Mayor Harold Washington’s legacy is one of leadership, kindness, inspiration

One lesson: City government is responsible for implementing innovative solutions to improve the lives of all residents, including those with disabilities.

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Mayor Harold Washington at a post-reelection victory news conference at City Hall on April 8, 1987.

Mayor Harold Washington at a post-victory news conference at City Hall on April 8, 1987.

Rich Hein/Sun-Times file photo

It was the opening day of the Chicago Farmer’s Market in 1983 when I met Mayor Harold Washington. I tagged along with my mom to work, and there he was – the mayor of Chicago. He shook my hand, made eye contact and spoke directly to me. It was a humble gesture that will forever be in my mind.  His leadership and kindness inspired me and my mother, Nancy Bellew, in her commitment to public service.

My mom served Chicago, working for five different mayors, including Washington, where she was first deputy commissioner in the Department of Consumer Services (now named Business Affairs and Consumer Protection). Through her dedication, I developed a firm belief that city government is responsible for implementing innovative solutions to improve the lives of all residents.

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Washington was committed to building a vibrant downtown. He became the first Chicago mayor to issue sidewalk café permits, creating urban spaces where Chicagoans and visitors could gather. To this day, our downtown continues to thrive.

Under Washington’s administration, many of his initiatives became laws. He often took quick action to solve problems, such as pushing a mandate for hotels to provide visual smoke alerts. This effort was in response to the tragic deaths of two Illinois School for the Deaf students, who perished in a Chicago hotel fire. It was a simple yet impactful ordinance that has saved lives. Today, the use of visual smoke detectors has increased.

Washington also understood that disability is an intersectional identity.  In 1986, at the National Black Deaf Advocates Chicago conference, Washington said that being both Black and deaf was a “double handicap.”

Washington went on to say, “We have a tremendous task ahead of us, but with groups like yours, the barriers and obstacles will be abolished, and equality and fairness will prevail.” He understood that the number of Black and brown Chicagoans who have hearing loss is undercounted, and he urged increased Black and brown representation in the American Sign Language (ASL) interpreter field.

We are continuing to build on Washington’s work through Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s commitment to equity, which includes increasing the diversity of ASL interpreters, among many other initiatives.

Seeing the impact of Washington’s tenacity and my mother’s dedication inspired me to become a public servant, ensuring Chicago is accessible and inclusive. As we celebrate Washington’s centennial, we will honor his legacy that continues to inspire us all.

Rachel Arfa, Commissioner, Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities

Give Italians more credit, respect

Does the Chicago Italian community get a say in what statue will replace Columbus? That’s a big part of the argument that gets overlooked, which is why Columbus gets celebrated in the first place.

It was a response to the March 14, 1891, New Orleans lynchings of 11 Italian Americans and immigrants, the largest single mass lynching in American history. When the U.S. declined to prosecute the mob leaders, Italy recalled its ambassador from Washington in protest. The U.S. followed suit, recalling its legation from Rome. Diplomatic relations remained at an impasse for over a year, and there were rumors of a declaration of war on America.

As part of a wider effort to ease tensions with Italy and placate Italian Americans, President Benjamin Harrison declared the first nationwide celebration of Columbus Day in 1892, commemorating the 400th anniversary of the Italian explorer’s landing in the New World.

The Columbus statue that was in Little Italy is even more meaningful to the community. Little Italy used to be much bigger, but the construction of the university, Eisenhower Expressway and the UIC Medical District expansion decimated the neighborhood.

If anything, there should be a statue of Florence Scala, Chicago’s legendary Taylor Street activist. She and Jessie Binford took the case to the Supreme Court in an attempt to save the neighborhood.

Italians are vital to Chicago’s history and the building of the city. I think Chicago Italians deserve more credit and respect. They have contributed more to Chicago than deep dish pizza and Italian beef.

William Bacarella, Chicago

Being noisy is an assault

Dariusz Gulanczyk’s recent letter about excessive noise was excellent, as far as it went, but it should have included one more point:  Being noisy is a form of aggression.

It is a sad fact that a lot of Americans seem to measure how much fun that they believe that they are having by the quantity of sound that they are experiencing or producing.  If somebody playing loud music when people are trying to sleep is challenged, the complainer is as likely to get an earful of “Mind your own business” as they are to get a more civilized response.

Well, it is our business.  Quiet is the default condition, and the right to silence exceeds the “right” to make excessive noise. This is evident from the fact that being quiet bothers nobody.  Some normal sounds are reasonable at reasonable times of the day. Being noisy at other times is an assault on one’s fellow citizens.

Curt Fredrikson, Mokena

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