‘Nonretrogression’ to be tested in Chicago ward


by RUSS STEWART

One of the deeply ingrained realities of American politics, in both law and fact, is the concept of "nonretrogression."

That means that once a legislative office is occupied by a member if a minority, it is violative of the federal Voting Rights Act, the Civil Rights Act and the precepts of affirmative action for the post to revert to a being held by a nonminority. As they say, once you go black (or, now, Hispanic), you can never go back.

Yet the sustainability of "nonretrogression" will soon be tested on two fronts, one very large and one very small: the U.S. presidency and the Austin-area 29th Ward.

After 2016 America will no longer have an African-American president. That is a topic very studiously, if not embarrassingly, avoided by the leaders of the Democratic Party, which is supposed to exemplify racial and sexual diversity. After the departure of Barack Obama, where is the next generation of black leaders?

This much is certain: After Obama leaves, it may be a very, very long time before the country has another black president. Retrogression is imminent. The reason is elemental: There is no "black bench," meaning an accumulation of black office holders with the credibility and credentials to be president.

The country’s single black governor, Deval Patrick of Massachusetts, is term-limited out in 2014. There are only two black U.S. senators, just-elected New Jersey Democrat Cory Booker, Newark’s dynamic and innovative mayor, and conservative Republican Tim Scott of South Carolina. No African American governs the largest cities: Chicago last elected a black mayor in 1987 (Harold Washington), New York in 1989 (David Dinkins) and Los Angeles in 1989 (Tom Bradley). According to the black media, the "next Barack Obama" will be California attorney general Kamala Harris, who likely will be elected the state’s governor in 2018. Booker and Harris will be jousting for the presidency in 2020 or later.

What about Hispanics? The Democrats tout themselves as the party of immigration reform and inclusiveness, yet neither of the country’s two Hispanic governors is a Democrat. Republicans Brian Sandoval and Susana Martinez govern in Nevada and New Mexico, respectively. Two the country’s three Hispanic senators are Republican, Marco Rubio of Florida and Ted Cruz of Texas; the only Democrat is Robert Menendez of New Jersey. All are Cuban Americans.

There is no "brown bench." Los Angeles’ term-limited Hispanic mayor Antonio Villaraigosa was replaced in 2013 by Eric Garcetti, a Democrat. Villaraigosa was supposed to be on track to be California’s governor, and then onto the national ticket, but now his path is blocked by Harris.

In fact, the "bench" consists of two Texans: San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro and his twin brother, U.S. Representative Joaquin Castro. One intended to run for Texas governor in 2018, but the emergence of Wendy Davis of Fort Worth, a white Democratic state senator who filibustered Republicans’ plans to restrict third trimester abortion and became a national liberal heroine, has frustrated those plans. Davis is running for governor in 2014, and she is raising mega-bucks from national pro-choice, feminist and liberal sources.

Texas remains solidly Republican, and the state’s attorney general, Greg Abbott, a tough and popular law-and-order conservative, will win the governorship vacated by Rick Perry in 2014, but Davis and her allies will take control of the state Democratic Party, which means neither of the Castro brothers will have a shot in 2018. If Davis runs a credible 2014 campaign, the 2018 nomination is hers.

Then there are the women — the Democratic women. There is no Republican woman in the 2016 presidential mix. The Republicans’ nominee will be either Chris Christie, Paul Ryan, John Kasich, Marco Rubio, Bobby Jindal, Rand Paul, Scott Walker or John Thune.

The Democrats’ singular appeal in 2016 is that it is time for a female president, which means Hillary Clinton. After 8 years of Obama Administration ineptitude, running a woman in 2016 is the Democrats’ only option to retain the presidency. It will be "change we need" all over again.

The party’s female bench is notably thin. If Clinton doesn’t run, her back-ups are unproven and largely unknown: U.S. Senators Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin, but that is no impediment in a lengthy primary season.

Primary voters are motivated by ideology, and they are unconcerned with electability. Those who vote in Republican primaries tend to be rabid conservatives who usually demand purity on social issues. The need for aspirants to mouth right-wing platitudes during debates was cited in a recent party report as one of the reason why Mitt Romney lost in 2012. Likewise, those who vote in Democratic presidential primaries are largely minorities and politically correct white liberals, and that mind-set is what nominated Obama in 2008.

In 2008 Obama was an obscure first-term senator, while Hillary Clinton had the support of the Clintons’ nationwide machine, and especially of the unions, but in the South, where blacks comprise a majority of the Democrats’ primary electorate, Obama prevailed, and in the industrial North, white liberals’ "guilt" compelled them to vote for the black candidate and that, combined with the minority vote, sunk Clinton.

The same scenario will unfold in 2016. If a single Democratic woman faces a large field of men, her nomination will be a certainty, simply because, to party activists, "it is time to elect a woman president."

In Chicago’s 50-member City Council, there are 19 black aldermen with 20 black-majority wards and seven Hispanic aldermen with 12 Hispanic-majority wards. Amid great consternation in 2007, white Democrat Bob Fioretti beat flawed black incumbent Madeline Haithcock in the Near South Side 2nd Ward. Once the heart of the city’s "black belt," the 2nd Ward has had a black alderman since the 1920s.

The rejuvenation of the South Loop caused a marked increase in the area’s white and Asian populations, but never before in Chicago’s history had a minority alderman been replaced by a white alderman; it always was the reverse. However, when the council grappled with the ward remap in 2011, the theory of nonretrogression vanished. There were just too few black voters to ensure the election of 20 black aldermen. The city’s 2010 census pegged blacks at 33 percent, whites at 35 percent and Hispanics at 32 percent. That meant that two white aldermen, Fioretti and Nick Sposato (36th), and one black alderman, Joann Thompson (15th), saw their wards dismemberered. The goal was threefold: to create two new Hispanic-majority wards, one from territory presently in the 36th and 38th wards, to protect the white aldermen in the Hispanic 10th, 13th, 14th and 33rd wards, and to squeeze every black voter out of Fioretti’s ward in order to ensure the election of 17 black aldermen. The new 2nd Ward boundaries meander from the South Loop and Chinatown to the Near West Side and Taylor Street, absorbing every nonminority precinct.

One unintended consequence could be the 2015 defeat of black Alderman Deborah Graham (29th), who was given a large swath of white voters from Sposato’s current 36th Ward. According to Larry Andolino, a white attorney allied with Sposato’s organization, the new ward stretches from the predominantly black Austin neighborhood, which runs east of Harlem Avenue from Roosevelt Road to North Avenue and to Galewood, a racially mixed area west of Harlem, the heart of Sposato’s ward.

The new 29th Ward is 63 percent black, 22 percent white and 15 percent Hispanic. That makes it a majority-minority ward, but can it elect a white alderman?

"No, it means that Graham can be beaten," said Andolino, who is pondering a 2015 bid, citing several reasons. First, there is no geographic continuity. White voters in Galewood "have nothing in common" with black voters in Austin.

Second, there is major factionalism among blacks. U.S. Representative Danny Davis (D-7), a former alderman, opposed Graham for ward committeeman in 2012, losing 3,138-2,977. Davis’ faction, the older, more militant types who remember Harold Washington, detests Graham, a former state representative whom they view as a puppet for white state Senator (and Oak Park Democratic Committeeman) Don Harmon. Graham was a protege of former alderman Ike Carothers, a longtime Davis nemesis who was convicted on federal bribery charges and tax fraud in 2010. Rich Daley appointed her to the vacancy, and she has not opposed Rahm Emanuel.

Third, there will be at least four or five candidates running for alderman, Andolino predicted. "The key is to keep her vote under 50 percent and force a runoff," he said. "If I’m second, I would unite the majority anti-Graham vote, and I could win." The ward has a population of 50,175, with 27,470 registered voters. Graham won in a six-candidate field in 2011 with 5,521 votes, getting 52.1 percent of the vote.

An issue resonating in Galewood and Montclare is the city’s granting of a special use permit to open a pawn shop at 6432 W. North Ave. Andolino is the attorney and is Sposato the lead plaintiff in a lawsuit against the Zoning Board of Appeals which claims that a pawn shop "is not compatible with the character" of the surrounding area. "Graham hasn’t said a word," Andolino said.

Send e-mail to russ@russstewart. com or visit his Web site at www. russstewart.com.


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