Chicago's Mayor Washington triumphs in `Council Wars'

Harold Washington, elected three years ago as Chicago's first black mayor, has won control over the City Council and the old-line politicians whom the mayor claimed had hampered his reform efforts. In a special runoff election Tuesday in two Chicago wards, aldermanic candidates Luis Gutierrez and Marlene C. Carter, who were backed by Mayor Washington, won election to the City Council.

Unofficial returns Tuesday showed Mr. Gutierrez with 7,429 votes to opponent Manuel Torres's 6,549 in the heavily Hispanic 26th Ward on the Northwest Side, and Ms. Carter winning 10,463 votes to the 5,525 for Alderman Frank Brady in the Southwest Side's 15th Ward, which is 74 percent black.

Tuesday's balloting turned the council into a 25-25 split between the Washington forces and those of regular party Democrats, lead by Mr. Washington's chief rival, Edward Vrdolyak.

Because of the tie, in cases of party-line voting, the mayor will have tie-breaking control for the final year of his term.

``The council is now in the safe hands of 25 people and a doting mayor,'' said Washington, who has had key initiatives thwarted by a council majority bloc in what have been called ``Council Wars.''

Washington faces reelection next year, and his supporters hope that by gaining control of the council he can win approval for initiatives that will enhance his chances.

The shift toward Washington control over the council began with court-ordered redistricting of the city and moved forward at the regular elections a month ago. Washington had angrily contended that the Democratic organization manipulated the counting of write-in votes in the March election, cheating him of a victory in the 26th Ward.

After the regular election, Gutierrez appeared to have scored a 20-vote victory over Torres in the ward, but that margin was erased when a vote-canvassing board certified final totals that included 21 disputed write-in votes for a little-known third candidate. That dropped Gutierrez below the 50 percent of the vote plus one required to avoid the runoff. A federal judge then ordered the April 29 special runoff elections.

The voting was overseen by hundreds of federal, county, and local law officers in what city elections spokesman Thomas Leach called the most heavily monitored election in Chicago's history.

Monday night Mr. Vrdolyak, Cook County Democratic chairman and leader of the opposition to Washington on the council, said, ``We have always maintained we were the loyal opposition, and we shall remain so.''

Vrdolyak taunted Washington on live television, chanting, ``You ain't got it, you ain't got it,'' while the mayor tried to speak.

Later, Vrdolyak conceded the defeat of his allies, saying, ``The mayor has achieved his goal of 25 votes in the City Council.'' He promised to work with the mayor to benefit the city but also said he will ``reserve the right to disagree with him when he is wrong.''

Washington said Tuesday night he would press a number of programs, including an ethics code and his version of the city budget.

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