how many politicians sound its death knell.

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