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Tributes to the late Mayor Harold Washington start Friday

Chicago Mayor Harold Washingtholds page  one Chicago Sun-Times following apperances NBC's Today Show February 1987 Sun-Times phoby John H.

Chicago Mayor Harold Washington holds page one of the Chicago Sun-Times following apperances on the NBC's Today Show February 1987 Sun-Times photo by John H. White

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Updated: May 13, 2013 6:36AM



“You want Harold? Well, here’s Harold!”

Those famous words of the late Mayor Harold Washington after winning Election Day 1983 speak to a monthlong tribute starting Friday.

“It’s really important people remember the real Harold Washington, not just the bright, articulate mayor with a smile, but the first reform mayor,” says Cook County Clerk David Orr, then alderman of the 49th ward who also served as Washington’s vice mayor.

“He had so many achievements,” Orr says. “But political interests try to minimize them.”

Orr is among a diverse coalition of civil rights, political, civic, and religious leaders who formed a 30th Anniversary Harold Washington Tribute Committee that is launching a monthlong campaign to honor the legacy of the city’s first black mayor.

They’ll kick it off at a morning news conference at Hyde Park’s Ramada Lake Shore — the same hotel where Washington accepted the community’s draft, announcing his candidacy on Nov. 10, 1982. Washington died on Nov. 25, 1987, just after winning a second term.

“For the last several years, I’ve been thinking about Harold’s legacy and seeing it fade away,” says longtime political activist/socialite Josie Childs, who initiated the effort.

“Bear in mind, 30 years is a generation-plus. People tell me they go to schools, mention Harold, and kids don’t know [him]. Our mission is to perpetuate his legacy.” Washington, who served in the state legislature and the U.S. Congress before taking helm of one of America’s most segregated and racially volatile cities, was first to open city government — to media through a Freedom of Information executive order, and to minorities through ward redistricting and representation, and fairer distribution of city services.

He was electied by a unique coalition of blacks, Latinos and white “lakefront liberals.”

“One of the most important living legacies of the Washington administration is that he really opened the doors to women, certainly to racial minorities, African-Americans, Latinos, Asians,” says Cook County Commissioner Jesus Garcia, then 22nd ward alderman.

“If we had not lived the Harold Washington experience, I don’t think Carol Mosely Braun would have been inspired to seek the Senate, or Barack Obama, the presidency,” he says.

The month’s planned activities begin with Friday night’s “Commemorative Election Reception” at the Marmon Grand — Washington was elected on the same date in 1983. They include myriad forums at area universities, an April 27th youth summit, and a closing celebration on April 29 at the Harold Washington Cultural Center featuring the Chi-Lites.

“This is extremely important,” says Soft Sheen founder Ed Gardner, 88, then a key Washington fund-raiser who now leads the charge for greater construction work for blacks.

“It’s the responsibility of the people in my age category to let the young people know that Chicagoans many years ago got together when they felt they had an opportunity to elect a black mayor for this city, that it was done by pulling the strengths of races from all parts of ths city, and that mayor did so much for this city, and for blacks.”

For more information, visit www.MayorHaroldWashington.co



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