Chicago, IL

Chicago and Harold Washington

Harold Washington was known as Chicago’s first African American mayor (1983-87) and as a reform mayor who presided over a drastic reduction in patronage jobs, 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. Neighborhood activists were prominent among the social movements that elected Washington; 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. Mier became Commissioner of Economic Development, and many others took administrative posts or continued neighborhood activism, pressuring City Hall from the outside.

Washington and Mier combined a neighborhood focus with an overtly re-distributive 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. By the time of Washington’s candidacy CWED in particular was moving toward a platform statement: 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.  CWED executive director Kari Moe carried this message into the Washington mayoralty as a key campaign operative and later staff member and department head in City Hall.

Joel Rast, in Remaking Chicago (1999) describes Washington’s “Local Producer Strategy” for industrial retention. It had neighborhood roots, created through several years of organizing, notably by Donna Ducharme, a social worker and planner hired by the New City YMCA in whose neighborhood unemployed minority males sought a job ladder that could be found in nearby small factories. But they – the factories — were threatened by real estate developers acquiring and converting factory buildings to upscale apartments and commercial uses. Ducharme conceived a zoning device, the Planned Manufacturing District, and lobbied factory owners, neighborhood groups, aldermen and city hall agencies – Mier’s DED and the separate Department of Planning. This took years, with the first PMD established after Washington’s death.

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 administrator until a special election in April 1989. Richard M. Daley, who won that election, had campaigned against the neighborhood oriented development policies and in particular, the PMD concept (with developer support). But what Daley encountered upon taking office in 1989 was an already organized constituency of neighborhood groups and small factory operators who had been mobilizing for several years advocating the PMDs. Part of that advocacy involved several dozen local development organizations supported under Washington through a Local Industrial Retention Initiative (LIRI) that sought to keep and strengthen these establishments as part of a jobs policy.

Within a year, Daley reversed his position and, with the support of the planning department, hired Ducharme as Deputy Commissioner for Industrial Development in the Department of Planning and Development. She initiated a Model Industrial Corridors planning process – as described by Rast, it was remarkable. It relied on the LIRI organizations which did infrastructure plans and then followed through on implementation with city seed money to stimulate further investment; later this was supplemented through support from a Neighborhood Capital Budgeting Group that helped free up further investments. For the first few years under Daley, the neighborhood constituency seemed strong: many organizations were able to adapt a housing strategy, while others, with significant capacities, supported the retention of small manufacturing concerns. Dan Swinney established the Chicago Manufacturing Renaissance Council and the Austin Polytechnic High School, training west side youth for manufacturing jobs. The manufacturing part of workforce development – first initiated under Washington — finally came together effectively in 2005.  At least some sectors of manufacturing employment began to come back nationally and in Chicago.

Daley’s support for the industrial corridors initiative – and Ducharme – lasted until 1996, after which his emphasis moved toward residential and commercial projects financed by Tax Increment Financing (TIF). This happened as the city developed the techniques of “financialization”, turning the TIF financial instruments into commodities that could be sold and leveraged, consistent with other developments in the finance world. Industrial development did not seem so important in the investment environment prior to the 2008 meltdown. The fate and future of Chicago’s “local producer strategy” remains unclear at this point – that it had a ten to twelve year run is the remarkable thing.

Bibliography and Attached Documents

For retrospective work on the Washington mayoralty, see Gary Rivlin, Fire on the Prairie (1992). Robert Mier’s Social Justice and Local Development Policy (1993) recounts his work, with co-authors from among his colleagues. Norman Krumholz and Pierre Clavel, Reinventing Cities: Equity Planners Tell Their Stories (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1994) includes oral history taken from Robert Mier, Kari Moe and Arturo Vazquez.  Also see Cornell doctoral theses: Xolela Mangcu, “Harold Washington and The Cultural Transformation of Local Government in Chicago, 1983-1987″ (1997) and Kenneth Reardon, “Local Economic Development in Chicago 1983-1987″ (1990). Also Pierre Clavel, Activists in City Hall: The Progressive Response to the Reagan Era in Boston and Chicago (2010).


See Pierre Clavel and Wim Wewel, eds., Harold Washington and the Neighborhoods (1991) for chapters by city workers and community activists, some of them attached documents here: Doug Gills describes “Chicago Politics and Community Development: A Social Movement Perspective.” Robert Mier and Kari J. Moe recount “Decentralized Development: From Theory to Practice.”  Donna Ducharme describes the struggle for “Planned Manufacturing Districts: How a Community Initiative Became City Policy.”

Joel Rast, Remaking Chicago: The Political Origins of Urban Industrial Change (1999), recounts the development of a neighborhood oriented economic policy and its promulgation for a number of years in the successor mayoralty of Richard M. Daley. On Ducharme’s work as industrial development officer under Daley, see pp. 147-148 on the “ Model Industrial Corridors Initiative” excerpted here.  Rast also prepared a report on the ten PMDs established, mainly under Daley, by 2005. [ Joel Rast, Curbing Industrial Decline
or Thwarting Redevelopment? An Evaluation ofChicago’s Clybourn Corridor, Goose Island, and Elston Corridor Planned Manufacturing Districts. A Report Prepared by:
The University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Center for Economic Development November 2005].  On Swinney’s work, see Dan Swinney, Building the Bridge to the High Road: Expanding Participation and Democracy in the Economy to Build Sustainable Communities. Center for Labor & Community Research, 2000; and on the emergence of workforce development policy under Daley, Greg Schrock,  Taking care of business? Connecting workforce and economic development in Chicago. 
ProQuest Dissertations and Theses; 2010; and Greg Schrock,  “Reworking Workforce Development : Chicago’s Sectoral Workforce Centers.” 
Economic Development Quarterly 2013 27: 163.


Archival Resources

Archival archival sources in Chicago are listed in two attached documents: One is the “Harold Washington Papers at CHS Index” of the collection at the Chicago Historical Society, prepared by Thom Clark.  Another is Harold Washington – Chicago Resources List & Links and collections at the Harold Washington Library in Chicago, prepared by Sara O’Neill Kohl.


Cornell University Library’s Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections holds materials supplied by Kenneth Reardon, Xolela Mangcu, and Pierre Clavel, including contributions from many others. They are held as Series VIII: Chicago, including city documents, items from the neighborhood movement, news clippings, and longer manuscripts and published articles. There is also a 25-minute video, “Harold Washington and the Neighborhoods,” produced by Wim Wiewel and Pierre Clavel in 1991. The index for the Cornell holdings is accessed at


Additional Links and Posts




Register or log in

(Useful for commenting on posts, or managing updates.)