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Chicago Lakefront Politics Shift

In once liberal stronghold, the voters have turned more conservative

CHICAGO'S famous Lakefront Liberals are no more. Twenty years after they tweaked the city's Democratic machine, these independent, would-be reformers have disappeared as a voting bloc. The new lakefront - or part of it anyway - is upscale, conservative on fiscal matters, and apt to vote Republican in an otherwise Democratic city.

This shift has more to do with local conditions than national trends, analysts say. But when voters here go to the polls next Tuesday, their choice for US representative will reflect in some measure what it is like to be a liberal Democrat in 1990.

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The Ninth Congressional District, which includes the Lakefront and a few northern suburbs, has been a traditional liberal stronghold.

``It's the most liberal of any white district in the Midwest,'' says Don Rose, a Chicago political consultant.

Since 1948, except for a brief lapse from 1962 to 1964, the Ninth's US representative has been Sidney Yates, a traditional New Dealer, national spokesman for Jewish causes, and strong supporter of the arts and the environment. This year, for the first time in decades, Representative Yates faces a serious primary challenge from Edwin Eisendrath, a brash, first-term alderman from the city's 43rd Ward.

It was in this ward that the Lakefront Liberals elected in 1969 an alderman independent of City Hall - a rarity in those days, since Mayor Richard J. Daley's political machine controlled virtually all of the aldermen. The ward provided a base for machine opponents.

Now, it is more conservative. In 1986, it gave a narrow majority to Republican candidates for governor and county sheriff, while the city voted overwhelmingly Democratic in those races. In last year's special mayoral race, the ward voted overwhelming for Richard M. Daley, the son of the mayor that the ward's independents had fought for so long. Now, the independent alderman it elected in 1969, William Singer, is serving as campaign chairman for Alderman Eisendrath.

New generation, new issues

If the Ninth District was all like the gentrified 43rd Ward, Yates would be in trouble, analysts say. Middle-class voters have moved out, young professionals have moved in, and those who have stayed have become more conservative. ``They get those magazines: Mademoiselle, Vogue - all kinds of things,'' says postman Kim Whiteurst, whose route takes him through the 43rd ward.

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``As people get wealthier and their lifestyle changes, then their priorities change,'' adds June Rosner, a Lakefront activist and press secretary for the Yates. ``We were concerned with much broader issues: voting rights, things like that.... But the new generation is concerned about the issues they face, like parking problems, overdevelopment.''

By running as a social liberal and a fiscal conservative, Eisendrath is poised to do fairly well in this one-time liberal enclave, analysts say.

National countertrend

``Eisendrath is positioning himself for the people who are living there, and Yates may be positioning himself for the people who used to live there,'' says Paul Green, director of the public policy center at Governors State University in University Park.

This conservative shift echoes national trends up to the mid-1980s, but more recently the trend has been going the other way, says Larry Hugick, a vice president with the Gallup Organization.

People are more willing than before to spend money on education, the environment, health care, drugs, and crime, adds Tom W. Smith, director of the General Social Survey at the National Opinion Research Center. ``Overall, the spending profile is higher than it has ever been since the early '70s.''

It is unclear how much this national countertrend will affect the Yates-Eisendrath race.

For one thing, not all areas of the lakefront have become as gentrified or as conservative as the 43rd Ward. And Yates's political base is much broader than Eisendrath's. Political analysts expect him to win fairly easily here.

But it will not be because of the now-defunct Lakefront Liberals. Fragmented, they are no longer a potent opposition to traditional Democrats, analysts say.

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