Can Rahm Emanuel Win Black Voters Back?

Critics say the embattled Chicago mayor needs to address education and violence to regain support.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel at a prayer service for mass park shooting, Sept. 20, 2013 (Scoot Olsen/Getty Images)

“Our communities need reinvestment, and that does not mean closing schools,” she said. “Everything is being taken out of here. There is no housing. There are no schools, but there are vacant lots and abandoned buildings. I don’t think Mayor Rahm Emanuel gets it.

“I have no doubt that he believes what he’s doing is right, but you can’t have two Chicagos,” she continued. “You have to invest in all parts of the city and not just leave the other part to die. The South Side is dying. Between now and 2015, he’s going to need to do more than walk the aisles of grocery stores, shake hands and rename streets to win back the black vote. We need our schools. We need jobs. We need housing.”

While Emanuel’s office declined to respond to The Root’s email question about waning support in the black community, his press secretary, Tarrah C. Cooper, explained his motive for renaming Stony Island Avenue.

“The renaming of Rev. Bishop Brazier Avenue is a fitting tribute to a person who influenced the city of Chicago,” she wrote. “Bishop Brazier was an influential civil rights leader, bringing Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to Chicago to advocate for racial equality and fair housing in our city. Brazier was responsible for numerous housing development projects on the south side and several community education programs, including a $1,000,000 federally funded education project for low-income youth.”

Further, she added that the mayor is committed to keeping the city safe. “Senseless and brazen acts of violence have no place in our city and betray all that we stand for,” she wrote. “As the mayor and Superintendent McCarthy have said, we need stiffer penalties for gun crimes that carry real consequences for illegal gun possession. We need a three-year minimum penalty for [those] illegally carrying a gun on our streets. While Chicago has seen declines in crime, shootings and murders in 2013, there’s much more work to be done and no one will rest until everyone in Chicago has the safety and security they deserve.”

To be sure, wresting control of Chicago’s violence is an ongoing pursuit for lawmakers. Davis told The Root that she supports calling in the National Guard to patrol parks, where many of the shootings have taken place. “It’s something to consider,” she said. “We need solutions.”

Calling in more law enforcement to address the problem is unpopular among lawmakers like U.S. Rep. Danny K. Davis (D-Ill.), whose congressional district has a high concentration of gun violence. (He is not related to state Rep. Davis.)

“The violence we are experiencing is more of an indication of a need for mental-health help,” he told The Root. “Some things people may do because they have the availability of a gun. We do need to reduce the presence of guns in the community. I agree with Superintendent McCarthy that you can do as much policing as you can, but it does not change one’s mental health or state of being.”

As for the mayor’s waning support in the black community, Danny Davis says that election time is a long ways away, but Emanuel does need to show more of a commitment to education. Changing street names isn’t enough.

“Bishop Brazier was one of the most eloquent cats to ever step into a pulpit,” Danny Davis said. “That’s what people will remember come election time. Chicago is a very diverse city. Mayor Emanuel will not win an election catering to one particular group. But he is as astute of a politician as any other. He will figure it out.”

Lynette Holloway is a contributing editor at The Root.