In a city where the mayor holds the job his father once did, politics can seem little different from the early years of the legendary Democratic Machine. But the faces of political privilege, long dominated by white ethnic groups, have changed as powerful
In a city where the mayor holds the job his father once did, politics can seem little different from the early years of the legendary Democratic Machine. But the faces of political privilege, long dominated by white ethnic groups, have changed as powerful Black politicians unabashedly use their clout to build new dynasties. The next in a long line of successions has been set in motion by Illinois Senate President Emil Jones, one of Barack Obama’s first political mentors, who in announcing his retirement this week made it clear he wants his son to take his seat. It’s the latest twist on the "it’s our turn" catch-phrase popular when Chicago elected its first Black mayor in 1983, said Laura Washington, a professor at Chicago’s DePaul University. "It also means it’s our turn to be as corrupt and irresponsible to the democratic process as their white predecessors have been," said Washington, who also is a Chicago Sun-Times columnist. Local Democratic party leaders still have to help make the elder Jones’ wish come true. But if history is any guide, they will. And Jones, a South Side lawmaker and proud product of the Chicago machine, is making no apologies. Democratic leaders obliged when late Cook County boss John Stroger retired after suffering a stroke and asked that his son replace him on the ballot, an election the younger Stroger eventually won. An influential Black Cook County commissioner also paved the way for her son to take her seat when she retired two years ago–just weeks after winning re-election. And a powerful Black Chicago alderman got his daughter on the City Council when she was appointed to replace him by Mayor Richard Daley, only to lose an election for a full term to U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson’s wife. Still, at least one observer contends Jones’ move to pass on his seat could be used to hurt another black politician whose career he helped nurture: Obama. The Democratic presidential candidate has downplayed his connections to the unsavory side of Chicago politics, but Jones’ blatant move could put them back in the spotlight for Obama’s critics. "People are going to sit up and say, ‘Wow, (Obama’s) coming out of this,’" said Dominic A. Pacyga, a professor at Chicago’s Columbia College. Jones isn’t the first Chicago politician to treat politics like it’s a family business, just the latest. The list of the city’s white political offspring is long, and at the top is Chicago’s mayor. Daley’s current term will allow him to become Chicago’s longest-serving mayor with 22 years in office and surpass his legendary father, the late Richard J. Daley. But the Daley influence doesn’t stop at City Hall. One of the current mayor’s brothers is a county commissioner. Others who have followed in their dads’ footsteps include Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, whose father is the powerful Illinois House speaker, and state Comptroller Dan Hynes, whose father was a bigwig in the Illinois legislature and Cook County government. Illinois Congressman Daniel Lipinski’s seat belonged to his father before him. And Illinois is not alone, as the Bushes and Kennedys show on the national stage. Jones pointed this week to some of those white dynasties in defending his desire that his son, Emil III, be his successor. "I recall John F. Kennedy, president of the United States, when he became president, he recommended his brother. Right? And his brother (Ted) was elected. Mayor Richard M. Daley begot Richard J. Daley," said Jones, confusing the order of the Daley mayors, as quoted by the Chicago Tribune. "So that’s nothing new." The elder Jones has filed paperwork to remove his name from the November ballot, and it will be up to local Democratic committeemen to name his replacement. A Republican had filed paperwork to challenge the elder Jones in the fall election. Jones’ 30-year-old son works for the state’s Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity in economic development. He did not return a message seeking comment left for him through the state agency where he works. While the younger Jones would face election in November if chosen as his father’s replacement, that his father and other Black politicians have the sway to name their successors shows just how entrenched they have become in Chicago politics, a closely held profession historically dominated by the Irish and other whites. "They’ve become part of the system," said Pacyga, the Columbia College professor. AP ______ Copyright 2008 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.