Black Chicago leadership failed in this election

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It was an opportunity missed.

It was an opportunity missed.

After 22 years of Richard M. Daley occupying the 5th floor of City Hall, the possibility of a mayor more in tune with the Black community was staring Black Chicago right in the face.

And we blinked.

It is possible that nothing short of divine intervention could have derailed the Rahm Emanuel express. It’s possible that only Daley himself could have countered the impressive $18 million war chest that Emanuel raised. Congratulations to the new mayor!

But for a community that kept saying how much it wanted to recreate a Harold Washington movement here in 2011, there was no Harold magic, no ward by ward get out the vote campaigns and no filling the coffers of any Black candidate to get television, radio and newspaper ads.

What we got was Carol Moseley Braun, former U.S. Senator, ambassador; Illinois state senator and Cook County Recorder of Deeds. Her qualifications would make her a frontrunner in any other time, but not only did the press marginalize her, an awful lot of Black voters marginalized her.

Early on, Black voters decried the fact that she told organizers that she wouldn’t drop out of the race even if she were not chosen as the “consensus” candidate by a coalition of Black politicians and businessmen. Some never forgave her for reported indiscretions during her campaign for U.S. Senate and her historic one term in that body.

She was not Harold. She couldn’t be Harold. But during this campaign, she seemed to be even a poor facsimile of Carol. She seemed unprepared for the poking and questioning by the press, and marginal candidates who ended up with less than 3 percent of the vote – combined, goaded her into gaffes.

But this election was lost long before Carol threw her hat into the ring.

This election was lost over the last 22 years, because what constitutes Black leadership in Chicago seemed to be caught with its pants down when Daley decided he wasn’t going to run for re-election. Since Harold Washington died in 1987, a whole generation of able and qualified aspirants to City Hall have been co-opted, bought out, or chased away, and when leaders went looking for mayoral candidates, they found the cupboards largely bare. So we got Cong. Danny Davis, at 69, running for mayor, a year older than Daley, who was retiring. We got Braun, who had not been active in politics for nearly 15 years, stepping into the fray. We had William “Dock” Walls running for this third different post in the last four years, and we had Patricia Van Pelt Watkins coming out of nowhere to seek the office of mayor in her first foray into politics. She obviously didn’t read the book about paying political dues.

This was a watershed election for Chicago, but especially for Black Chicago. Not only could we not come up with a “consensus” Black candidate (while the white community certainly did by sending Tom Dart and Lisa Madigan home to spend more time with family), we didn’t really support any Black candidate.

The question remains have we learned our lesson? Can we develop the kind of political and community leadership that will produce viable candidates for mayor, or have we missed an opportunity that may not come along again for a generation?

Copyright 2011 Chicago Defender

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