The Aftermath – Harold Washington Defeats Mayor Byrne

Ralph Otwell

On Saturday, June 27th, just one week after the Tribune laid out the details of the previously shielded transition report, it was left to the Hot Type section of the Chicago Reader to try to pick up the pieces. The very last word, if not the last laugh, was had the next day by the Near North News, one of the Lerner Newspapers.

Lerner Article

Earlier Lerner Scoop

In the Reader’s analysis, Warden was a former Daily Newsman with no love lost for Field Enterprises, the owner of the Sun-Times. As a result, he had no trouble believing it when a Sun-Times editor told him that they had seen page proofs of the Sunday story and also concluded that Ralph Otwell had failed to pull the story and was going back on its arrangement with Dick Simpson. The Reader reviewed the bidding: So, to retaliate, Warden decided to turn the Sun-Times’s “exclusive” into no exclusive at all. By midnight, Warden was in the Tribune city room; by 1 AM Saturday, a couple of Tribune reporters had awakened William Bowe, who was analyzing the transition report for Chicago Lawyer, and who (at Warden’s suggestion) led the reporters through its 700 available pages over the next three hours. By 5 AM, the Tribune was assembling an unexpected front page for Sunday’s paper and remaking its “Perspective” section to accommodate a lengthy scorecard of the report’s findings.

The Reader article concluded by quoting Otwell as saying under normal circumstances, the story wouldn’t have been played up as big as it was under a Sunday banner headline. Otwell observed, “ After all, it’s a recycled story that wouldn’t seem to justify the space and fanfare that either of us gave it, quite frankly.” When Warden was asked by the Reader if he would have run my story on the front page of Chicago Lawyer, he answered, “Hell no!” The Reader summed it up this way:

At any rate, consider the real meaning of the whole ridiculous episode: (which has probably set back any serious scrutiny of the transition report by months) a year-old story becomes a three-day, three-ring media circus, thanks to one overprotective magazine editor, two contentious dailies, and the city’s dizzy first family. And for a few moments, all of Chicago was fooled into thinking something important had happened.

The truly last word came the day after the Reader’s story and appeared in a regional edition of the Lerner Newspapers, the Near North News.

Lerner Bowe Picture

Lerner Article of Local Interest

True to its traditional concentration on its local circulation, it focused on the north side addresses of Rob Warden and me before turning to the fact that the Lerner papers had long before run a detailed story on the transition report in November 1979:

Near north siders were heavily involved in the Chicago Tribune story that so miffed Mayor Jane Byrne that she announced the paper was going to be thrown out of City Hall. The mayor’s transition report was obtained by the Chicago, Lawyer, edited by Rob Warder, 1324 N. Sandburg. Warden turned it over to Atty. William J. Bowe, 2044 N. Larrabee for analysis. Bowe turned it over the Tribune.

Ironically, the report was printed in great detail last Nov. 18 by the Lerner newspapers, without unduly irritating the mayor.

My own view is that what went on was more than a tale almost about nothing, and that there is a least one solid truth to be unraveled from the affair. This particular media circus added to an already growing view that Jane Byrne, for lots of reasons, was not well suited to serve a second term as Chicago’s mayor.

Jane Byrne Watches Harold Washington Being Sworn in as Chicago’s Mayor

The strange media flap over the transition report and the coverage of her temporary sojourn in the Cabrini-Green housing project conveyed a sense of her instinct for the capillary instead of the juggler. Her firing of officials throughout the city government seemed too disruptive and haphazard to be treated as fair political retribution. Having campaigned as a reformer and the “evil cabal” in the City Council, she had also alienated Rose and other independent minded supporters when she cozied up to heavyweight machine aldermen like Edward Vrdolyak and Edward Burke. Finally, Chicago was in any event getting ready to move on to the next new thing, the election of Harold Washington, the city’s first African American mayor.

While there was much to admire about Jane Byrne personally, and in her one term as mayor, on balance she added, instead of subtracted, to the city’s ongoing sense of unease after Daley’s long rule, and voters punished her for this at the next election.