Harold Washington was Chicago's first African American mayor (1983-87) and as a reform mayor who presided over the death of "the machine as we knew it" in the face of massive city council resistance -- a period called "council wars" that occupied the first two years of his mayoralty.

Washington's innovative, neighborhood-oriented economic policy, is less well known. A set of local activists tied to University of Illinois-Chicago professor and city planner Robert Mier had created the Rehab Network and the Community Workshop on Economic Development (CWED), and their ideas infused Washington's campaign and administration.

Washington and Mier -- who became Commissioner of Economic Development -- combined a neighborhood focus with an overtly redistributive approach to economic policy, promoting industrial retention in response to the epidemic of plant closures and job losses that had affected Chicago and the Midwest in the period before and after the 1983 election. Administrators adopted principles like "jobs not real estate" as economic development policy, and that city neighborhood development programs should be delegated to neighborhood organizations, rather than administered from city hall.

Washington died at his desk in City Hall in November 1987. His successor as acting Mayor, City Council member Eugene Sawyer, continued Mier and other administrators from the Washington administration until a special election in April 1989. Richard M. Daley, who won that election, had campaigned against the neighborhood oriented development policies but he now faced an already organized constituency of neighborhood groups and small factory operators and eventually supported at least some of Washington's initiatives through a mayoralty that lasted 22 more years.

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