Monday, February 28, 2011

How embarrassing WAS Chicago Election Day for African-American voter bloc?

HENDON: Has time passed him by?
Depending on whom one wants to listen to, Rickey Hendon is retiring from the state Senate (and electoral politics altogether, if his “out is out” statement is truthful) because he’s ill, he thinks it will help him avoid an indictment or because he’s embarrassed by “pathetic” vote totals by African-American voters in last week’s municipal elections.

Now I’m not sure which of the three is most accurate, although I can’t help but think that some people who talk about indictments are merely eager to reinforce their own racial hang-ups. But the one that catches my attention is the latter.

MANY GROUPS DIVERSE in ethnicity and religion experienced victories in the election results – the numbers provide evidence of their growing influence in the Chicago of the 21st Century.

Yet influence is like a pie, in that no matter how many different ways one tries to slice it, there’s only so much to go around. So if ethnic politicos experienced gains, it only makes sense that someone had to lose out.

And it sure wasn’t the old order Irish-American politicos who lost anything – even if Mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel were to dump 14th Ward Alderman Edward Burke as chairman of the Finance Committee.

Was it the black voter bloc that lost out?

IN HENDON’S CASE, he tried to use his influence as a black politico to tout the campaign of Patricia Horton for city Clerk. It would have been a rise from her post as a board member of the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District.

Instead, she got whomped, barely taking 40 percent of the vote in a head-to-head campaign against state Rep. Susana Mendoza, D-Chicago.

The new clerk becoming the first Latina to hold that particular Chicago citywide office is a gain for Latino political empowerment, and it came about because the Latino voter bloc that was split by about a 2-1 ratio between mayoral hopefuls Gery Chico and Miguel del Valle found common ground for Mendoza.

Thereby giving her a solid base of voter support that Hendon and other black politicos couldn’t overcome on Horton’s behalf.

OF COURSE, THE mayoral campaign itself factors into this.

The official figure that will be recognized is 59 percent – as in the number of black voters who are believed to have voted for Rahm Emanuel to be mayor, rather than Carol Moseley-Braun, the so-called consensus candidate of the African-American activists.

There’s also the fact that Moseley-Braun couldn’t win a single ward, and in fact only one a majority of votes in 1 precinct (out of just over 2,900 precincts in the entire city).

By comparison, Chico’s mayoral campaign actually won the majority of 10 wards, and even got significant votes in places preferred by Emanuel.

IF THERE WAS a racial/ethnic factor at work in this election cycle, it was one of white and Latino, not white and black such as what existed back in those un-glorious days of 1983.

Now I think it would be overly-simplistic to write this off as a growing political feud between Latino and black voters in Chicago, in large part because I think the people most eager to promote THAT view are the ones who want to stir dissent in hopes that it will enable them to maintain control.

But it also is a factor that will have to be accounted for as Chicago takes steps to being a city with equal numbers of Latinos, black and white people. (As it is, we’re pretty close now – the 2010 Census results for Illinois released two weeks ago show Chicago with 33 percent black people, 32 percent white and 29 percent Latino – with Asians of various ethnicities comprising the remaining 6 percent).

If anything, the Census results may provide the biggest clue as to what happened on Election Day – there probably aren’t as many black voters.

THE RESULTS THAT show Chicago as a city with just under 2.7 million people indicate that the bulk of the 200,000-person population “loss” was of black people who moved to the inner south suburbs of Cook County – with many of those municipalities becoming majority African-American.

Which also pares up with the fact that the outer southern suburbs of Will County is the place that had the largest percentage increase (just under 35 percent) in Illinois, and gained about 183,000 people. Now we know where many of the remaining white people went, and that “white flight” remains alive – albeit not quite an urban concept anymore.

Think I’m exaggerating? I covered a criminal trial recently at the courthouse in Joliet and heard the lead defense attorney at one point during a recess talk about his family ties in the Bridgeport neighborhood that he still feels, even though, “We’ve all moved out here now and taken over.”

For the city’s white population in the past decade remained relatively stable in terms of numbers, although it shifted around to different neighborhoods.

WHICH MAY WELL mean that Hendon probably shouldn’t feel embarrassment. Maybe he did the best with the remaining number of African-Americans in the city who are registered to vote.

It means we’re going to have to think in these multi-ethnic terms when it comes to defining our city. Black and white (or white and “other,” the way some people prefer to think of it) just aren’t accurate anymore.

And if Hendon can’t accept that fact, then perhaps we should praise him for resigning his legislative post. At least it means he’s accepting that he’s a part of our city’s past, unlike some other activists who will try to carry their ways of doing things into the future on a quest that bears all too much resemblance to the Chicago Cubs saying each year that they’re really, really, really going to win a National League championship.


No comments: