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Chicago's old guard makes a comeback

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Chicago's political future is starting to look a lot like its past. In a raucous City Council meeting that stretched into Wednesday morning, aldermen elected one of their own - Eugene Sawyer - as the city's acting mayor. Although Mr. Sawyer promises to continue the reform policies of Mayor Harold Washington, who died suddenly last Wednesday, it is not at all clear he will do so.

``We can only assume at this point that we're harking back to the old ways of doing business,'' says Don Rose, a political consultant who worked for Mayor Washington.

Some 5,000 demonstrators who flocked to City Hall Tuesday protested what they saw as a return to patronage and machine-style politics. During the council meeting, many demonstrators carried signs saying ``No deals,'' chanted against Sawyer, and waved dollar bills and threw coins, shouting ``How much, Sawyer? How much?''

The arduous meeting brought out an emotional side of Chicago politics not seen since Mayor Washington, the city's first black mayor, came to power in 1983. At least 10 aldermen reported receiving death threats this week. One reportedly wore a bullet-proof vest at the council meeting. A cordon of police separated the City Council members from the gallery of spectators.

Emotions are running high among would-be reformers because Sawyer is arousing suspicions of cronyism. He has long-standing ties to old-line Democrats.

Although he is the longest-serving black alderman and moved quickly to support Washington in 1983, Sawyer has never severed his first political ties.

In the voting this week, for example, 23 white aldermen supported Sawyer. Many of them had been opponents of Mayor Washington. All but six black aldermen and all four Hispanic aldermen voted instead for another black alderman, Timothy Evans. Mr. Evans had served as Washington's floor leader in the City Council.

Not all political observers, however, paint the scene in such black-and-white hues.


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