This book is about politics not just any politics Chicago politics. Raw, sometimes brutal, democracy at it worst and sometimes even its best. But always entertaining.
Peter Nolan, a Buffalo native, Canisius High School graduate and veteran Chicago television newsman, has penned a riveting chronology of the 1983 campaign that elected Harold Washington as the first black mayor of Chicago. It's a well-documented history, for sure, but it's also a wonderfully told story full of the colorful characters that always rank the Chicago political scene as so captivating.
Almost three decades after the historic election that gained national attention, the reader is reacquainted with the top Chicago names of the 1980s -- Harold Washington, Jane Byrne, Michael Bilandic, Bernard Epton, Richard M. Daley and, of course, Richard J. Daley. Nolan documents how Daley the elder ruled over Chicago as one of the last machine bosses. He was dictatorial and sometimes ruthless, and he never really cultivated a positive image beyond his native Chicago -- especially after his police force was seen beating demonstrators on prime-time TV during the 1968 Democratic National Convention.
So after his death, a new kind of politics embodied by the feisty Byrne took over Chicago. Nolan remembers her populist appeal, and eventual fall from grace in the eyes of Chicago voters. It all leads to Washington's election in 1983.
Nolan tells the story beautifully, often weaving in his own presence as he re-creates key scenes of the campaign that he personally covered. It gives the book a truly personal flair, and saves it from devolving into a boring history.
But this could never be a boring history book anyway. "Campaign!" chronicles a watershed election that involved change from the old order. And, of course, this book examines race -- as Epton launched a rare competitive GOP effort against Washington.
Nolan's work also offers a close look at the inner workings of a big-time campaign.
Even if you're not a political junkie, you'll like what Nolan has given us -- including his frequent references to Buffalo. After all, politics is an important part of our lives. And it can be entertaining -- just like "Campaign!".
Robert J. McCarthy is The News' busy political reporter.
Campaign!: The 1983 Election that Rocked Chicago
By Peter Nolan
199 pages, $16.95 paper