Rudy and Washington soon became not only political allies but also friends, and when talk of a Washington mayoral candidacy surfaced, Rudy was an early supporter. In 1981, activist Slim Coleman, who would later marry Emma Lozano, held a banquet aimed at convincing Washington to run. He agreed to throw his hat in the ring, with one condition: Supporters would have to register at least 50,000 new voters and get them in his corner.
Rudy, his wife Lupe, Jesus "Chuy" Garcia and other CASA leaders immediately set out to canvass the barrios, using the fact that Washington was known as a supporter of immigrants' rights as a selling point. Soon Washington's condition for running was met, thanks in large part to Rudy and company's canvassing; but when the February 22nd, 1983 primary came, he received a scant 15 percent of the Latino vote.
Rudy had also launched his own candidacy for 22nd Ward Alderman, running against Frank Sternberg, who had long controlled the mostly Latino district on behalf of the machine. But his own electoral bid didn't distract him from the mayoral contest; he and other independent leaders worked tirelessly to get Latinos into the voting booth in the general election, emphasizing the need for black-Latino unity.
"Somehow or another Rudy would be the last person to leave a meeting," Davis says. "Somehow he would be the first person to arrive at the meeting. And he would sometimes make more sense than anyone at the meeting, black or Latino. "Rudy just saw that these two groups of people had parallel problems, parallel needs, and some parallel histories. For Rudy it wasn't about race, it was a philosophical-based thing: People who had been ostracized needed each other. For him, the Harold Washington process was a natural."
Rudy also strove to bring progressive whites into the coalition — a fact that is often forgotten.
Garcia ventures an explanation for Rudy's all-inclusive racial outlook: "Since he came out of the labor movement, he looked at the community from a class perspective, not a racial perspective. That helped him transcend barriers other organizers can't deal with. "A multi-racial arena was essential for the success of the independent movement. 'One person, one vote' didn't apply to Latinos because of immigration polices."
This coalition-building effort bore fruit on April 29, 1983 — a day that saw a record turnout of 62 percent of registered Latinos, 82 percent of whom voted for Washington. It was the Latino vote that put him over the top, and he knew it. Rudy, however, failed to unseat Sternberg by a mere 17 votes ("We could have challenged it," Garcia says. "But we were still relatively inexperienced."), and soon there was talk that Washington would reward his efforts with a deputy mayor position.
Depending on whom you ask, the job may or may not have been offered. Lupe says to her knowledge an offer was never made, but if it was, Rudy would have turned it down. "He wouldn't have been deputy mayor. He was more interested in running for ward committeeman."
Emma, on the other hand, says the position was offered and Rudy declined it. "He felt his place was in the community, organizing the community. He used to say we should never take the best leaders out of the community."
So Rudy jumped into the 22nd Ward committeeman race — and then, on June 8, 1983, he was felled in his kitchen, in front of his two year-old boy, with a bullet in his head and two in his chest. Washington pressured the police to find the killer, and soon they produced Gregory Escobar, a young gang member. Escobar was sentenced to 40 years for the murder, and was released for good behavior in 2004. To this day Rudy's family and associates believe one of his many enemies had him assassinated.
Garcia stepped in to fill the leadership vacuum and won the ward committeeman post. In the ensuing years, Rudy's coalition-building skills would be sorely missed as the black-Latino alliance began to falter. Washington appointed more Latinos to important positions and steered more money to Latino contractors than any previous mayor; some Latino leaders complained that he wasn't doing enough, while some black aldermen chided him for taking jobs and contracts away from his own.
From day one a fierce fight for control of the City Council raged between Washington's camp and old-guard names like Ed Vrdolyak, Ed Burke, and Richard Mell. Not all of the council's 16 African-American members were enamored of Washington's progressive politics. "Many of them weren't part of the Washington coalition," says Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D - 4th District), who was then a housing activist. "But they had to support him because of their voters." The machine courted their support; more insidiously, the old guard sought to play divide-and-conquer by drafting pliable blacks and Latinos to run against independent-minded ones.
For a while, the coalition resisted. In 1984, Garcia won the 22nd Ward Alderman position that Rudy had coveted; he did so largely by beating his opponent by an overwhelming margin in the ward's black precincts. Simultaneously, Juan Solis won the 25th, also with the aid of his ward's black voters — and then he quickly threw in his lot with Vrdolyak.
In 1986, when control of the City Council depended on the results in the 26th Ward, Richard Mell put his organization behind Manuel Torres, a former precinct captain whose main campaign theme was how little Washington had done for Latinos. Running against him was Gutierrez, who had worked very closely with Emma Lozano after she set up the immigration support organization Centro Sin Fronteras at Armitage and Pulaski (Emma says that shortly before his death, Rudy told her that the Hispanic community was no longer concentrated in Pilsen and Little Village, so someone had better start organizing Latinos in the Northwest Side).
Gutierrez won by 20 votes; in a few weeks, Torres and his backers had managed to bring a runoff via a convoluted process involving votes "discovered" in unsealed ballot boxes. "That showed the extent to which they would use their power," says Rep. Gutierrez, who embarked on a successful but extraordinarily nasty "reelection" campaign, keeping the City Council barely under Washington's control.
To be continued