clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

‘Council Wars’ plagued mayor’s 1st term

“Council Wars” remained center stage until last February’s elections, when Washington’s allies won 25 aldermanic seats and control of the Council. | Sun-Times file photo

The City Council, long a rubber stamp for Chicago mayors, erupted in a burst of independence after Mayor Washington’s election.

It was a development that plagued the mayor’s first term with political confrontation and bitterness, highlighted by racial polarization.

Led by Ald. Edward R. Vrdolyak (10th), the “Vrdolyak 29” blocked Washington at almost every avenue, refusing to confirm the mayor’s nominations, blocking many of his programs and controlling the spoils of power, such as political jobs and Council committee chairmanships.

Between his election on April 12, 1983, and the Council’s first meeting May 2, Washington’s allies worked carefully to undercut Vrdolyak and two other key aldermen.

But the mayor apparently underestimated Vrdolyak, who locked in commitments from 28 other aldermen, giving him four more votes than needed to control most Council activities.

On May 2, 1983, Vrdolyak introduced four key resolutions, assigning the chairs of powerful Council committees to his anti-Washington allies and altering Council guidelines.

Vrdolyak’s forces appointed 26 of their members to key chairmanships, offering only three to Washington allies by what soon became a trademark Council vote of 29-21.

Washington and his minority bloc walked out of the Council in protest. The remaining Council members voted unanimously to approve Vrdolyak as the temporary Council president in the mayor’s absence.

Unable to entice other aldermen away from Vrdolyak and unsuccessful in attempts to reach a compromise, Washington faced one political defeat after another.

Washington’s sole Council power was his veto, which could be overridden only by a two-thirds’ vote – 34 votes.

The first major municipal crisis surfaced May 27, 1983, when “Council Wars” threatened to disrupt the city’s $147 million Community Development Block Grant program.

Setting aside their differences, Washington and Vrdolyak allies joined to approve the critical community-funding program.

In June, the Council again united to approve federal aid for two business developments.

Despite the few moments of accord, the Council sessions were dominated by verbal bickering and heated exchanges.

That fall, the mayor’s vetoes blocked contract changes proposed by the Vrdolyak 29. As a result, the two sides settled on a peace plan that gave the mayor’s allies eight more Council chairmanships.

“Council Wars” remained center stage until last February’s elections, when Washington’s allies won 25 aldermanic seats and control of the Council.

It was a victory that Washington relished, as Vrdolyak fled to the Republican Party.

At a recent press conference reminiscing over “Council Wars,” Washington told reporters, “We beat his butt.”

And then he laughed.