Blacks grow divided in mayoral race

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Toni Preckwinkle and Lori Lightfoot

Endorsements for Lightfoot, Preckwinkle reach fever pitch in final two weeks of runoff

By Keith Chambers

Lori Lightfoot has four Black aldermen, two prominent pastors and Chicago’s two big daily newspapers on her side. Toni Preckwinkle has a longtime prominent Black congressman and the leader of the Chicago Black Caucus in her corner.

Preckwinkle has a list of 20 prominent big Black businessmen and civic leaders who have raised $150,000 to support her campaign.

While endorsements continue to pile up for both candidates in the mayoral race, the Black community remains divided on whom to support in the April 2 runoff. Who would have thought that the historic race to elect Chicago’s first Black female mayor would leave the Black community further divided?

As of press time Wednesday, March 20, Lightfoot had racked up some 34 endorsements to Preckwinkle’s 31. Not only does Lightfoot have the most endorsements, she also has the most Black aldermen endorsing her campaign for mayor. The four backing Lightfoot in her bid to become Chicago’s first Black mayor are Aldermen Anthony Beale (9th Ward), Derrick Curtis (18th Ward), Emma Mitts (37th Ward) and Michael Scott, Jr. (24th Ward).

Preckwinkle has three endorsements, from Aldermen Walter Burnett (27th Ward), Roderick Sawyer (6th Ward) and Jason Ervin (28th Ward). The aldermen are strong key allies of outgoing Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

Lightfoot also has more endorsements from Chicago’s clergy in the Black community. The openly gay candidate has been endorsed by Bishop Larry Trotter, Reverend Ira Acree and Father Michael Pfleger. Many Black clergy have rallied around Preckwinkle, but none have come out to endorse her as individual pastors.

Perhaps Lightfoot’s biggest endorsement is from businessman Willie Wilson, who won 13 predominately Black wards during the city’s municipal election on February 26. Preckwinkle won five wards, including the 4th ward, which is where she lives. Both candidates jockeyed to win Wilson’s endorsement to boost their profile among Black voters, many of whom remain undecided on who to support in the April 2 runoff.

Preckwinkle on Tuesday was endorsed by Congressman Danny Davis. She has also been endorsed by Secretary of State Jesse White, former White House Senior Advisor Valerie Jarrett and several Cook County Commissioners whom she backed during their election campaigns.

The Chicago Tribune and the Chicago Sun Times have endorsed Lightfoot.

Endorsements are an age-old political thing. They don’t always guarantee a candidate’s victory, but they remain coveted political validations that could boost a campaign’s momentum and perhaps the candidate’s efforts to raise political donations.

But the bigger question in the endorsement race is who is not giving endorsements.

Some 12 Black aldermen have yet to pick sides in giving their endorsements. With the future of Chicago’s machine politics on the line, endorsing a candidate can prove to be a tight rope for Chicago’s Black political status quo. With Lightfoot leading in the polls, many Black aldermen haven’t come to Preckwinkle’s rescue with their endorsements.

Some share political bonds with Preckwinkle, but these aldermen have yet to endorse her. Political allegiances are important at City Hall. Should an alderman endorse a candidate who eventually loses, for the next four years they must face a mayor whom they crossed during election season.

For many Black aldermen, endorsing Preckwinkle may be too risky for their political careers. For Preckwinkle, that may not be so bad. She’s been accused of being part of the status quo, machine-style politics that has festered in Chicago for years.

Among the silent are Preckwinkle’s allies Sophia King (4th Ward) and Leslie Hairston (5th Ward). King attended Preckwinkle’s election night watch party at the South Shore Café in Hyde Park. The two are part of Chicago’s Black elite and bourgeoisie.

Preckwinkle, who once served as alderman of the 4th Ward, contributed at least $69,400.03 in political donations to Hairston’s past aldermanic campaigns. Preckwinkle and Hairston visited several voter precincts in the 5th Win last month’s city election. Hairston faces her own runoff on April 2 against William Calloway, an activist who forced the release of a video that shows Officer Jason Van Dyke shooting 17-year-old Laquan McDonald 16 times in 2014.

On March 14, Preckwinkle announced that 20 Black businesses and civic leaders made contributions to her campaign.

According to Preckwinkle, these leaders believe that she “has the experience to continue Chicago’s number one position among U.S. cities in new and expanded corporate facilities while also focusing on economic growth and job creation in all neighborhoods,” she said in a statement.

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