Shooting of youth will spur ’16 black turnout
by RUSS STEWART
The "Laquan McDonald Monster" has surfaced, and unlike the Loch Ness Monster, it is tangible, palpable and deadly. Those 16 bullets will be remembered by black voters in 2016, and a torrent of rage — and votes — will be directed in the March 15, 2016, Democratic primary against both Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez and any non-black candidates closely associated with Mayor Rahm Emanuel and police superintendent Garry McCarthy.
Over the past 50 years, there have been periodic "galvanizing" moments among local black voters, precipitating an electoral eruption and the defeat of candidates deemed hostile.
The first occurred in 1972, when black voters held Democratic State’s Attorney Ed Hanrahan accountable for the slaying of two Black Panthers by his office’s police investigators in a 1969 drug raid. Reaction was swift and sure. About 185,000 black voters — roughly half — cast ballots for Republican Bernie Carey, who defeated Hanrahan and forever squelched any possibility that Hanrahan would become the mayor of Chicago.
The second occurred in 1983, when black voters registered their anger toward Mayor Jane Byrne, whom they perceived was pursuing policies and engaging in actions inimical to Chicago’s black community, such as firing prominent black officials, ignoring black needs and demands, and diverting city patronage from black wards to white wards. With Harold Washington as their champion, turnout in the city’s predominantly black wards surged from 195,000 in 1979 to 315,000 in 1983. Washington beat Byrne 415,030-382,798 (with 36,3 percent of the vote), with 340,702 votes going to Rich Daley.
The third was in 2004, when an obscure South Side state senator, Barack Obama, suddenly emerged as a credible possibility to be Illinois’ first black U.S. senator. Black turnout in the 2004 Democratic primary in the city and the county was 300,000. Obama got 655,923 votes (52.8 percent of the total cast) in the eight- candidate primary election.
The fourth was in 2008, when a black president from Chicago loomed as a reality. Obama faced Hillary Clinton in the presidential primary, and the result wasn’t even close. Obama got 1,318,234 votes, to 667,930 for Clinton, and black turnout was about 350,000. In the election, Obama got 785,829 votes in Chicago (85 percent of the total), and he got 380,000 votes in the predominantly black wards and townships against John McCain.
The common denominator in those contests was "opportunity," meaning that black voters could reward or punish. To do so they need a villain, someone to vote against. In the 2016 election, that looks to be Alvarez, who dithered since the October, 2014, shooting, "investigating" officer Jason Van Dyke and finally indicting him for murder in November. Then they need a leader, someone to vote for who can crystallize anti-villain sentiment. That looks to be Kim Foxx, the former chief of staff for Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle. Foxx, who is black, has filed to run against Alvarez.
Also filing was Donna More, an assistant state’s attorney when Daley was in office, now in private practice. She will self-fund up to $1 million.
The other villain, who won’t be on the ballot, is McCarthy. Fourteen of the 18 black Chicago aldermen have demanded his firing, ripping the "police culture," and Emanuel responded on Tuesday by dumping the superintendent. Over the past year, fatal police shootings in Ferguson, a Saint Louis suburb, Baltimore and Minneapolis, have polarized those cities. "Among blacks the police are viewed as oppressors, not protectors," a South Side black politician said, even though most crime is black on black and most murders are gang-related. Unfortunately, it seems that whenever a cop fatally shoots someone, it’s a white cop shooting a black person.
Emanuel also is suffering collateral damage. In his 2015 re-election campaign, Emanuel promised to be more attuned to the needs of the black community, and he got 132,000 votes in the black wards. They won’t be fooled again if Emanuel runs for a third term in 2019. In fact, Alderman Roderick Sawyer (6th), the son of a former mayor, is already tooling up for a 2019 bid, ripping Alvarez for being "politically motivated" for deciding to indict Van Dyke on the day after the McDonald video was released. Sawyer is the chairman of the City Council Black Caucus, which gives him a forum for publicity and a venue to build leadership credibility.
The South Side politician said that Sawyer, who was first elected alderman in 2011, is running for mayor. "He’s got three years to build his base, and he will have Preckwinkle behind him," the source said. The 2019 strategy to take back the mayor’s office is emerging.
Step one is to polarize and politicize the black community and to make the 2016 election a referendum on Alvarez, whose policies on bail and pleas have enraged Preckwinkle and Sheriff Tom Dart. Blacks need a reason to vote. Turnout in the black wards in 2015 was just 200,000, which is 150,000 less than in 1983 and 2008. If Alvarez is demonized as an "insider politician" and part of the "police culture," black voters will surge to the polls. There will be obvious and intense pressure on white and Hispanic Democratic committeemen and politicians to abandon Alvarez or to endorse Foxx. If Foxx beats Alvarez, as now seems more likely than not, the take-back effort will have claimed a huge scalp and will have emboldened both black politicians and black voters.
A secondary goal is to elect Preckwinkle’s ally, the slated Alderman Michelle Harris (8th), as the clerk of the Circuit Court, replacing the dumped Dorothy Brown. The office controls 2,100 jobs. The "take-backers" will be closely watching which non-black committeemen and politicians "cut" Harris in the primary. With Harris as clerk and Foxx as state’s attorney, Preckwinkle’s power will expand exponentially.
There will be a black "Soul Slate," an unofficial but very visible group of black candidates for countywide office, including Foxx, Harris, Recorder of Deeds Karen Yarbrough, and judicial and Metropolitan Water Reclamation District contenders, plus Andrea Zopp for U.S. senator. A large black turnout boosts them all.
Step two is to incessantly politicize the Van Dyke trial. That means picketing, marching and general mischief making, at least through 2017. That puts Emanuel in a lose-lose situation. McCarthy came to symbolize Van Dyke, and the mayor was forced to fire his superintendent, which infuriates conservative white voters in general and police officers and retirees in particular. Emanuel’s black base, which consists of black committeemen and some aldermen whose support he "bought" in 2015 with campaign donations, will evaporate, and the "Take-Backers" now are jubilant and taking credit, and they will demand a black police superintendent . . . creating another lose-lose situation for Emanuel.
Step three is to re-elect Preckwinkle in 2018, and to ensure that, with Dart likely retiring as sheriff, a pro-Preckwinkle white candidate is elected the new sheriff. Preckwinkle’s beef with Alvarez is that she insists on high bail in felony cases and she won’t plea bargain. That means that lots of nonwhites, especially those arrested for drug possession, clog County Jail for up to 2 years awaiting trial, costing $140 per day of incarceration. Even without the "Laquan McDonald Monster" on her back, Alvarez’s reputation among black voters was somewhere between dismal and abysmal.
The longtime presumption concerning 2018 was that Ed Burke Jr., the son of the powerful alderman and a former assistant chief deputy in the sheriff’s office, would get Dart’s job. No longer. Internal office politics (meaning Dart) forced out Burke in 2014, when he ostensibly quit, and his father now is one of the few powerhouse Dem committeemen (along with Mike Madigan) who are backing Alvarez. If his 14th Ward, which is mostly Hispanic, delivers big for Alvarez, then the younger Burke will have no political future.
In the 2018 crosshairs is Assessor Joe Berrios, the county Democratic Party chairman. Berrios and Preckwinkle, the 2016 slatemaking chairman, conspired in August to dump Alvarez, who has been the state’s attorney since 2008. There is "no endorsement," so every committeeman can do what they want. If Berrios, an ally of Emanuel and the alleged "boss" of the North Side Puerto Rican wards, fails to deliver for Foxx, there will be consequences in 2018. An independent alderman, such as Scott Waguespack (32nd), John Arena (45th) or Proco Joe Moreno (1st), could run against him in the primary. Each could run without forfeiting his City Council seat, developing name recognition for a 2019 race. Without solid black support in 2018, and without Preckwinkle’s blessing, Berrios will be toast.
A brutal 2016 clash will develop in the South Side 5th and 26th Illinois House districts, where Madigan and the public sector unions, the Service Employees International Union and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, have vowed to defeat black incumbents Ken Dunkin (5th) and Christian Mitchell (26th). Their "sin" is straying from Madigan’s orders and not voting as they’re told. If black turnout explodes in 2016, not being a Madigan stooge will be advantageous.
With the filing period closed, 17 candidates are on the ballot for four water district commissionerships, three for 6-year terms and one for a 2-year term. The slated Democrats are incumbents Barb McGowan and Mariyana Spyropoulos, 2014 loser Josina Morita and Tom Greenhaw. Surprisingly, Todd Stroger did not file.
Send e-mail to russ@russstewart. com or visit his Web site at www. russstewart.com.