Harold Washington's period as mayor of Chicago in 1983-1987 will be remarked as one of the high points of American city history. Not only was the the city's first black mayor, he put together the first successful rainbow coalition and introduced reforms that signaled the end of the Richard Daley machine. This book documents another, less-noted but equally important aspect of Washington's mayoralty: a progressive neighborhood and economic development agenda, pursued by a network of neighborhood-oriented organizers and professionals, which played a crucial role in legitimating the adminstration generally and institutionalizing major reforms.
Neighborhood organizers found themselves in city government after Washington took office. In this book they discuss the roles they played, the experience of being on the inside, and the frustrations of government. Members of the administration pursued such policies as the reallocation of city investments from downtown to the outlying neighborhoods, the redefinition of city economic policy toward providing good jobs rather than developing real estate projects, use of community based organizations to implement city policy, and a committment to broad-based participation.
At a time when national policy had withdrawn from urban affairs, such initiatives were remarkable. They also confounded mainstream academic and public opinion. Perhaps it was not impossible, as many claimed, to develop redistributive policies, explore public ownership, address racial discrimination. It is important to examine Harold Washington's policies for what they set out to accomplish and for what they showed about the potential for redistributive policies in American cities.