ON the face of it, Chicago politics is as racially polarized as at any time in the city's history. In winning the special mayoral election this week, Richard M. Daley, the Democratic candidate, captured 89 percent of the white vote, and the other white candidate, Republican Edward Vrdolyak, took 5 percent. For black voters, the numbers are reversed - 92 percent cast ballots for black independent Timothy Evans. There was reason to hope that the 1983 election of Harold Washington as Chicago's first black mayor marked the beginning of the end of racial politics in the city. True, Mr. Washington's triumph and his reelection in 1987 were built largely on black support. But he also received backing from a significant number of white liberals; moreover, his capable performance in office should have assuaged the concerns of many whites.
Has the progress been lost? Was it illusory, anyway?
Not necessarily. Mr. Daley, to his credit, carefully eschewed racially charged rhetoric. Cynics might say it was only because he could afford to; we prefer to believe his assertion that he has no more intention of running a ``white'' administration than of returning to the obsolete machine politics of his father's day.
Now Daley must act quickly to prove that his was a campaign of management and progress, not of race. Polls indicate that the numbers belie the extent to which voters were motivated by racial considerations. So it's within Daley's power to hasten the day when an election such as this will be decided solely on the issues.