By Erick Johnson, Chicago Crusader
There was the big Greyhound bus and float for Democratic gubernatorial candidate JB Pritzker. Then, there was Cook County Clerk Dorothy Brown, who rode in a sleek, white convertible Corvette, then later joined her troops who held two large banners as they marched down King Drive on a sweltering Saturday morning. Willie Wilson was there in a hot, red convertible, but he didn’t give out any money and threatened to rain on Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s parade.
The 89th edition of the Bud Billiken Parade has come and gone. The South Shore Drill team once again stole the show with its razzle dazzle, show-stopping drills. The Uber trolley went old-school as they played Mary J. Blige’s “Real Love,” to get spectators in a festive mood.
However, there was another parade that came down King Drive last Saturday that, at times, was just as amusing as the big bands and the colorful units. It was the parade of mayoral candidates who paid big bucks to walk, trot, ride and do whatever they could to promote their political campaigns in the nation’s largest Black parade. Some had a big presence and had more than a unit. Others were barely noticeable. With six months to go, it was a parade that candidates hope thousands of voters won’t forget on February 26, 2019.
Some eight candidates are vying to become Chicago’s next mayor, and they ushered in the unofficial start of the political campaign season, seeking to grab the Black vote and boosting their profile by participating in Black Chicago’s biggest and most prominent event.
It’s a mayoral parade that happens every four years, and with a crowded field of mayoral candidates, a hot governor’s race, and a city mired in political and social turmoil, this year’s mayoral parade was perhaps the most interesting in recent years.
The candidates appeared in this year’s mayoral parade in this order: 1) Willie Wilson; 2) former Chicago Police Board president Lori Lightfoot; 3) Cook County Clerk of the Circuit Court Dorothy Brown; 4) activist JaMal Green; 5) former Chicago Police superintendent Garry McCarthy; 6) Dorothy Brown again; 7) former Chicago Public Schools chief Paul Vallas; and 8) Chicago Principals and Administrators Association president Troy LaRaviere.
The candidates and their contingents were kept at a distance from one another with cheerleaders, bands and floats.
It’s unclear when Emanuel appeared in the lineup. This Crusader reporter did not see him, but a photographer captured him shaking hands with a spectator.
There were also some honorable mentions. Pritzker and his running mate, Julianna Stratton, splurged on a float and a huge Greyhound bus that was completely covered with their campaign sign. They both marched and waved to the crowds and joined the special VIP viewing party at the Chicago Defender building later on. Pritzker’s opponent, incumbent Governor Bruce Rauner, was not in the parade or at the Defender’s viewing party.
This special parade started off with Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson. The product of the Cabrini Green housing projects shook hands and gave numerous high fives with spectators across the street from the iconic Chicago Defender office. It was in stark contrast to the same Johnson who, along with Emanuel, gave a press conference earlier in the week suggesting that parents take responsibility for their children and have an “attitudinal change” towards their violence-ridden neighborhoods. As Johnson interacted with parade spectators, swarms of his officers on bicycles rode up and down the residential portion of King Drive. It was an ominous unit that drew more jeers than cheers.
Then came the mayoral candidates. While Wilson cruised in a red convertible, his workers traveled on foot passing out campaign flyers. Not too far behind him was Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan in her own convertible. Earlier this month, Madigan opened an inquiry into Wilson giving out more than $300,000 in cash to people he says are struggling to pay their property taxes. Wilson caused a stir when he was quoted as saying that he’s “tired of white people trying to tell him what to do with his money.”
Back to the parade.
Lightfoot and Green both wore T-shirts and shorts as they traveled on foot, shaking hands with spectators. Brown appeared twice in the lineup, to leave a bigger and more lasting impression. After riding in a white convertible past a Crusader reporter, Brown reappeared with dozens of her volunteers clad in campaign T-shirts. Then there was McCarthy, who was with four people, two of whom carried his campaign banner. Vallas had a big procession that included trucks and SUVs and many volunteers with signs. Vallas marched on foot shaking hands with spectators. LaRaviere’s camp was the last unit in the entire parade.
Emanuel reportedly was received warmly by spectators, but he also received jeers when he passed a tent at 49th Street, where there was a sign, “Rahm Emanuel Got 2 Go.” Emanuel, who was accused of suppressing a dash cam video that showed Officer Jason Van Dyke shooting Laquan McDonald 16 times, faces a tough challenge in his re-election bid for a third term in office. Emanuel has since spearheaded a number of projects to win back the trust of the Black electorate, but critics believe that it’s all just a parade.
William Calloway, the activist who pushed for the release of the video, marched with several activists yelling, “16 shots and a cover up.”
On Saturday, a video of the Bud Billiken Parade showed grand marshal, Vic Mensa, arguing with a police officer. It was posted on Mensa’s Instagram account. Chicago police officers reportedly followed Mensa (he made a music video about the McDonald shooting) and a group of activists carrying a “Convict Jason Van Dyke” banner.
When Mensa and the group stop- ped at 51st Street, an officer argued with Mensa. “You want to arrest me? You want to arrest me, and I’m the grand marshal of the parade?” Mensa said. “Go ahead, arrest me.”
The incident ended peacefully.