For Black voters in Chicago, February 22 won’t mean much if the upcoming mayor’s race doesn’t play second-fiddle to what must be done in the Black community both beforehand and afterwards.
Many parts of Chicago – notably on the south and west sides – are abuzz with the talk of having a consensus African-American candidate for mayor considering that this is the first race where an African-American is not running against the Daley machine in over 20 years. As this opportunity is rare, savoring this opportunity is understandable, with prudent care given to the process a valued step along the way.
However, considering where the Black community finds itself as we continue the second decade of this emerging (and challenging) century, we must be care not to put all of our eggs – and all of our energy and attention – into just one basket.
As we have just seen with Chicago’s Barack Obama moving on the fast track from state senator in October 2004 to inaugurated president of the United States in January 2009, placing an extraordinary amount of resources on accomplishing major political feats such as electing the first Black president may do a lot for the history books and for our civic pride, but such accomplishments have yet to have the much-needed impact required to meet the historical obligations we have to reverse the system-condoned and self-afflicted genocide that is occurring before our eyes in Chicago each day. What we face now in 2010 and 2011 with the issue of the consensus candidate for mayor may end up being the same situation exemplified by the Obama Phenomenon in 2008 and 2009: we may push hard for advancement in government leadership, even as advancements pushing us past social irrelevancy and societal extinction are promoted less.
The allure of having a mayor within Town Hall that better heeds and reflects the voice of its diverse people in a greater fashion is well deserving. However, the inspiration of putting that candidate in place to move past February 22, 2011 and into the Mayor’s office must be met with a heightened level of perspiration to implement new steps to quell the sounds of old problems bellowing around us – namely, the problems facing our children in the violent streets and inadequate schools that they call home. People will be quick to put on campaign buttons and put up campaign signs in their front yards before too long, but it will become increasingly irrelevant over 2011 and the subsequent short-term future if future generations of Chicagoans fill the cemeteries instead of filling the lines at polls during election cycles twice a year. And whereas formulas are already being computed to determine what target numbers must be obtained for a consensus candidate to win in 2011, that candidate will quickly learn that she or he will need to ensure that our collective historical obligation as Black leaders to adequately address the crisis of Black America is met before the next mayor can effectively build upon the historical legacy left by the first Black mayor of Chicago, Harold Washington. An electoral victory in 2011 will ring hollow with stinging symbolism if the next Black mayor of Chicago is forced to face the same taunts of “Beirut on the Lake” from distracters that the late Mayor Washington endured, fighting the realities facing our city’s streets even as he fought obstructionist efforts led by the Two Eddies. That pattern would serve to rob even the best candidate of their full attention to resolve the complex economic, educational, and entrepreneurial issues confronting us today. It is a pattern that we can stop with a careful eye on the larger problems, even as we have baited breath in following the results of February’s election. Our effort to stop this pattern is a bigger new year’s resolution for us than making the commitment to drive a vote in a particular direction.
Regardless of how much the new mayor – be it a victorious consensus candidate or some other individual – focuses on better schools and safer streets, the heavy lifting will be done by us. This fact cannot be ignored or overlooked as a highly-important task on the 2011 to-do list, for it is an item that is actually more important that picking and voting for that special someone in February (and perhaps beyond). Even with the ideal political situation playing out, it is imperative that we refuse to allow the very real narratives playing out in our lives collectively to continue, for nothing has the potential to uplift or detonate Chicago more than the human capital and tentative dreams hanging in the balance throughout our region today. Further, nothing proves to have the capability to submarine the next mayor credibility as a leader – notably a Black mayor in Chicago – more than the highly-visible, continued disintegration of Black people in Chicago on a national stage.
The next mayor can put into place solutions to remedy those woes, but they will never come to pass without our attention and effort, something that will not transpire if we lend attention to the election and underestimate the true work ahead. And, in kind, those realities we must work on – the tragic ones we read about every morning – will never change until we realize that electing people to powerful positions is never more important than empowering a lost people before it’s too late.
Lenny McAllister, a syndicated political commentator, is the host of “Launching Chicago with Lenny McAllister” on WVON AM-1690. He also hosts an evening show on CLTV. Follow him at http://www.twitter.com/lennyhhr and http://www.tinyurl.com/lennyfacebook.