Peskiness endemic to West Side politicians
by RUSS STEWART
In Chicago’s and Cook County’s political world, such manifestations as peskiness, greediness, untrustworthiness, forgetfulness and recklessness are the norm.
Black politicians never let the proverbial grass grow under their feet and, no different from white and Hispanic politicians, are constantly plotting, scheming and planning for their next big opportunity. However, for African Americans, those opportunities are limited: Three congressmen, 19 Chicago aldermen, five county commissioners, eight state senators and 16 state representatives are black.
Black politicians fill the positions of Cook County Board president (Toni Preckwinkle), clerk of the Circuit Court (Dorothy Brown) and county recorder of deeds (Karen Yarbrough). By implicit understanding among county Democratic leaders, those are now "black" county offices, to be occupied by an African-American Democrat forevermore. The offices of sheriff, assessor, state’s attorney, clerk and treasurer are to be held by non-blacks. Statewide, Jesse White’s post as secretary of state is now also deemed a "black" office. Positioning to succeed White in 2018, when he will retire, is already fast and furious.
Since Chicago was incorporated in 1837, it has had 49 mayors, of whom 46 have been white men, one has been a white woman (Jane Byrne), and two have been black men (Harold Washington and Gene Sawyer). The last Republican to win the mayoralty was Big Bill Thompson, in 1927. Cook County had white male board presidents through 1994; since then black Democrats John Stroger, Todd Stroger and Preckwinkle have held the post, which has been held by a Democrat for 74 of past 84 years.
Among black politicians, everybody yearns to be the "Great Black Hope" and become mayor of Chicago, the apex of the political pyramid. With the stabilization of Chicago’s white population at 32 percent and the growth of the Hispanic population to 27 percent, Chicago may never again have a black mayor. The city’s black population is 33 percent and declining.
Nevertheless, hope springs eternal, and the positioning to succeed Chicago U.S. Representatives Bobby Rush (D-1), age 67, from the South Side, and Danny Davis (D-7), age 70, from the West Side, is intense. When Jesse Jackson Jr. fell from grace, along with his wife, Alderman Sandi Jackson, that eliminated two "Hopes." Both Rush and Davis took a crack at running for mayor and lost miserably, and both are perceived as aging place holders who need to be shunted aside to make room for a black successor to Rahm Emanuel in 2015 or 2019.
Jackson’s replacement in the 2nd District is Robin Kelly, age 58, of south suburban Matteson, a former state representative who lost a 2010 bid for state treasurer by 161,049 votes to Republican Dan Rutherford. She’s out of the mayoral picture. The first skirmish in Davis’ 7th District occurred in the March 18 Democratic primary for county commissioner in the black-majority West Side Chicago/Oak Park 1st District, a seat vacated by Democrat Earlean Collins. Davis held the seat from 1990 to 1996 before Collins, who was a state senator from 1972 to 1996. Davis backed Rich Boykin, an attorney, a lobbyist and a former top aide. The presumption was that if Boykin won the seat, he would be Davis’ anointed successor in 2016 or 2018.
Ike Carothers, the convicted, jailed and now released former 28th Ward alderman and a longtime Davis antagonist, jumped into the race. Carothers was convicted of bribery, but he maintained a West Side base, remained well known, was legally able to run for commissioner (not alderman), and counted on a forgiving electorate. Using Carothers’ bid as a pretext, Emanuel, Preckwinkle and Oak Park’s white political boss, state Senator Don Harmon, endorsed Blake Sercye, a 27-year-old attorney. They failed spectacularly.
Their goal was to beat Boykin, neuter Davis, and clear the 7th U.S. House District field in 2016 or later for Harmon or Harmon’s ally, black 29th Ward Alderman Deborah Graham. The 7th District is 54 percent black, but it has a 32 percent white population. The 1st District has 143 precincts in four black-majority Chicago wards (the 27th, 28th, 29th and 37th, plus parts of the 1st, 26th and 36th), and 76 precincts in Oak Park and Proviso townships.
Both Graham and 37th Ward Alderman Emma Mitts were proteges of Carothers. Graham has allied herself with Harmon, whose clout, in both votes and money, got her elected as a state representative in 2002 and as alderman in 2011. When Davis tried a comeback in 2012, she beat him 3,138-2,977 for Democratic committeeman; she was elected alderman in 2011 with 5,513 votes, getting 52.1 percent of the total cast. Clearly, she has not entrenched herself, and a serious 2015 challenge is developing. Mitts has blossomed in her own right, taking heat from unions for allowing a Walmart in her ward, establishing a pro-business, pro-jobs record, and entrenching herself.
The candidates in the March 18 1st District primary included Carothers, Sercye, Boykin, 29th Ward activist Brenda Smith and perennial candidate Ron Lawless. Carothers finished first in Chicago, with 4,399 votes (32.8 percent of the total). Never let it be said that convicted felons suffer a loss of esteem. Carothers ran first in his base 29th Ward with 36.2 percent of the vote, as well as in the 28th Ward (with 27.8 percent), the 37th Ward (with 34.9 percent) and the 27th Ward (with 33.2 percent). Boykin got 31.9 percent, 26.4 percent, 28.9 percent and 24.3 percent, respectively, in those wards, finishing second in each. Sercye, despite his luminous endorsements, got an uninspiring 13.9 percent, 20.6 percent, 13.8 percent and 16.1 percent, respectively, placing fourth behind Smith in all four wards. Smith, who will run against Graham for alderman in 2015, got a tepid 792 votes (15.0 percent of the total) in her home 29th Ward.
The political boss in the Near West Loop 27th Ward is White, the Democratic committeeman who will be 80 years old this year and who will be easily re-elected to a fifth term. White is the highest ranking state black office holder. The succession battle for 2018 is under way. Yarbrough, the Proviso Township Democratic committeeman, is the presumed slatemakers’ choice, but a white Downstate candidate surely will run, and rumors abound that Harmon might.
The 1st District Chicago tally was 4,399 votes for Carothers, 3,910 for Boykin, 2,513 for Smith and a dismal 2,088 for Sercye, with Lawless last at 479, in a turnout of 13,389.
It was expected that Harmon would deliver for Sercye in Oak Park’s 32 precincts, and he did, with Sercye topping Boykin 2,993-1,038, but that 1,955-vote margin was neutralized in the 54 precincts in predominantly black Proviso Township, where the Yarbrough machine failed to deliver for Sercye (who got 1,037 votes), while Boykin got 2,340 votes, Smith got 1,028 and Carothers got 953. Boykin’s 1,387-vote suburban margin over Carothers erased his 489-vote Chicago deficit and was enough to win.
Boykin won the district with 7,288 votes, to 6,118 for Sercye, 5,602 for Carothers and 4,111 for Smith. Being the only woman running and being first on the ballot both aided Smith’s total. The off-the-ballot winners were Davis, who won’t have to beat Sercye in the future and who consolidated his base, and Harmon, who delivered his base. The losers were Emanuel and Preckwinkle, whose endorsements meant little, and Yarbrough, who was revealed as a paper tiger. Her husband recently was ousted as the mayor of Maywood, and she can kiss goodbye any hope for Davis’ congressional seat.
Political volatility is endemic on the West Side, with posts such as alderman, Democratic committeeman and county commissioner resembling a revolving door. When an office is open, everybody runs. In 1996 Davis won the Democratic nomination to succeed longtime congressional incumbent Cardiss Collins, who served from 1973 to 1996. Pent-up ambition brought three aldermen (Dorothy Tillman, Ed Smith and Percy Giles) and two county commissioners (Bobbie Steele and Davis) into the race. Davis finished first with 33 percent of the vote, 8,655 votes ahead of Tillman (with 20 percent) and well ahead of Smith (12 percent), Steele (12 percent) and Giles (11 percent).
Incumbency is no life preserver. Davis was elected the 29th Ward alderman in 1979 and, expecting to lose for alderman in 1991, he bailed out for the county board in 1990. Graham faces a similar predicament in 2015, but she has no place to bail. "Her concept of community development is more liquor stores, pawn shops, nail joints and fast-cash places," Northwest Community Coalition leader Mike Nardello said. The 2011 ward remap added predominantly white precincts from the old 36th Ward, including parts of Galewood and Montclare, making the new ward 25 to 30 percent white. "It’s time to end the puppet show," Nardello said, referring to Harmon’s alleged control of Graham and state Representative Camille Lilly (D-78).
Graham’s 2015 foes will be Chris Taliafero, a Chicago police sergeant and an attorney, Bob Galhotra, an assistant state’s attorney who got crushed by Harmon in the 2014 primary but who forced him to spend $300,000, attorney Larry Andolino, Maurice Robinson and Smith. If the field holds Graham under 50 percent in the primary, she could be beaten in the runoff, even by a white candidate.
A final note: Kwame Raoul, the Hyde Park state senator who took Barack Obama’s seat in 2005, is angling for U.S. senator in 2016, probably against U.S. Representative Tammy Duckworth (D-8) in the primary. If he is unsuccessful, he will run for the Davis seat in 2018.
Send e-mail to russ@russstewart. com or visit his Web site at www. russstewart.com.