Since Toni Preckwinkle won the Democratic nomination for county board president last week, I’ve heard lots of people saying it represents the return of the Washington coalition—a band of independent-minded African-Americans, Latinos, and whites who want to whip local government into shape.
There are a couple of problems with the comparison.
For one, mythology aside, there wasn't that much of a Washington “coalition” before the mayor was elected—not one that included many whites, at least. As Gary Rivlin writes in Fire on the Prairie, only two white elected officials endorsed Washington—Hyde Parkers Larry Bloom, an alderman, and Barbara Flynn Currie, a state rep.
Things weren’t much different in the precincts. In the 1983 mayoral primary, Washington won about 85 percent of the black vote—and almost none of the white. Most white voters, even in the so-called liberal lakefront parts of town, went with either Jane Byrne or Richard M. Daley. Washington eked out a win with 36 percent of the citywide total to Byrne’s 34 percent and Daley’s 30 percent.
Preckwinkle did much, much better. She took in 49 percent of the vote countywide against three other office-holders, including incumbent Todd Stroger, who received just 14 percent. And she did it across racial and ethnic lines in both the city and the suburbs.
• Preckwinkle won 34 of the city’s 50 wards and 24 of 30 suburban townships.
• In the city, she racked up her highest margins of victory on the mostl -white north lakefront as well as in her own Fourth Ward and the gerrymandered First Ward, a majority Latino area with lots of young white professionals and hipsters.
• Against two African-American rivals, Preckwinkle won all but six of Chicago’s 20 black wards and captured an outright majority in three (the Second, Fourth, and Fifth).
• Stroger won four—but didn’t get a majority in any of them, including his home Eight Ward, where he got 41 percent.
• Dorothy Brown won the 29th and 37th wards on the west side.
• Terry O’Brien, the one white candidate in the race, won ten wards. Five are predominately white areas on the northwest and southwest sides; two are traditional Democratic machine strongholds (the 11th and 19th); and the other three are majority Latino and under the control of machine Democrats (the 10th, 12th, and 14th). O’Brien’s biggest win margin came in the 23rd Ward on the southwest side. He also took six mostly white townships west and southwest of the city.
• Preckwinkle won the seven other mostly Latino wards, including the majorities in three with lots of white voters in the mix: the 1st, 33rd, and 35th.
• Despite O’Brien’s success in many areas traditionally ruled over by the lords of the Cook County Democratic Party, Preckwinkle held her own there too, with victories in the 25th, 27th, 30th, 31st, 33rd, 38th, 39th, and 40th wards.
In short, this was a bit of an ass-kicking. Return of the Washington coalition? More like arrival of the Preckwinkle onslaught.