Chicago's Mayors and the "Council Wars"

Mayor Richard J. Daley ruled the city for 21 years until he passed away on December 20, 1976. In his early years as Mayor he presided over an unprecedented building boom that created a spectacular downtown skyline. He completed the city’s expressway network, enlarged O’Hare Airport and constructed the U of I /Chicago Circle campus, rejuvenating the Maxwell Street district.

Despite his many achievements, his forceful leadership often produced heated controversy . Racial tensions were in large part caused by his resistance to Civil Rights groups. This was reflected in the actions after he passed away.

In the 13 years following his death, the city experienced 6 Mayors, including the following;

Michael Bilandic served from December 1976 to April 1979.
Jane Byrne, 1st woman Mayor from April 1979 to April 1983.
Harold Washington, 1st black Mayor from April 1983 to Nov. 1987.
David Orr, Interim Mayor, served 1 week.
Eugene Sawyer, 2nd black Mayor from Dec. 1987 to April 1989
Richard M. Daley served 22 years from April 1989 to May 2011.
The “Council Wars” were a racially polarized political conflict the centered on the City Council. Harold Washington was essentially elected the first black Mayor when he won the Democratic primary in this Democratic city in a 3 -way contest against incumbent Mayor Jane Byrne and Richard M. Daley.

Though Mayor Washington won the election, the “Organization” Democrats won most of the 50 Council seats. The 29 “Organization” Aldermen led by Aldermen Ed Vrdolyak and Ed Burke voted themselves complete control of every Council committee. Over the next 3 years they voted down all of the Mayor’s proposals and appropriations. They had a majority of the votes, but not enough to override the Mayors veto, creating a legislative gridlock for 3 years until Washington’s allies had the 1980 ward map overturned in Federal court and won additional Council seats creating a 25-25 tie and giving the Mayor the deciding vote.