Black vote proves key in Chicago mayoral race

Black vote proves key in Chicago mayoral race

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Without the black vote, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel wouldn’t have won reelection.

Four years ago, Emanuel won most of the votes in black wards. On Tuesday, he repeated that performance in a runoff by receiving on average 57 percent of the vote in those South and West side wards.

To be sure, Emanuel also fared well with white voters, especially in affluent wards. Yet both Emanuel and challenger Cook County Commissioner Jesus “Chuy” Garcia jockeyed for the black vote. The candidates tailored their messages to the black voting bloc on schools and public safety. Emanuel even made an appearance on Nation of Islam-affiliated Munir Muhammad’s show on public access television. Garcia had Jesse Jackson Sr. in his camp. Emanuel had Cong. Bobby Rush.

Emanuel emerged the victor. But what will black voters do with their clout? Political analyst Laura Washington said it can’t be business as usual. Black voters need to flex their power.

“They have to organize and they have to make demands. First of all, we have to come up with an agenda. It doesn’t have to be a unified, universal agenda. But some smart, savvy political organizers, elected and otherwise, need to come up with a to-do list for Rahm Emanuel,” Washington said.

The need for an ‘ask’

The reelected incumbent has pledged to be a better listener. But currently, there’s no black policy agenda. There’s no formal ask — at least not publicly.

Emanuel angered black voters with school closings and what some say was lack of attention to their communities. Garcia, the darling of grassroots activists, spoke of inclusiveness but didn’t outline a specific black agenda.

Voters like Lindsey Sorrell expressed frustration with economic inequality in the city.

“When you go down that stretch, the far South Side, it’s like a barren wasteland. There’s no type of economic wealth at all. They have a chamber of commerce. But for what?” Sorrell said.

The last time the black vote mattered as much in a Chicago mayoral race goes back three decades to the days of Harold Washington. Back then the voter turnout in his 1983 and 1987 elections reached up to 80 percent across the city. Blacks and independent white voters helped put him in office. Former Mayor Richard M. Daley never needed the black voting bloc; his coalition consisted of Hispanics, white ethnics and white lakefront voters. And subsequently, voter turnout plummeted to as low as 32 percent.

The April 7 runoff voter turnout hit close to 40 percent, up several points from the February race.

Northeastern Illinois University’s Robert Starks said blacks also played a big role in Garcia’s campaign.

“Garcia campaign proved that there is the possibility of a strong independent black-brown progressive coalition” Starks said.

But Starks takes the long view on the political cycle.

He says that means, “Selecting a set of candidates that we can begin grooming, particularly young blacks and women. We have pretty much overlooked the potential of black women in this whole scheme.”

Starks said the community can’t wait until six months before the next election. Preparations need to begin now.

is WBEZ’s South Side Bureau reporter.

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