What's All This Then?

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Monday, January 10, 2011

A personal note to begin the year. Typing will be difficult for a while and may result in very few commentaries until the difficulty is resolved. I have managed to tear my right shoulder rotator cuff and will probably need surgical repair. But I’m struggling through for today.

I am going to make some comments on Republicans as hinted the other day and perhaps on the horrible tragedy that took place in Tucson over the weekend , but for my first post of the new year, I have some thoughts that I’ve been wanting to record about Democrats - the Democrats who are trying to become the next mayor of Chicago. Chicago’s mayoral election is supposed to be non partisan - but who are we kidding? The day a non Democrat becomes the city’s mayor, Gabriel will appear to perform a trumpet solo at State and Madison and announce the end of days. The list of candidates is getting smaller so perhaps the nonsense about who will be listed first on the ballot won’t be much of a factor. It seemed that it was a factor when the lottery was held to determine where each candidates name would appear. There was discussion in the city’s newspapers and on radio and television news shows of the perceived "advantage" of being the first name on the ballot and candidates were jockeying to improve their chances of winning the favored position.

But what does this say about the voters of Chicago and what does this say about what candidates for the office think about the voters of Chicago? The so called advantage of being the first name on the ballot is based on the belief that some - maybe many - voters will enter the voting booth knowing little about any of the candidates and not having reached a reasoned conclusion about who to vote for, will simply cast their ballot for the first name on the list. So the answer to my question is that some - maybe many - Chicago voters are just plain stupid and that candidates want their names at the top of any ballot to take advantage of that stupidity. Unfortunately, the stupid voters don’t realize that candidates are anxious to take advantage of their stupidity, so they will never feel insulted and will continue to help candidates lucky enough to have their name listed first to boost their vote totals.

But in the election scheduled for February 22, the lottery winner for position number one is no longer a candidate. Congressman Danny Davis, who observed that it was a good start when his name was drawn first, is no longer a candidate. Instead, he is part of a group led by Reverend James T Meeks that is turning back the clock to an ugly period of Chicago politics when racial division ruled in the Council Chambers of the city. The two of them, who started out as candidates, have now withdrawn their names in order to create a "consensus" African American candidate and have settled on former U.S. Senator Carol Moseley Braun. There is another African American still in the race, but not one well known and unlikely to pull more than a fraction of the vote. So what are Meeks, Davis and Braun saying to the voters of Chicago with their idea of a "consensus" candidate? They’re saying that blacks will vote for a black candidate, simply because they share the same skin color and that rather than "split" the "black vote" among several black candidates and give a "white" candidate an advantage, it’s better to have a single black candidate.

The candidate leading in the polls is Rahm Emanuel, former adviser to President Clinton and more recently, President Obama’s chief of staff. President Obama has given Emanuel his blessing if not his direct endorsement. President Clinton however has endorsed Emanuel for the office and plans to campaign for him. This upsets Congressman Davis who warns that the "black community" will react negatively to such an endorsement. Clinton should stay out of a local race he says - I guess a new Democratic doctrine - no endorsements of Democratic candidates for a local office by fellow Democratic politicians. Unless they’re endorsing an African American candidate. Davis was asked while he was still on the ballot if he would welcome a Clinton endorsement. Is the Pope a Catholic? That wasn’t his response but close enough. But now the plot thickens.

There are two prominent Hispanic candidates on the ballot, Gery Chico and Miguel del Valle. There has been no talk of a "consensus" Latino - but Congressman Luis Gutierrez has endorsed Chico and plans to record commercials with him, particularly Spanish language commercials. I’m waiting for Danny Davis to suggest that this will have a negative reaction in the "Latino community" but I’m not holding my breath.

I’m not a great fan of retiring Mayor Richard Daley. I live in a Chicago suburb so I’m not directly affected by his politics and policies - but during his reign, he has managed to avoid a repeat of anything resembling the racial division that tore local government apart in the early 1980’s. Now the years of relative absence of "racial politics" are in danger of coming to an end with fairly obvious appeals by candidates or their supporters to race and ethnicity - with the exception Rahm Emanuel. Maybe that’s because he’s the only Jewish candidate - and maybe because Jewish voters can’t be counted on to vote for a candidate simply because of shared ethnicity.

I don’t expect any openly "racial" comments to be made by any of the candidates as the campaign gets under way - though there’ll likely be "code words." But I do expect this race to be more racially and ethnically divisive than any election of the past 25 years. I hope I’m wrong and that we won’t see news pictures of Carol Moseley Braun in church settings surrounded by black clergymen and black elected officials and radio and television commercials for Chico on Spanish language radio and television stations - but I doubt it. There are many who will see nothing wrong about blacks and Latinos appealing to "their own" in an election - and I know it’s been common in the past - but if it happens again - as it appears it will for the next two months - I think it’s a step backward for Chicago - into the kind of past that I thought the city of broad shoulders had left behind.