Posted on May 11, 2011

Black Leaders Have ‘Fair Share’ Fears

Laura Washington, Chicago Sun-Times, May 9, 2011

Mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel may have swept every African-American ward in Chicago, but so far, his incoming mayoral cabinet is “not black enough.”

At least that’s the early verdict from some veteran Chicago City Council members. It didn’t take long. We are still a long way from singing “Kumbaya” in Chicago.

Last week, after Emanuel announced his public safety team, several black aldermen complained to the Sun-Times’ Fran Spielman that the mayor-elect was not appointing African Americans to his inner circle.

Emanuel’s posse will be led by three white men: Garry McCarthy is the city’s new top cop and Gary Schenkel will lead the Office of Emergency Management and Communications. Current Fire Commissioner Robert Hoff, appointed last year by Mayor Daley, will stay on.

“Nobody is black at the top. At least Mayor Daley did have some African Americans around him. It appears now that Mayor Emanuel has no blacks around him,” South Side Ald. Carrie Austin (34th) told the Sun-Times.

Even in Chicago, it seems a bit early for this kind of kvetching. Emanuel has many more appointments to make. And he has named a black educator, Jean Claude Bri¬zard, the Chicago Public Schools’ CEO. No one has more at stake in the city’s schools than black folks.

For some, even Brizard doesn’t make the cut because was born in Haiti. (The ugly divide between his countrymen and African Americans is an old bit of dirty laundry I’ll save for another column.)


While she is willing to “give his choices a chance,” Dowell [3rd Wark Ald. Pat Dowell] told me that Emanuel has “overlooked” the city’s richly diverse professional pool of blacks and Latinos for the city’s top operational jobs. “There are not enough of them being named to manage the nuts and bolts, make decisions, decide how revenues will be distributed,” she said.

At the news conference to announce his public safety team, Emanuel responded that he is focused on a “diversity of experience and background,” rather than race. “I want people of diverse experience and I want people who can deliver results,” he said.


While black and Latino elected officials are scrambling to kiss the ring, many are privately wary that their “people” won’t get their “fair share” of appointments, and even more important, the jobs and resources that emanate from City Hall.

Ethnic and racial politics are embedded in the DNA of big-city governing. Interest groups–and the mayors who appoint them–have long played racial “gotcha” politics with top appointments. Mayors–and their enemies–keep excruciatingly close tabs on the racial composition of their Cabinets and other top appointments to ancillary agencies and boards and commissions. Hence, black/white or black/Latino “teams” are transparently common, especially in areas like education, human services and police services.

Optics are key. Hence, the three press secretaries who fronted for Daley over his 21 years in office were all African American.