Who will Blacks support ?
By Erick Johnson
Rahm is packing up. Dorothy Brown is out. So is activist Ja’Mal Green, and three other Black candidates in the race for Chicago mayor. A handful of Black candidates remain standing. With the challenging hearings completed and Early Voting finally underway, questions remain as to which candidate the city’s powerful Black electorate will help to win City Hall on February 26?
It’s the day voters will go to the polls and choose from a field of 14 that was narrowed down from 21 candidates.
But with 14 candidates in the mayoral race, there is the overwhelming concern of a possible runoff between the top two candidates with the highest number of votes in the city elections. Once again, the Black vote will play a key role in determining who wins in the election and the runoff.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel knows it. He was elected twice with the large support of Chicago’s Black voters. They also supported Richard J. Daley, his offspring Richard M., Jane Byrne and of course, Harold Washington.
When Emanuel realized that Blacks would not elect him again after the Laquan McDonald scandal, he dropped his plans to run for a third term one day before the start of the trial of Officer Jason Van Dyke.
With six Black mayoral candidates running campaigns fueled by anger towards Chicago’s political establishment the question is, who will run away with the Black vote?
Historically, that’s never been the question in the Black community, which has channeled its efforts behind one candidate as part of a larger movement to push its political and economic agenda at City Hall.
“The real question is, how did we in the Black community come to this point in history where we have become so divided,” asked historian and columnist Conrad Worrill.
For the answer to that question, one may turn to 1989, when Chicago’s Blacks were divided between supporting Eugene Sawyer and Timothy Evans to replace Harold Washington who died in 1987. It was the first time in Chicago that Blacks had been divided between Black candidates. Some say disunity in the Black community has grown even deeper since then.
This mayoral election may tear that division even wider. There are six Black candidates and none of them have the potential to capture a commanding majority of the Black vote.
To understand how the Black vote will play out in the mayoral election, one can look at the various types of Black voters who will support their candidate, based on their level of education, age, membership in the Black church and voting history.
These qualities largely make up Chicago’s Black electorate who will split the Black vote among three candidates: Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, Willie Wilson and yes, William “Bill” Daley.
Preckwinkle is likely to grab votes from Black middle and upper middle class voters. Black church-going voters will likely support Wilson, who may grab an even greater share of those voters now that Cook County Circuit Court Clerk Dorothy Brown is out of the race.
For years the Black church supported the re-election campaigns of Brown as Cook County Circuit Court Clerk. That same support from the Black church made Brown a threat in this year’s mayoral race. She has a segment of Black voters that Preckwinkle and Wilson heavily covet.
Last year, Preckwinkle received an endorsement from two dozen Black clergymen, many of whom supported her during the Democratic primary of her re-election campaign as board president. They stood by her as she faced heavy criticism for spearheading a soda tax that angered retailers and residents in the Black community.
Wilson gained momentum among Black church voters after handing out cash after worship services to people who were unable to pay their property taxes.
Both Preckwinkle and Wilson filed objections to knock Brown off the ballot to get the Black vote. Wilson dropped his objection, but Preckwinkle maintained her objection to Brown’s petition signatures. Brown was eventually removed from the ballot because she was short 1,100 valid signatures of the 12,500 needed to qualify for the mayoral race.
There is also the possibility that Daley may win the Black vote and the mayoral race altogether.
Blacks historically have helped establish the Daley political dynasty at the polls. Black senior citizens who remember those days may still, throw their support behind another Daley, out of support of the old machine.
And with Preckwinkle embroiled in the scandal involving Alderman Ed Burke, Daley has a chance to defeat her. In recent years, Preckwinkle has turned off Black voters with her abrasive-style of leadership and her bourgeois political circles. Her recent political advertisement claiming her role in the Laquan McDonald scandal is the latest move that has misfired in the Black community.
But with corruption and dissatisfaction with City Hall, the Daley establishment politics may be a thing of the past.
However, some believe that Daley may emerge as Chicago’s new mayor in the election with a split Black vote.
If Preckwinkle wins, but faces a runoff against a non-Black candidate, she may become the city’s first Black female mayor. After all, Black voters tend to support Black candidates on the verge of history.
In a recent poll conducted by We Ask America, Preckwinkle barely led the pack with 12.7 percent of the vote. Right behind her was Daley with 12.1 percent. Wilson was fourth with 9 percent, behind Gery Chico.
The other mayoral candidates may gain a fraction of the Black vote, but not enough to give them a victory.
From the demographics of Black voters, La Shawn Ford is likely to get support from younger Black voters, who may also support Amara Enyia. Both candidates have anti-establishment campaigns that resonate with young voters. Ford and Enyia’s pool of young Black voters increased when activist Ja’Mal Green, another anti-establishment candidate, dropped out of the race last December. With a low-profile in the Black community, businessman Neal Sales-Griffin may get the smallest portion of the Black vote.
There is also the question of whether Black voters would support former Police Board President Lori Lightfoot, a vocal, prominent critic whose background fits the political climate following the McDonald scandal and the impending Consent Decree with the Chicago Police Department. But Lightfoot is a strong progressive, whose profile in the LGBT community may not appeal to senior Black voters or those who go to church.
Middle class Blacks may gravitate more toward Preckwinkle rather than vote for a candidate with a lower chance of winning.