What the Chicago Mayor’s Race Says About Black America

With 20 mayoral wannabes, including a hypnotherapist and seven black candidates, there's been lots of drama in Chicago lately. But we should all be concerned about the inability of black Chicago to rally behind one office seeker.

From left: Carol Moseley Braun; Danny Davis; Rahm Emanuel
From left: Carol Moseley Braun; Danny Davis; Rahm Emanuel

If you know anything about Chicago-style politics — particularly when it comes to the open mayoral seat that is available for the first time in more than a generation — you know that having a consensus African-American candidate is important to many black Chicagoans.

If you know anything about black America in general, you know that having a consensus within the African-American community (as we used to have on several key issues in previous times) is perhaps more important.

And, as of yet, unattainable.

If for no other reason than to highlight the macro issues inhibiting black unity and progress in 21st-century America, African Americans should treat the February 2011 mayoral election in Chicago as a national phenomenon. How Chicago goes is often the way black America goes.

There’s been plenty of melodrama in the mayoral campaign: Twenty candidates, including a hypnotherapist and a music producer, lined up for a chance at Mayor Richard M. Daley’s seat. Among them have been seven black candidates, including former U.S. Ambassador to New Zealand and former U.S. Sen. Carol Moseley Braun and Congressional Black Caucus member Rep. Danny Davis. (Friends tried to draft former Sen. Roland Burris to run, but he declined.)

This week, Davis asked Bill Clinton not to campaign for Rahm Emanuel, lest the former president damage his relationship with the black community. And just last week, State Sen. James Meeks withdrew from the race, urging other black candidates to drop out and throw their support behind a single black candidate.

“My friends, I come before you today to say that our city — and our community — is divided,” Meeks said in a statement. “As long as our community remains divided and splintered — to the specific advantage of the front-running, status quo candidates — we will never see things improve. We need to speak with one voice.”

None of the remaining candidates took him up on it.

Just as the search for a black “consensus” choice in Chicago along the lines of a Harold Washington has yielded little to date in the Windy City, in the same manner, we collectively fail to find consensus on the pressing matters that are affecting our communities at a crisis level.

The failure to do so in Chicago at this time, perhaps, is troublesome, although restoring and uplifting struggling citizens of Chicago can still occur without the sought-after consensus. However, black folks nationally should glean a lesson from the consensus battle on the shores of Lake Michigan this winter, because unlike Chicago, black America whittles away viable opportunities for healing and advancement for itself and its youth without some consensus on priorities and methodologies to address the severe issues wrecking our families and neighborhoods.