Activists in City Hall

Activists in City Hall: The Progressive Response to the Reagan Era in Boston and Chicago

Pierre Clavel
Copyright Date: 2010
Edition: 1
Published by: Cornell University Press
Pages: 224
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  • Book Info
    Activists in City Hall
    Book Description:

    In 1983, Boston and Chicago elected progressive mayors with deep roots among community activists. Taking office as the Reagan administration was withdrawing federal aid from local governments, Boston's Raymond Flynn and Chicago's Harold Washington implemented major policies that would outlast them. More than reforming governments, they changed the substance of what the government was trying to do: above all, to effect a measure of redistribution of resources to the cities' poor and working classes and away from hollow goals of "growth" as measured by the accumulation of skyscrapers. In Boston, Flynn moderated an office development boom while securing millions of dollars for affordable housing. In Chicago, Washington implemented concrete measures to save manufacturing jobs, against the tide of national policy and trends.

    Activists in City Hall examines how both mayors achieved their objectives by incorporating neighborhood activists as a new organizational force in devising, debating, implementing, and shaping policy. Based in extensive archival research enriched by details and insights gleaned from hours of interviews with key figures in each administration and each city's activist community, Pierre Clavel argues that key to the success of each mayor were numerous factors: productive contacts between city hall and neighborhood activists, strong social bases for their agendas, administrative innovations, and alternative visions of the city. Comparing the experiences of Boston and Chicago with those of other contemporary progressive cities-Hartford, Berkeley, Madison, Santa Cruz, Santa Monica, Burlington, and San Francisco-Activists in City Hall provides a new account of progressive urban politics during the Reagan era and offers many valuable lessons for policymakers, city planners, and progressive political activists.

    eISBN: 978-0-8014-6011-1
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xviii)
  4. List of Acronyms
    (pp. xix-xx)
  5. Chapter 1 The Progressive City: Concept and Context
    (pp. 1-15)

    Raymond Flynn, a white populist from South Boston, began as the “neighborhood mayor,” distinguished by his effort to treat major issues of racial division as economic problems held in common with his white populist base. Harold Washington, Chicago’s first black mayor, survived two years of “council wars” with the remnants of that city’s political machine and was on his way to a new kind of government regime when he died at his desk early in a second term. Both mayors achieved important policy breakthroughs that outlasted them: Flynn moderated an office-development boom, while siphoning millions of dollars for affordable housing....

  6. Chapter 2 What the Progressive City Was
    (pp. 16-34)

    During the “progressive” period in American history, mayors like Hazen Pingree in Detroit (1889–96) and Tom Johnson in Cleveland (1901–09) fought for public transportation and public power. One could search further for antecedents.¹ But these are not the topic of this book, and their memory was not a major factor in, say, the postwar period.

    The “progressive city” of the 1970s and succeeding decades went through phases. There was an early period of hope and experimentation. In the 1980s one sees a consolidation in a few cities, including Boston and Chicago. A third period, one of denouement, followed...

  7. Chapter 3 The Movement Becomes Politics in Boston
    (pp. 35-58)

    Like some other cities, Boston had nurtured elements of U.S. populism and socialism in the 1970s. What was different was how these worked their way into the electoral campaign when, after a tie in the preliminary election, Ray Flynn defeated Mel King for mayor of Boston in 1983.

    Flynn was from an Irish family in South Boston. He was a basketball star at Providence College, and later, when he returned to Boston, he was elected to the state legislature and city council. He experienced South Boston’s reaction to the school busing conflicts of the 1970s as not the big deal...

  8. Chapter 4 Flynn’s City Hall and the Neighborhoods
    (pp. 59-95)

    Flynn now had the challenge of governing the city. Later, Neil Sullivan wrote that “many presumed that Ray Flynn would be a one-term mayor.” Despite the surge of neighborhood activism that had propelled Flynn and King to prominence in 1983, the city was divided between downtown and the neighborhoods: real estate and developer interests, a deficit in liberal votes on the city council, and a more generally conservative ideology on the part of much of Boston’s population were always in the background as Flynn began his administration and considered his policy options. Finances were in crisis, with limits imposed by...

  9. Chapter 5 Neighborhood Background and the Campaign in Chicago
    (pp. 96-117)

    Harold Washington was a well-known African American mayor, but he was also notable because he was a reform mayor and, more than that, combined the ideals of reform with a community development program so that reform had a substance it had not had in a century of previous incarnations. That substance came from the social movements of the 1960s: civil rights, women’s rights, and community empowerment. It was refined by the experience of diverse community organizations through the 1970s and was connected to important intellectual and academic support. This substance, when tried out under Washington and connected to the authority...

  10. Chapter 6 Washington in City Hall
    (pp. 118-145)

    Once in office, Washington faced a hostile city council. In a racially charged campaign, he had defeated the machine—still the way of life for the city council and embedded in the minds of the public and the press. The result was a struggle within city hall and with the council, one that hindered what he or his administration could initiate or accomplish. Robert Mier, reflecting on his efforts to initiate new programs in the department of economic development, wrote that “we won the opportunity to drive a 1940s jalopy in a 1980s road race,” but “the pit crew was...

  11. Chapter 7 Later Developments in Chicago
    (pp. 146-170)

    Key Washington administrators knew they were creating a different kind of city governance. But there was always the question of what would be a lasting change. Washington’s unexpected death did signal an end to much of what he had put in place. But it is worthwhile to note—at least from the standpoint of the community development activists inside and outside of city hall—the intriguing periodicity that characterized the last months of Washington’s mayoralty, the Sawyer interregnum, and Daley’s first years in office.

    It was not clear whether the political and value positions achieved by Washington and his support...

  12. Chapter 8 Race, Class, and the Administrative Struggle
    (pp. 171-200)

    It is remarkable that Boston and Chicago produced progressive governments in the 1980s. No other large city did. There were several minority mayors, but they did not produce participatory and redistributive reforms to the same degree. The smaller cities described in chapter 2—though important precursors—did not generally face the same challenges or scale of problems. San Francisco is a special case, but it did not develop the administrative capacities for progressive government that Boston and Chicago did. Instances of progressive city governments outside the United States, fascinating in themselves, occurred in different political systems and cultures. But in...

  13. Notes
    (pp. 201-226)
  14. Index
    (pp. 227-232)