West Side aldermanic races have big fields
by RUSS STEWART
When it comes to understanding America’s black social hierarchy and, to a lesser extent, black politics, whites have always been clueless.
After the 13th Amendment abolished slavery, African Americans where concentrated in the South, and former slaves outnumbered whites by 3-1 or more in states such as South Carolina, Georgia, Mississippi, Alabama and Louisiana, and by 2-1 in Virginia and North Carolina. Since the Republicans, the party of Abraham Lincoln, were then the party of "civil rights," a permanent Southern — and national — majority loomed. All they had to do was get black citizens registered and to the polls, and every former Confederate state would have had two black Republican U.S. senators and black Republican governors in perpetuity.
In 1876, in a deal to keep the presidency, the Republicans sold out Southern African Americans, withdrew federal troops from the South, and ceded the area to white Democrats, who promptly imposed poll taxes and literacy tests. The Ku Klux Klan intimidated blacks. Soon, blacks could not vote, own property, serve on juries or attend school. Anyone who was not certifiably white was considered black, and ostracized.
Black migration to the urban North began in the 1920s. In the 1930s, amid the Great Depression, the trickle became a river, as no jobs could be found in the South, and after World War II it became a flood, as "Freedom Trains" poured northward. Chicago’s black population was 109,525, in 1920, 277,731 by 1940 and 519,437 by 1950, but little changed politically, as white northern politicians controlled the black office holders, who delivered black votes to those white politicians. It was "plantation politics," Northern style.
It was not until passage of the federal Voting Rights Act in 1965 that "Black Power" was born. Nearly all blacks were Democrats, who voted in record numbers and demanded a share of the pie.
The point of this history lesson is that skin color has evolved into political coloration. Chicago is a city where anyone who has political ambition is a Democrat. However, gradations of coloration have emerged — green, white and black — and that is everywhere apparent in the upcoming Chicago election.
Green, as in the color of money. Until recently, patronage flourished. Jobs on the city and county payrolls inundated the predominantly black wards. Politicians such as John Stroger, and later his son Todd, loaded up the County Hospital, the County Jail and the Juvenile Court with their precinct workers. They delivered 9-1 majorities for white Democratic politicians, as long as blacks got some posts, like Cook County Board president, clerk of court and recorder of deeds, and kept three congressional seats.
Harold Washington proved to black committeemen that black voters will not support a slated white candidate over a credible black candidate, and the Shakman Decree, coupled with the city inspector general, have made precinct captains obsolete. Those hired cannot be fired without cause and cannot be coerced into working precincts.
As a result, committeemen have to spread around cash to get out the vote, and there is a negligible donor base in black wards. Hence, black committeemen rely on money from politicians such as Rahm Emanuel, Toni Preckwinkle, Mike Madigan, John Cullerton and Joe Berrios.
White, as in most of the politicians who have the money. Madigan and Cullerton make sure all their black state senators and representatives are funded, Emanuel will make sure his black aldermen are funded, and Preckwinkle spent $800,000 to get out the vote in November.
Black, as in black power. Under Richard Daley’s reign (from 1989 to 2011), the black wards were well serviced and all aldermen were well funded, getting an annual $1.3 million in discretionary money, to spend as they saw fit. It didn’t make black wards a Utopia, but the black political class uttered nary a word of criticism of Daley. Emanuel has continued that policy.
There are a few holdovers from Washington era, such as U.S. Representatives Bobby Rush (D-1) and Danny Davis (D-7), but the us-versus-them firebrands, like Dorothy Tillman, obsessed with "reparations," are gone. Gang crime, drugs, mules, dismal schools, shootings, poor police protection, rampant unemployment — who’s to blame? Obama? Emanuel? The local alderman? The alternatives to "more of the same" are few.
There are two West Side wards where it’s green and white versus black.
29th Ward: The ward is centered in west Austin, an upscale white neighborhood until the 1940s which abuts Oak Park, east of Harlem Avenue between Roosevelt Road and North Avenue. It had a succession of white bosses, Democratic committeemen like Al Horan and Bernie Neistein, and puppet black aldermen. It still does. The current boss is state Senator Don Harmon, Oak Park’s Democratic committeeman and an ally of Cullerton. The current puppet is Deborah Graham, a reliable Emanuel vote.
When former alderman Ike Carothers, who served from 1999 to 2010, went to prison, Daley named Graham to the vacancy, Harmon funded her, and she avoided a runoff, getting 52.1 percent of the vote in an eight-candidate field in 2011. In 2012 she defeated Davis for committeeman 6,115-2,977, with 51.3 percent of the vote. With eight opponents in the February election, Graham is hanging by a thread.
Davis, age 74, was elected alderman in 1979, four years before Washington’s 1983 upset. Davis’ mantra was simple: no more "plantation politics." Davis moved to the county board in 1990, lost to Daley in the 1991 mayoral primary, and went to Congress in 1996. Carothers beat him for committeeman in 2000, and his power has waned since. Both Graham and Harmon are eyeing Davis’ congressional seat, along with Aldermen Jason Ervin (28th) and Walter Burnett (27th) and state Representative Camille Lilly, another Harmon puppet.
"Danny will never retire unless he can dictate his successor," one 29th Ward activist and longtime Davis ally said. This election looms as his chance for a revival.
Under the 2011 remap, the 29th Ward absorbed new areas, moving northward to Galewood. The ward’s voter base is 63 percent black, 22 percent white and 14 percent Hispanic. Emanuel closed four schools in the ward, and pawn shops are proliferating, with five in a 5-block area around Narragansett and North avenues. "Pawn shops are a signal of neighborhood decline," Northwest Community Coalition president Mike Nardello said. "They’re a magnet for criminals and drive out legitimate businesses. All we’re getting in Austin is nail shops, liquor stores and fast-cash joints,"
Graham’s most formidable opponent is Chris Taliaferro of Galewood, a police sergeant who is backed by the Davis forces. Taliaferro is the anti-Emanuel, "independent" candidate. His problem is his surname. As Nardello discovered when he ran against Lilly in 2012, many black voters are leery of white ethnic-sounding names. Compounding Taliaferro’s predicament is the candidacy of Larry Andolino, a white attorney from Galewood.
Only 12 of the ward’s 44 precincts are in Galewood, but those 12 precincts contain 8,732 registered voters, compared to 7,123 in the rest of the ward. Andolino said that if he gets 55 to 60 percent of the vote in his Galewood base and 5 to 10 percent in the rest of the ward, he can win.
Also running are Bob Galhotra, who lost the 2014 election to Harmon, Eric Wendt, and four black candidates from the Austin area, Zerlina Smith, Brenda Smith, Deborah Williams and Maurice Robinson. They cut into Graham’s Austin base. The outlook: A runoff is a certainty, and Graham’s April 7 defeat is a likelihood.
37th Ward: Incumbent Emma Mitts, who was appointed by Daley in 2000, was the ward sanitation superintendent. She was a protege of Alderman Percy Giles, who went to prison, as well as of Carothers. Unlike the 29th Ward, Mitts’ ward is less business-hostile, with a Walmart having been built, over furious union protests. Mitts won against five opponents in 2011 with 58.5 percent of the vote. The east Austin ward runs south of Grand Avenue to the Eisenhower Expressway, east of Central Avenue.
This year, given Mitts’ pro-Emanuel record, the public sector and teachers unions are out for revenge. Their candidate is Tara Stamps, a fifth grade teacher at Jenner School. The Chicago Teachers Union and the Service Employees International Union will dump a boatload of money into the ward for Stamps. Green matters. Also running are Leroy Duncan, Otis Percy, Tyrone Tucker and Antoine Curtis. The outlook: Unless Emanuel’s boatload exceeds Stamps’ boatload, Mitts will lose the runoff.
Send e-mail to russ@russstewart. com or visit his Web site at www. russstewart.com.