This column on the Chicago mayor's race is my second of the weekly columns I'm writing for the Chicago Defender.
White, Brown or Black?
By Monroe Anderson
When the last vote is counted after next month’s mayoral election, no one is going to be surprised that, once again, Chicago’s next occupant on City Hall’s fifth floor will not be black.
President Barack Obama’s radio endorsement of incumbent Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Monday was one serious predictor. But the city’s history during the past quarter century is even better.
For a few in-vain months, it looked like things might be different this year. Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle was an odds -on favorite to get in the mayoral game and return the throne to Chicago’s largest ethnic bloc. An Illinois Observer poll in March had Preckwinkle leading Mayor Emanuel, by eight percentage points, 40-32. But just before hopes got too high, President Preckwinkle announced in July that she would stay put right where she was. Days after she dropped out, a Sun-Times poll had Karen Lewis, who was President of the Chicago Teacher’s Union and a queen-size thorn in Emanuel’s side, with a nine- percentage point lead over the mayor, 45 to 36. In October it was announced that Lewis had a cancerous brain tumor and she, too, would not be a candidate.
That leaves those who would like to see a third African American mayor in Chicago with two choices, perennial candidate William Dock Walls or self-made multimillionaire Willie Wilson. Neither of the two black men is The One.
William “Dock” Walls, whose false claim to fame is that he was Mayor Harold Washington’s closest confidant, has run and lost races for city clerk, mayor, Congress and governor for pretty much the same reasons--he has no money, no managerial experience and has never held a political office. Willie Wilson, who is a real pro in the business world, has run campaign ads and taken policy positions--such as pledging to reopen Meigs Field and to save city funds by forcing uniformed police to abandon their squad cars for public transportation when coming to work--that expose him as a pure political rookie.
Right after Washington won the primary in 1982, the Rev. Jesse Jackson commandeered Harold’s microphone at the victory celebration to inform friend and foe that “now it’s our turn, it’s our turn, it’s our turn.”
That was then. Now it’s clear that for black Chicago, our turn has come and gone.
History has been repeating itself since Aldermen Tim Evans, Dorothy Tillman and Bobby Rush constructed the mythology following Washington’s sudden death that Evans was the late mayor’s heir apparent. Since then, the list of black wanna-be mayors intent on succeeding Washington and Eugene Sawyer goes from the ridiculous to the sublime--Sheila Jones, a disciple of the political quack, Lyndon LaRouche; the late Joe E. Gardner, who was a commissioner of the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District; Congressman Danny Davis; Roland Burris, who was then the former Illinois attorney general who ran as an independent candidate; Jesse Jackson Jr., who was the second congressional district representative, former U.S. Sen. Carol Moseley Braun; and the late Appellate Court Judge R. Eugene Pincham.
Then, as now, any talk of having a black mayor is merely magical thinking. Unlike in the short-lived era of the Evans urban legend, there is no pretense of an heir apparent, not even a great black hope in the air.
It all went poof in the spring of 1988 when political allies of Evans, the Coalition to Let the People Decide in 1989, filed a lawsuit to force a special election. Wanting time to heal the schism in our base, Mayor Sawyer approached Evans calling for his support, promising that after two terms, he’d stepped down allowing the 4th Ward alderman to become a real heir apparent.
Evans’ refusal to play nice, and therefore assure that it would be our turn, turned out okay for him. He was awarded a judgeship and has gone on to become the first black judge of the Cook County Circuit Court. It didn’t quite work out as well for Chicago’s African Americans as an ethnic group.
We could have been like Atlanta.
Since Maynard Jackson was first elected in 1974, every one of the city’s succeeding mayors has been African American--Andrew Young, Jackson for a third term, Bill Campbell, Shirley Franklin and now Kasim Reed.
Rather than whining about not being respected and treated fairly while protesting about and begging for an equitable share of city contracts and jobs, we could have had men and women in the mayor’s seat that treated us like we should be treating us. Rather than being upset about our schools being closed and our teachers taking the biggest hit in layoffs, we could have been the masters of our own fate.
Instead, come February 24, we can only hope for a mayoral run-off. If Jesus “Chuy” Garcia wins in the run-off, we can hope that he’ll treat us like he’ll treat the city’s Hispanics. If Ald. Bob Fioretti wins, we can hope that he’ll treat us like he treats Chicago’s Italians. We can hope that either man, like Washington, will be fairer than fair.
And we can continue to recall the good ol’ days when Harold was mayor and it was our turn.