Saturday, November 12, 2011

Meeks’ departure: Yawn. What’s next?

I have to confess that finally learning of the intent of state Sen. James Meeks, D-Chicago, to give up on being an elected government official and go back to his other title, the Rev. James Meeks, didn’t do much to intrigue me.
MEEKS: Back to Rev.

A large part of it is the fact that speculation about Meeks being fed up with the inability of government to act in ways he wanted it to have gone on for so long. I have heard for months that Meeks might seriously decide to leave the Statehouse Scene.

SO HIS ANNOUNCEMENT this week to WLS-TV, along with an aide issuing a statement to everybody else, seemed almost anti-climactic. Like it was about time he decided, now let’s get on with things. Potential replacements already are crawling out of the municipal woodwork.

But more importantly, perhaps it is going to be the Meeks legacy of a guy who kept promising greater and greater things, yet never followed through on any of them.

Perhaps it was all those times he tried to pass himself off as a legitimate candidate for Illinois governor or Chicago mayor, only to find a reason to back out.

In the end, Meeks’ career as a legislator will come to a 10-year period in which he represented a district around the Roseland neighborhood that stretched into the surrounding south suburbs of places like Calumet City, Dolton and South Holland.

HE COULD HAVE become a prominent African-American suburban politician, particularly since the Cook County portion of the south suburbs have become so overwhelmingly African-American in population (that’s where many of those city residents moved to during the past decade).

Instead, he wanted to remain the city-based combination of a pastor and politician – and in the end probably reduced his effectiveness in both roles.

I am aware of the influence that Meeks has as the head of that incredibly huge congregation (in the tens of thousands) at Salem Baptist Church. But he never did a thing to try to extend that influence to anyone who wasn’t already a member of his congregation.

That’s why his campaign for mayor of Chicago never caught on among the masses. He was the candidate who had to drop out early among the African-American possibilities.

AND WHEN HE switched his allegiance to Carol Moseley-Braun, it wound up making him look ridiculous after she finished dead-last among the major candidates (with vote totals that were barely better than the fringe candidates).

Meeks couldn’t do a thing to bolster her. Nor could he bolster himself.

If anything, I think Meeks’ past talk of running for governor was a bigger show of his weakness.

For Meeks made threats to run for governor if people didn’t take him seriously about issues related to education. As though Rod Blagojevich would quake in his pants at the mere thought of the Meeks Machine running amok against him.

IF ANYTHING, BLAGOJEVICH called Meeks’ bluff and didn’t give him a thing in the way of education reforms. It’s almost reminiscent of the 1960s promises that the first Mayor Daley made to the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., only to renege on them once King left the North Lawndale neighborhood.

That may well be why Meeks was unable to get things done to try to improve the quality of education in inner-city neighborhoods.

Meeks always came across as pastor more than politician. Like he expected to go to the Statehouse and have the other 176 state legislators to cater to his whims and desires. He could minister to them, and have them do what he told them to.

Instead, they treated him as just another legislative hack – and one who came from an impoverished district that didn’t have much to offer outside of captive voters.

NOW THAT MEEKS is talking of being just a pastor again once his current state Senate term ends in January of 2013, he may gain more political respect. Although I’m sure a significant part of his legacy will be that of political failure.

How else to explain those token gestures he made back in 2008 to try to illustrate how broken-down the quality of public schools were in Chicago neighborhoods?

When I think of Meeks, the first thought that comes to my mind were his repeated trips that year to New Trier High School in the north shore suburbs. He tried to enroll inner-city kids who didn’t live in the district in those public schools, then turn their refusal into some sort of statement about how those children were being cheated out of a chance at a decent life.

All it did was make he and his followers look buffoonish. And when I choose the word “buffoon,” keep in mind that nearly all of the 177 members of the Illinois General Assembly have their moments that they should be highly ashamed of.

A PART OF me was always surprised that the local school officials didn’t just call the local police and have the whole lot arrested on some sort of trespass charge. Which probably would have been approved of by at least some of the Northfield and Winnetka locals.

So when Meeks returns to his pulpit full-time, he will be going back to a place where he is admired and respected. Perhaps part of it is that the day of the preacher/politician is over.

All those licensed attorneys who prevail at the Statehouse these days were just too much of a mismatch for Meeks.

Who’s to say? Perhaps having spent a decade surrounded by lawyers was a test that assures Meeks his eventual place in the hereafter.


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