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Chicago Mon Apr 15 2013

Talking about Harold Washington, "The Man, the Movement & the Moment"

By Chuck Reed

David Axelrod joined a four member panel convened last Tuesday at the University of Chicago's International House in celebration of the 30th anniversary of Harold Washington's 1983 successful mayoral election. Journalist and political correspondent Laura Washington moderated the discussion between 4th Ward Alderman Will Burns, University of Chicago political science Professor Michael Dawson, Washington campaign advisor Jackie Grimshaw, who now serves in the department of policy, transportation and community development for Chicago's Center for Neighborhood Technology; and the aforementioned former Obama campaign strategist Axelrod.

After twice polling the plentiful and diverse audience as to our ages and cognizance of the historical election of Chicago's first African-American mayor, the event began with rousing clips of an effusive Mayor Washington speaking of the great responsibility of his office, love for his constituents and contempt for the tactics of Mayor Richard J. Daley.

"The Man, the Movement and the Moment" was a phrase Laura Washington reminiscently used to initiate the discussion, setting the stage for a topic that juxtaposed a defining time in Chicago's rich political history with America's ever present struggle for racial equality.

Delving into the political climate of the 1983 campaigns of incumbent Mayor Jane Byrne, then-Illinois State's Attorney Richard M. Daley and 1st District Congressman Harold Washington, the speakers described complicated and even duplicitous strategies used by Chicago politicians. The perspectives of Axelrod and Grimshaw provided firsthand accounts of the racial and political strife that both propelled and frustrated his ascent to office. Burns and Dawson emphasized the importance of political involvement by young people and minority participants, calling them the future.

The engaged audience also played a role as one well read man jogged Axelrod's memory by calling out "waste disposal!" when the strategist had difficulty remembering a political wedge issue referred to in President Obama's The Audacity of Hope. The panel also opened the floor to audience members with questions and comments.

Noted was Mayor Washington's charisma and charm. Axelrod proclaimed "[Mayor Washington] was a larger than life character in a city that expected it from its mayor, and he fit the bill in every way." Additionally, they spoke of his candid inclusion of all races and creeds, as he was an avid supporter of what was then referred to as the Gays -- a political position that, 30 years later, continues to land politicians in some inexplicable hot water.

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