Newly-retired Jesse White, the first African-American elected as Illinois Secretary of State, is endorsing Paul Vallas, giving Vallas a leg up in his quest to claim the 20% share of the Black vote he needs to win the April 4 mayoral runoff against Brandon Johnson.
White, 88, retired in January after a record six terms as secretary of state. In four of those elections, he was the leading vote-getter statewide. He endorsed City Clerk Anna Valencia as his replacement, but she lost handily to former Illinois Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias.
Vallas can only hope White’s endorsement in the mayoral runoff has more weight — and gives other establishment Black elected officials sanction to join him, starting with White’s political protégé, Ald. Walter Burnett (27th).
Veteran political operative Victor Reyes called White a “fantastic, proven vote-getter” who will “help Paul — not only in the Black community, but also in the white, progressive community because Jesse is a uniter and a collaborator.”
“He opens the door for other African-American elected officials to be for Paul. He could be worth four, five or six alderpersons and a few more state legislators,” Reyes said.
An African American elected official, who asked to remain anonymous, predicted White’s endorsement would have a domino effect on other establishment Black elected officials and, more importantly, on older, more conservative Black voters.
“It’s a huge first step toward Paul galvanizing support he needs desperately in the Black community,” the politician said.
“Jesse White is loved throughout the entire state. Senior citizens listen to him. The seniors who stuck with Lori Lightfoot or went with Willie Wilson are gonna start gravitating toward Paul because of his message on public safety, his expertise on budgeting and their fear that Brandon Johnson would defund the police and impose a head tax, a hotel tax a commuter tax — whatever tax. The city can’t take it.”
White, founder of the Jesse White Tumblers, could not be reached for comment. Nor could Vallas. Burnett did not return phone calls. The endorsement is scheduled to be announced Thursday afternoon.
Reyes told the Sun-Times this week that Vallas’ road to the mayor’s office lies in holding his white ethnic base, getting 50% to 55% of the Hispanic vote and winning 20% to 25% of the African American vote.
Johnson has a long way to go to prevent that from happening.
A Cook County commissioner and paid organizer for the Chicago Teachers Union, Johnson punched his ticket to the runoff by winning nine progressive wards on the North and Northwest Sides and along the lakefront: the 1st, 26th, 33rd, 35th, 40th, 46th, 47th, 48th and 49th.
He won three Hispanic wards — the 33rd, 35th and 26th. But he did not win a single African American ward. He finished third behind Lightfoot and Vallas in the 29th, a close second in a handful of other Black wards, including the 3rd, 4th, 5th and 20th and a distant second in a bunch of others.
“He has to really introduce himself,” said political strategist Delmarie Cobb.
“People didn’t know Lori and people didn’t know him. And they might be like, ‘Once burned, twice shot.’ They may think, ‘We did this once before with somebody. I don’t know that we should do that again.’ And they do know Vallas,” Cobb added.
“He needs to get all of these aldermen who did support him to become surrogates. Pat Dowell. She needs to be a surrogate. Matt Martin. He needs to be a surrogate. Maria Hadden. Same with the South Side. He should be on the phone now calling the Black aldermen, saying ‘I need your help to win this race.’ If they’ve got any bad blood between them, put that all of that behind you and let’s win this thing.”
Cobb advised Johnson to “draw a straight line between Vallas’ policies” as Chicago Public Schools CEO and former Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s infamous decision to close 50 schools in one fell swoop.
“The schools weren’t closed under Paul, but they began to be starved under Paul. He embraced small schools. He created contract schools. And he expanded charter schools. And that starved neighborhood schools,” Cobb said.
Johnson’s campaign manager Jason Lee believes his candidate can win the mayor’s office by “consolidating the majority of the vote that wasn’t with Vallas” in both the Black and Hispanic communities and by “building on our strength in the Milwaukee Avenue corridor.”