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Obama's Coattails Haven't Helped Rahm With Black Voters

Why black Chicagoans aren't willing to give the president's former chief of staff an automatic pass in his bid for mayor.

Rahm Emanuel greets a potential voter. (John Gress/Getty Images)

It wasn't supposed to be this way.

Rahm Emanuel was supposed to receive a hero's welcome in the black community when he announced his candidacy for mayor of Chicago.

After all, he was chief of staff for the first black president of the United States, who happened to be the cool former congressman from Illinois! Plus, he was senior adviser to President Bill Clinton -- referred to by some as the first black president.

Emanuel was supposed to ride a wave of popularity to his next public office. But so far he has been spurned by some black leaders, ministers and residents who have a "What have you done for me lately?" attitude.

When Emanuel hit the campaign trail earlier this month, he crisscrossed the city and made a stop at a South Side restaurant where a group of men told the Associated Press that he had to convince them he was prepared to make a difference in the black community.

What gives? He's a native of Chicago and lived with his family in "the Chi" while representing the city in the U.S. House of Representatives between 2003 and 2009.

It is unclear whether the disengagement is because Emanuel failed to connect with the black community during his years in Congress or because, given Obama's falling poll numbers, his close link to the president is backfiring.  Some Chicago-based political strategists and voters we spoke to say it is a mixture of both. Emanuel's campaign office did not respond to a request by The Root for an interview.

In any case, it's increasingly clear that he didn't gain momentum with the black electorate from his time in the White House. "Rahm Emanuel is talented, bright and energetic," said Congressman Danny K. Davis, who is himself considering a run for mayor, in an interview with The Root.

"He did work for the president. He got a great send-off from the president when he left," Davis continued. "Many people thought that the president was endorsing him for mayor. I'm not sure that's what the president meant. Now, I know what the president said, and he didn't say anything about endorsing anyone. I'm not sure the send-off has done a lot for him [Emanuel]."

A former director of the Cook County Democratic Party, who asked not to be named, said the fact that Emanuel is close to Presidents Obama and Clinton means nothing to Chicago's black community.