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Voters Cast Ballots In Chicago Mayoral Slugfest

February 24, 1987

CHICAGO (AP) _ Today’s Democratic city primary elections cap a bitter campaign in which Mayor Harold Washington compared his top challenger, former Mayor Jane Byrne, to a swarm of gnats and her tactics to Adolf Hitler’s.

Voters also will choose between Washington’s City Council archrival, Edward Vrdolyak, and write-in challenger John Bilski on the Illinois Solidarity Party slate, and among four candidates in the Republican primary. A follower of political extremist Lyndon LaRouche rounds out the Democratic slate.

With polls showing him pulling away from Mrs. Byrne in the Democratic primary by as much as 2-to-1, Washington urged supporters against complacency, saying a huge turnout would decide the outcome.

Turnout was heavy in the early hours of voting. Combined with unseasonably warm weather, that projected to a turnout of about 80 percent, which would better the record 77.4 percent of voters who cast ballots in the 1983 primary, said spokesman Tom Leach of the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners.

″I’m feeling some good vibrations,″ Washington said Monday. ″I’ve been campaigning for the last four years. Running a city is campaigning. It’s carrying out your commitments.″

Washington defeated Mrs. Byrne and Cook County State’s Attorney Richard M. Daley in the 1983 Democratic primary. He became the city’s first black mayor by edging Republican Bernard Epton in the general election.

Mrs. Byrne, seeking to rekindle the magic that enabled her to defeat Mayor Michael Bilandic in 1979, called a news conference Monday at Navy Pier, where she launched her current campaign 19 months ago.

″The polls have always been wrong about me,″ she said. ″They were wrong in 1983 when they said I’d win, and they were wrong in 1979 when they said I’d lose.″

During the campaign, Washington complained about Byrne’s negative advertisements that blamed him for a decline in the city’s quality of life and higher crime rate among other things.

″It reminds me of Hitler’s theory with the big lie,″ Washington told a Jan. 25 rally. ″Tell a lie so big that no one will believe immediately that you would tell such a lie.″

Asked about the comparison to Hitler, Mrs. Byrne replied:

″I think he should spend his time talking about how he’s going to bring taxes down. ... Bring jobs to Chicago, get some economic development going and stop the name-calling.″

Washington retorted: ″She’s like a bunch of gnats around your head. ... You can’t get rid of them, but you’ve got to keep swatting.″

The mayor over the weekend raised the possibility his foes might try to steal the election.

On Monday, he focused on the Chicago Board of Elections Commissioners, saying there was a heavy request for absentee ballots, especially in wards expected to favor Mrs. Byrne.

″Forget my motivations. Look at the facts,″ said Washington. ″It’s twice the number that you’ve ever heard of.″

A circuit judge Monday disallowed absentee ballots submitted by anyone other than the voter or a relative of the voter. Leach said the decision may affect only several hundred ballots.

On a second lawsuit, a judge denied a request by Washington’s partisans to monitor the transfer of ballot boxes as well as vote-counting in the computer- tabulation center at the election board office.

A WBBM-TV poll broadcast Monday surveyed 969 people who said they would vote Democratic and found 52 percent supported Washington, 33 percent Mrs. Byrne and 15 percent undecided.

Polls by WLS-TV/ABC News this weekend had Washington ahead 2-1, but Joe Pecor, Mrs. Byrne’s campaign manager, called them ″phony, phony, phony.″

If a half-century tradition of Democratic domination of City Hall holds, the winner of the Democratic primary will win the April 7 general election. But a somewhat rejuvenated GOP and two Democrats running as third-party candidates figure to be in that contest.

Vrdolyak and Bilski are the Illinois Solidarity Party hopefuls.

County Assessor Thomas Hynes, representing the fractured Daley wing of the Democratic Party, is the candidate of the newly created Chicago First Party.

The Republican primary pits Donald Haider, a Northwestern University professor, former Democrat and one-time budget adviser to Mrs. Byrne, against GOP commiteeman Kenneth Hurst, professional clown Ray Wardingley and Chester Hornowski.

Sheila A. Jones, a follower of LaRouche, also is in the Democratic primary.

Update hourly