Civic, Community Leaders Tell How to Get a Black Mayor

Wendell Hutson, Chicago Defender, October 6, 2010

As several potential Black candidates ponder whether to run for mayor of Chicago, community activists, clergy and elected officials offer key ingredients needed for a Black candidate to win.

Facing the best shot in decades to push an agenda–including better solutions to violence, foreclosures and unemployment plaguing underserved Black neighborhoods–Black clergy, politicians and others have been meeting to try to throw their collective weight behind just one person, hoping the rest of the Black community follows their lead.

“It is important to get behind one candidate . . . who has a sense of urban reconstruction,” said the Rev. Jesse Jackson, one of several community leaders arranging meetings.

But others put less stock in the effort. At least one candidate has expressed impatience with the notion of waiting to be anointed. And there is no guarantee such a coalition can unite a community that is more independent than ever–or persuade other candidates to bow out after making its pick.

Chicago’s Black community, 35 percent of the city’s population, is increasingly diverse and not as tied to racial politics as in the past.

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The top vote-getters in a straw poll of about 100 ministers taken Sept. 17 were state Sen. James Meeks, D-15th, also a prominent Black minister, and U.S. Rep. Danny Davis, D-7th, who also is Black, said the Rev. Ira Acree, pastor of Greater St. John Bible Church.

Runners-up included former U.S. Sen. Carol Moseley Braun and U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., D-2nd, despite recent revelations of an affair and allegations he wanted a group of Indian businessmen to raise millions for ousted Gov. Rod Blagojevich in exchange for Jackson’s appointment to Obama’s old Senate seat.

But nobody is ruling out Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart, who is white and has made a name for himself with several actions viewed favorably in Black communities, including his prosecuting several people in a burial scandal at a historically Black cemetery. He came in fifth in the ministers’ poll, Acree said.

Acree acknowledged Emanuel could benefit in the Black community from his connection to Obama, who once worked as a community activist on the South Side and remains immensely popular there. But the former presidential aide isn’t as popular among the city’s Black leaders, who hope his entry in the race could help unify the community around someone else.

“Our job is to educate (voters) that Rahm is not the second coming of Barack Obama, that what they’re thinking is based on irrational logic,” Acree said.

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Beyond money and registering voters, White [Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White] added that to launch a successful mayoral bid a Black candidate should have currently or previously held an elected office. By doing so it provides much needed experience to manage a large government such as Chicago, White said.

Additionally, a strong Black candidate should have unquestionable credibility and should have a track record as an effective community leader, he added.

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And equally important for the next Black mayor is the ability to connect with churches.

“Precinct captains play an important role in who gets elected mayor because they are the ones who help register voters and serve as a liaison to churches,” the secretary of state explained.

Rev. Leon Finney, pastor of Metropolitan Apostolic Community Church on the South Side, has worked on several campaigns for Blacks–including Washington–and insists the number one ingredient for a Black to win the mayoral race is receiving a wide spectrum of ethnic votes.

“To win, a Black candidate would need to command a decent amount of votes from three of the four groups: organized labor, lakefront liberals, southwest voters (voters living in Southwest Side communities, such as Beverly), Catholics or Hispanics,” explained Finney.

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