By Erick Johnson, Chicago Crusader
The presidential race for the Black vote in Chicago shifted into high gear on Feb. 17 when Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton delivered a rousing speech at the Parkway Ballroom in Bronzeville, where she reconnected with disillusioned Black voters and stepped up her campaign for the White House.
Many cheered throughout Clinton’s speech as she addressed long-standing problems that have worsened in Chicago’s Black communities in recent years.
“There is something wrong when African Americans are three times as likely than whites to be denied a mortgage. Something is wrong with that,” Clinton said. “We need to face systemic racism. We’ve got to break down the barriers of bigotry.”
Clinton’s speech came after her opponent, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, launched his Chicago campaign at Bar Louie on the West Side on Feb. 13.
Hours after Clinton’s speech, Sanders opened his Illinois campaign headquarters with Cook County Board Commissioner Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, a former mayoral candidate who forced a runoff before losing to incumbent Mayor Rahm Emanuel in 2015.
Clinton and Sanders are heavily courting the Black vote as the two remain in a tight race for the Democratic nomination for president. With an impressive victory in the New Hampshire primary on Feb. 9, Sanders is riding a wave of momentum as the two head to the South Carolina primary on Feb. 20.
With the Illinois March 15 primary just a month away, several Black political and religious leaders at Wednesday’s rally spoke before Clinton’s appearance. They urged voters to go to the polls and turn their anger into action. They later stood behind Clinton as she spoke on a stage before 350 people who waited long hours to hear the former Secretary of State speak.
Clinton was introduced by Geneva Reed-Veal, the mother of Sandra Bland, a Black woman whose death in a Texas jail last July sparked protests in Chicago and around the country. Reed-Veal was among a row of grieving mothers who stood behind Clinton as she vowed to address police brutality and crime.
“We need to reform police practices,” Clinton said as the crowd cheered. “We owe it to the families of Laquan McDonald, Walter Scott and Tamir Rice, and to many other young men who have been killed by police. These stories cannot be one that just provide emotions. They must move us to action.”
Lately, Clinton’s campaign has been regaining momentum as Atlanta Congressman John Lewis and other prominent Black Civil Rights leaders show their support for her presidential bid.
During her speech on Wednesday, Clinton appeared confident as a diverse crowd roared occasionally during her speech. The event gave hope to a beleaguered South Side community, whose residents are still hurting from unemployment, school closures, police shootings, and senseless shootings that continue to kill Black young men and women.
“As a mother and grandmother, we have a lot of barriers to break down,” Clinton said. “But, nothing is more important than a child’s life. We need to do everything we can to protect our children.
During her speech, Clinton reaffirmed her commitment to upholding President Barack Obama’s gun control initiative. She also pledged to investing billions of dollars in the Black community and make college education easier and more affordable to minority students. She also criticized officials in Flint, MI for lead-contaminated water that has affected thousands of children in that city.
Clinton also took a swipe at Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner and his role in the state’s 8 month-old budget stalemate, a crisis that has damaged programs in the Black community. She mentioned the crisis at Chicago State University, a state-supported university which threatens to close by the end of the semester if the budget crisis continues.
“This governor of Illinois refused to start budget negotiations unless his turnaround agenda gets passed first,” Clinton said.
While poverty and education remain a concern in the Black community, policing and crime remain hot issues in Chicago. Shootings continue to plague neighborhoods and distrust deepens from the police video that shows a police officer shooting 17-year-old McDonald 16 times.
Both issues impact Black mothers and female voters, which Clinton supporters believe will help her win the Democratic nomination for president.
“I always say the best man for the job is a woman,” said one supporter during Clinton’s speech.
As big as Clinton’s speech was at the rally, the turnout was lower than expected and Parkway’s mid-size ballroom was sparsely crowded.
There are still concerns whether Clinton can win over young voters, particularly young Blacks who have lost trust in the political establishment.
It’s a concern that lingers as Clinton’s speech kicked off three days of fundraising for her campaign, which has raised $55 million alone in the last quarter of 2015. The big donations have fueled concerns that, despite the agenda for Blacks and the disenfranchised, Clinton remains connected to big Wall Street brokers.
In her speech, Clinton reaffirmed her agenda to empower the working-class, urging minimum-wage increases, equal pay for women, and lower insurance rates for Obamacare. She also reminded the crowd of the progress America has made from the Great Recession, caused by subprime mortgages from big banks on Wall Street.
The crisis led to many Black neighborhoods in Chicago with foreclosed homes that remain vacant. She said America cannot afford to allow that to happen again.
“We agree that Wall Street shouldn’t be allowed to wreck Main Street again,” Clinton said.