Gapers Block has ceased publication.

Gapers Block published from April 22, 2003 to Jan. 1, 2016. The site will remain up in archive form. Please visit Third Coast Review, a new site by several GB alumni.
 Thank you for your readership and contributions. 


Sunday, December 3

Gapers Block

Gapers Block on Facebook Gapers Block on Flickr Gapers Block on Twitter The Gapers Block Tumblr

The Mechanics
« Early And Often: Free This Week Classroom Mechanics: Annie »

Election 2011 Mon Jan 03 2011

"Old, Racial Games."

Congressman Danny Davis dropped out of the race for the Mayoralty on Friday, endorsing Carol Mosley-Braun, achieving through attrition what Black civic leaders were unable to achieve through acclamation, a "unity" candidate for Black voters.

Greg Hinz, on his blog at Crain's, laments the playing of the "race card" by Black candidates, saying, "Imagine the reaction if a bunch of white ward bosses had met with the stated goal of selecting one white candidate."

This canard stinks enough now for disposing. There are a number of things one needs to imagine before this thought experiment is properly controlled. Imagine first, for example, that white ward bosses represented city residents who made up about 75% of murder victims; imagine next that those white ward bosses represented city residents still living in neighborhoods that were typically 90-98% racially homogeneous as a legacy of segregation; imagine also that those white ward bosses represented wards where the unemployment rate was double that of the other wards. Suppose those white ward bosses were also hearing from their constituents about how the infant mortality rate was approaching Third World levels in their wards. Perhaps those white ward bosses would then have more incentive to work together under a consensus that wasn't merely, "Keep the other race out of power."

In short, the analogy is faulty which makes the thought experiment worthless but for its rhetorical value. There is clearly more urgency for Black "ward bosses" to start with consensus because the problems facing their constituencies are unique and alarming.

All of that said, of course, I'm no fan of the type of identity politics that presumes racial, ethnic, or religious in-groups have to be served by discrete leadership. I'm certainly critical of the type of nationalist rhetoric that creates an us versus them escapist storyline. But the "what if white people did that?" role reversal analogy is impossible.

There's another problem:

But on [t]he eve of Christmas Eve, [Rev. Meeks] changed his mind, declaring that what's really important is to a unify behind the black candidate, because Chicago needs a black mayor -- not a qualified mayor, or a schools-savvy mayor, or a sensitive mayor (at least not according to what he said) but a mayor of one particular race.

This is facile, don't you think? Do you sincerely think that Rev. Meeks doesn't want a "qualified mayor, or a schools-savvy mayor, or a sensitive mayor"? Or could it be that Rev. Meeks, and many other prominent Black leaders, think it's possible to have a "qualified mayor, or a schools-savvy mayor, or a sensitive mayor" that is also Black?

Identity politics are the bane of the proper Left's existence, if you ask me, and are deployed even more deftly by the right (i.e., what the hell is a "Mama Grizzly"?). Telling Black voters they are compelled by in-group loyalty to vote for a Black candidate is not only insulting but detrimental. It's a good thing that that rarely works.

Because Black voters are not as monolithic as defensive white politicians (or columnists) seem to imagine they are. They regularly vote for non-Black candidates in enormous numbers, cf., Daley, Richard Michael. Yes, they may gravitate towards qualified, electable Black candidates, but they certainly cross racial lines when voting more often than "white voters" do. The very fact that Chicago's Black political leadership felt the need to search out a consensus candidate demonstrates that the Black polity in Chicago is sophisticated and complex and that strictly racial appeals wouldn't be effective.

Hinz uses the example of Mayor Washington to shame the current Black leadership for playing the "old, racial games" and I'll agree that Carol Mosley-Braun chiding Bill Clinton for endorsing Rahm Emanuel "given the support that (the African-American) community has given him in he past" is asinine. But it is hardly true that Harold won, as Hinz states, "because he brought liberal lakefront whites" into his coalition. He won despite the general opposition from liberal lakefront whites, who, at the time, were concerned that a Washington administration would mean the type of distributive justice they hated in government, i.e., replacing white patronage with black patronage. Jane Byrne won every north Lakefront ward in 1983.

Let's dispense with the "if whites did it," and start evaluating statements and actions on their own merits. Using the "if whites did it" gauge is just a sort of insta-inflate racial resentment tool. From my count, in every single election, "Black voters" are voting for more white candidates than "white voters" are voting for Black candidates, so let's hold off with the worried hand-wringing for when the nasty stuff actually starts pouring out of the various revanchist and nationalist groups in a few weeks.

GB store

WAJ / January 3, 2011 4:21 PM

Its a bizarre position you stake out as a Meeks defender, when his statements and beliefs oppose your thesis. "Do you sincerely think that Rev. Meeks doesn't want a "qualified mayor, or a schools-savvy mayor, or a sensitive mayor"?"

Lets go to the source, Rev. Meeks on 12/17/10 "The word 'minority' from our standpoint should mean African-American," he said on a recording of the broadcastr "I don't think women, Asians and Hispanics should be able to use that title."

"That's why our numbers cannot improve, because we use women, Asians, and Hispanics, who are not people of color, who are not people who have been discriminated against."

Meeks, on 12/26/10, "The last thing we need as African Americans is a bitter mayoral race where three African Americans split the African American vote"

Notice the attention he pays and the emphasis he places on selecting the best candidate?

This is not surpising for an individual who believes that: "We don't have slave masters, we got mayors..." "But they are still the same white people who are presiding over systems where black people are not able to be educated. You got some preachers that are house n-ggers. You got some elected officials that are house n-ggers. Rather than them try and break this up, they're gonna fight you to protect that white man."

Its clear that he is a black-first thinking individual, rather than an issues-first thinking individual. Its also clear he is a racist.

So the question shouldn't be "what if whites did it", maybe it should be "Why is a racist such as this given credibility and respect in the public sphere?"

Double standards? Justification scenarios? Certain party affiliations?

Ramsin / January 3, 2011 5:20 PM

I'm not interested in defending Meeks, but merely questioning whether wanting a black mayor specifically means you don't *also* want a "schools savvy" etc., Mayor. This reasoning works only if you assume that there is an objective "best candidate" which of course in politics is never the case. That Meeks or others want a qualified, schools savvy, etc., Mayor who also is Black can surely be criticized, but the specific either/or Hinz presented in his column is faulty; the implication being Meeks would take *any* Black candidate over *any* non-Black candidate, and I don't think the evidence is there for that--would he take Alan Keyes over Mayor Daley?

Ramsin / January 3, 2011 5:26 PM

as for the partisan issue, Meeks is of course an Independent, and had a former GOP state chairman as his finance co-chair (Andy McKenna).

Jeff Smith / January 4, 2011 8:12 AM

Ramsin, your comment that "[Washington] won despite the general opposition from liberal lakefront whites" is just wrong. Hinz has it right on that element of his column. The fact that Byrne won the lakefront wards doesn't mean white liberals opposed Harold. Not everybody in the lakefront wards was a liberal! There were pitched reformer-v. Machine political battles being waged throughout the '80s in every lakefront ward and their echoes still resonate today despite many changes.

Few ward or "ethnic" votes were or are monolithic. While Harold lost the lakefront in '83, he still ran strong in many of the wards, and his votes and financial support there were indeed key to his victory.

Other than that, you make good counters to Hinz's piece. As others commenting on his site pointed out, (a) had Mosely Braun not succeeded in getting Meeks's and Davis's support, her candidacy would have been dismissed as playing to a splintered base, and (b) no one seems to be criticizing Rahm for muscling into pole position as the sole white candidate.

Ramsin / January 4, 2011 10:22 AM


I think this is partially a semantic issue, but I have to respectfully disagree and say that your characterization of the importance of lakefront liberals in '83 (as opposed to '86) is overstated. Remember, Hinz said that Washington was successful *because* he "brought in" liberal lakefront whites. But given turnout, Washington could have won without a single white vote--and his support among lakefront liberals ranged between 8 and 21%, according to Gary Rivlin. I just don't see how that makes them some critical part of his tent--remember, that figure isn't for "all whites" its specifically for the lakefront liberal wards, which means between 80-92% of those wards voted against Washington. Seems to me like more of a "despite" and less of a "because".

Jeff Smith / January 4, 2011 2:19 PM


Greg Hinz wrote that Washington "became mayor because he brought liberal lakefront whites and Latinos into his coalition." Hinz's math and memory -- he was covering lakefront politics for the Lerner Papers at the time -- are correct with respect to the '83 general.

While I have seen the argument that Washington could have won the 1983 Democratic primary without a single white vote (lakefront or otherwise), his primary share was only 36% -- he would not have become mayor without white, and especially lakefront white, support. Washington beat Epton by less than 48,000 votes. Washington pulled over 63,000 votes from wards 42, 43, 44, 46, 48, and 49, getting over 40% in 4 of those. Contrast that with the SW side 13th Ward, where Washington got less than 5%. Epton could not have done much better than he did on the NW and SW sides. But if even 40% of Washington's votes in those 6 lakefront wards had swung instead to Epton, Epton would have been mayor.

The stark math is that if you take away Washington's lakefront votes, he loses. Granted not all of those were white: 42, 46, 48 and 49 had significant non-white population. But whites constituted a majority of even those wards (and registered and voted in higher numbers).

James Podesta has documented that Washington worked the lakefront hard the last 2 weeks of the '83 campaign; he knew there were votes to be had there, and that he needed them.
">Paul Engelman recalls that wearing a Washington button was de rigeur in Lincoln Park, and cites David Axelrod as saying that Harold got just enough white and Latino votes to win. The Tribune reported after the election that Washington won in part because he "had support in white liberal wards along the lakefront, where he was seen as the reform candidate." William Bike has written, "If he had gotten only the Black vote, without the Chicago's lakefront liberals and other progressive voters, Washington would have lost."

I am not even sure the argument correctly applies to the 1983 primary. Washington won that election by only 33,000 votes. A swing of only 16,000 to Byrne would have re-nominated her.

But even assuming that in the primary Washington got fewer than 16,000 white votes, I would also dispute that he had "general opposition from liberal lakefront whites." Like the current race, the '83 primary was multi-candidate; not voting for a candidate isn't the same as "opposition." To most liberal lakefronters, a return to a Daley regime (albeit a different Daley) was anathema. Byrne had beaten Bilandic, whereas Washington, in '77, had only gotten 11% of the vote against Bilandic, failing to mobilize black support. On the lakefront, Byrne was seen by many liberals who had no "opposition" to Washington as the more viable candidate not named Daley. And, indeed, without Washington's "stealth" voter registration campaign, she would have been.

Ramsin / January 4, 2011 6:20 PM

I am talking solely about the primary, which is where Washington truly won the election. The Lakefront wards simply were not a part of Washington's *electoral* coalition, even by the math you provided. That he was able to clip enough voters from those wards to win is not equivalent to saying that they were a part of his coalition. Losing 90% of that demographic means he needed to appeal to "just enough" to squeak by. Clearly, the strategy was to win Latinos and behind a huge wave of new Black voters. Remember that Daley won comparably low percentage of low-income Black voters. Trying to get just enough of the Lakefront not to lose is not equivalent to counting on them as his "path to victory."

chris / January 6, 2011 10:52 AM

I think that some of the power brokers in the African American community made the deal that came about with Davis ending his campaign.

I think that Ramsin is critical of the mainstream media, and Hinz specifically. Greg Hinz was writing blog posts about Emanuel that sounded bizarre, such as praising Emanuel's proposal to add police through TIF funds, calling it a TIF reform. TIF reform is having statutory language in the State law that's definitive of what is blighted or needing conservation, not spending money on a general priority of the city through a program that's for development.

GB store


Parents Still Steaming, but About More Than Just Boilers

By Phil Huckelberry / 2 Comments

It's now been 11 days since the carbon monoxide leak which sent over 80 Prussing Elementary School students and staff to the hospital. While officials from Chicago Public Schools have partially answered some questions, and CPS CEO Forrest Claypool has informed that he will be visiting the school to field more questions on Nov. 16, many parents remain irate at the CPS response to date. More...


Substance, Not Style, the Source of Rahm's Woes

By Ramsin Canon / 2 Comments

It's not surprising that some of Mayor Emanuel's sympathizers and supporters are confusing people's substantive disputes with the mayor as the effect of poor marketing on his part. It's exactly this insular worldview that has gotten the mayor in hot... More...

Special Series

Classroom Mechanics Oral History Project
GB store

About Mechanics

Mechanics is the politics section of Gapers Block, reflecting the diversity of viewpoints and beliefs of Chicagoans and Illinoisans. More...
Please see our submission guidelines.

Editor: Mike Ewing,
Mechanics staff inbox:



 Subscribe in a reader.

GB store

GB Store

GB Buttons $1.50

GB T-Shirt $12

I ✶ Chi T-Shirts $15