Chicago, Seeking a New Mayor, Sees Many Black Residents Voting with Their Feet

Monica Davey, New York Times, February 25, 2019

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As Chicagoans go to the polls on Tuesday to choose a new mayor in one of the most wide-open elections the nation’s third-largest city has experienced in generations, many African-Americans have cast their votes another way. They have moved out.

Downtown Chicago is booming, its skyline dotted with construction cranes. Yet residents only a few miles to the south and west still wrestle with entrenched gang violence, miserable job prospects and shuttered schools — some of the still-being-identified forces, experts say, that are pushing black Chicagoans to pack up and get out.

Of the nation’s largest five cities, only Chicago saw its population decline in 2017, the third year in a row. Over all, the drops in this city of 2.7 million residents are only slight. But the trend is alarming to city leaders, and demographers say it reveals a larger truth: Black residents are leaving by the thousands each year even as new white residents flow in.

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At the same time, other challenges loom large. Residents say they are weary from years of tax hikes and fee increases, but the new mayor will need to come up with another $1 billion in the next four years to continue pulling the city out of a pension crisis, a process for which Mr. Emanuel has been credited with shepherding.

Crime and violence remain persistent problems even as the city wrestles with a history of troubled relations between its police force and its residents — problems that reached an apex during Mr. Emanuel’s turbulent eight years in office.

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The odd and chaotic campaign has played out amid a more standard plot for this city: A corruption scandal is simultaneously unfolding at City Hall, a place all too familiar with corruption scandals. That has left many of the candidates rushing to distance themselves from Chicago’s most powerful alderman, Ed Burke, who was charged last month with a federal crime and whose wiretapped phones have become a topic of wonder and worry on the campaign trail.

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Chicago’s population is split approximately into thirds — white, black and Latino.

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All along the campaign trail, candidates have been asked to come up with a solution to Chicago’s intransigent problem with violence, an issue that Mr. Emanuel wrestled with throughout his tenure. Shootings and homicides have dropped some over the last few years from the city’s most vexing period, but, with more than 550 homicides in 2018, Chicago had far more killings than in the nation’s two larger cities, New York and Los Angeles.

“There are so many layers to this violence now,” said Cleopatra Cowley, the mother of Hadiya Pendleton, a high school student who was fatally shot in a South Side park only days after performing at festivities for President Barack Obama’s inauguration to a second term in 2013.

All the while, tensions between residents, particularly in African-American neighborhoods on the West and South Sides, and the Chicago police have mounted. Few events defined Mr. Emanuel’s time as mayor more than the months of outrage that followed the shooting of a black teenager, Laquan McDonald, by a white police officer, Jason Van Dyke, and the eventual release of a police video that showed Officer Van Dyke firing into Laquan 16 times.

As a result of the case, a new mayor will arrive as Chicago is under the terms of a consent decree, requiring a negotiated overhaul of the troubled Police Department.

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