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Poor Showings Leave Black Candidates Blaming Media in Chicago Mayoral Race

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By La Risa Lynch and J. Coyden Palmer, Special to the NNPA from The Chicago Crusader –

Three little elements played a major factor in the poor showing Tuesday of the three Black mayoral candidates – little money, little daily media exposure, and little turnout by Black voters doomed Carol Moseley Braun, Patricia Van Pelt Watkins, and William “Dock” Walls. They filled the bottom three slots in a six-person race to replace outgoing Mayor Richard M. Daley.

The defeat caused Walls, often described as “the perennial candidate”, to say Tuesday was his last race as a candidate. Watkins told the Crusader she is likely to continue pursuing political office but had not decided which one. Braun outlined a path for the city, but not a personal one. She wished Emanuel well “in his taking up the reins of government.”

But, she stressed the city must work for everyone not just those with a Wall Street agenda. “We will continue to make the case that the homeless, the hungry, and the unemployed deserve our attention and our support as well as La Salle Street,” she said. “If this city doesn’t work for them, it doesn’t work for no one.”

Following her concession speech at the Parkway Ballroom, Braun and her supporters ignored the many public gaffes during her campaign and blamed a lack of major Black funders for her inability to raise enough money to air radio and television commercials.

Members of Braun’s inner circle, former NBC 5 reporter Renee Fergurson, who served as communications director, and John W. Rogers Jr., founder of Ariel Capital Management, echoed each other regarding Braun’s fund raising efforts. Ferguson said big money dumped into Braun’s opponents’ campaign war chest worked against her.

“We know we were up against a huge amount of money,” Ferguson said. “We also know that our community’s business people are hurting, and they didn’t have the money to support us.” John Rogers Jr. backed Braun’s campaign early on. “It hurt her significantly that we were not able to raise as much as we had hoped. The money just wasn’t there,” he said.

“It was extraordinarily disheartening.” He points to the dire economic condition effecting Black businesses for the campaign’s financial woes. The election of the city’s first Black mayor Harold Washington was fuelled by Black businesses, like Ed Gardner’s Soft Sheen.

“We don’t have the same kind of progressive successful business leaders that are free to support progressive candidates,” he said. Watkins maintained that the daily (non-ethnic) news media carried the messages of Mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel to the detriment of all other candidates.

“They fed him [Emanuel] to us for breakfast, lunch, and dinner,” Watkins said. “There was no way to get around it. Even our children knew his name. Maybe that has happened in the past and I didn’t notice it because I wasn’t in the race, but I understood it this time. They [daily media] had chosen a leader already and they protected him. They looked over all of his faults and didn’t report on any of his shortcomings other than he had a bad temper. It was a lopsided race and we have to find a new way of communicating with voters.”

Like Watkins, Walls said the daily media did the city an injustice by creating an “air of inevitability” about Emanuel, which made it too difficult for the other candidates to get their message out. “When the media comes out and clearly says that ‘you are the heir apparent and you are the next mayor,’ people get on the bandwagon, including the people with money,” Walls said.

“When you’re able to raise $14 million, you’re able to buy up support in all corners and consistently run television commercials.”

For Watkins, it was the culmination of a campaign that saw her most publicity come from not what she said, but from what rival Carol Moseley Braun said during a community forum, in which she referred to Watkins as the woman who would not have known Braun’s accomplishments because she was “strung out on crack.”

That was the first time the daily media ever paid any attention to Watkins, a community activist and North Side native who grew up in the Cabrini Green Housing projects. At 3 p.m. Wednesday with all but 10 of the city’s precincts reporting, 41.7 per cent or 587,362 of the city’s 1.4 million registered voters had cast a ballot.

Emanuel garnered 55.25 percent of the votes with a total of 322,120 ballots. Gery Chico finished second with 139,716 votes representing 23.96 per cent. Miguel del Valle attracted 9.28 per cent with 54,110 votes and was closely followed by Braun with 8.97 per cent for a total of 52,280 votes. Watkins recorded the vote for a total of 9,573 votes for 1.64 per cent and Walls had 0.9 per cent representing 5,272 votes. Watkins said it is time for the political leadership in the city to start addressing the problem of how to rebuild the African American family.

Watkins said too many children in the Black community are raising themselves, whether they come from a two-parent home or not. Watkins added that Black residents must also demand equal access to employment and city services. “You only get these things when you begin to amplify your voice as a community after having a good understanding of what the problems and solutions are,” Watkins said.

Conversely, Walls said the issue of race is passe’ in city politics. Walls, who served as an aide for Mayor Harold Washington, the city’s first African American to hold the position, said he was surprised by the campaign of Carol Mosley Braun and her insistence that she be the “Black unity” candidate. Walls said the political climate has changed dramatically since 1983 when Washington was elected, and older Black politicians have to learn to stop playing the “race card” in elections.

“Maybe they’ve learned their lesson this time,” Walls said.

“We have to transcend race at some point. I hope this election was an opportunity to do that. Barack Obama was elected President of the United States despite Blacks making up less than 12 percent of the population. We have socioeconomic similarities with other communities and those things transcend race.”

Race apparently wasn’t a factor with some of the residents in the same 27th precinct of the Fifth Ward where Braun lives. The reasons for Hyde Parkers to vote against Braun were varied, but it was clear the beneficiary was Emanuel. It was Braun’s business dealings that moved Kate Hannigan’s to vote for Emanuel. Hannigan waited outside Ray Elementary School, 5631 S. Kimbark, for her husband to return from casting his vote.

“It don’t have a lot of confidence in the businesses she ran, and it makes me feel a little less confident in how she would run the city,” Hannigan said.

“Rahm, I do believe, would run with an iron fist, [and] I’m OK with that.” It was a process of elimination for Kelly Carroll. Carroll didn’t care for Gery Chico and believed Miguel del Valle wouldn’t stand a chance. Too many missteps on Braun’s part also excluded her. “Carol was out of the race because of her ill-advised comments that she made throughout,” Carroll said.

“That was unfortunate because I would love to support a woman.” The mayor’s race, she added, also got too divisive over selecting a consensus candidate to represent the city’s Black community.

Carroll said that became problematic and dissuaded her from backing any of the named candidates vying for the title during the election’s early days. “I would have been happy to support some of those candidates until that came up,” she said.

For Adolph Rogers, it was Emanuel’s business acumen that garnered his vote. Rogers said he was impressed that Emanuel was a self-made millionaire and has a commitment to public service. “He hasn’t been missing for 10 years like Carol Moseley Braun,” Rogers said. “Chico, he may have been around for a while, but I never heard of him on a political level in Chicago. And, the others don’t seem to measure up as far as the experience they have.” James McCormick cast a symbolic vote for Miguel del Valle. The Hyde Park resident predicted a run-off, between Rahm Emanuel and Gery Chico based on recent news polls.

“I voted for del Valle.” McCormick said. “He seemed like the most progressive candidate, and given that I feel it is a symbolic vote, that is the best way I felt I could make my own values heard.”

While checking on polling places, Alderman Leslie Hairston stopped to talk to the Chicago Crusader. Hairston, who serves as Democratic ward committeeman, was ensuring Fifth Ward polling places had everything they needed. Hairston had yet to cast her ballot that election day morning, but said this is an exciting time for Chicago residents. “This is the first time in 22 years where people will actually have a choice with creditable candidates,” Hairston said.

The election, she added, will not only shepherd in a new mayor, but also how the city council operates. There are 11 open aldermanic seats in the municipal election.

Watkins travelled to different high traffic areas – such as Ms. Biscuit on South Wabash and Wallace’s Catfish Corner on W. Madison Street looking to talk with voters after seeing how empty her polling place was on election day. She visited another site where there were three polling places in close proximity to one another and said there were more judges and poll watchers than voters. “It was like people were hiding out, like they didn’t believe they could do anything about their circumstances,” Watkins said.

“I think the low voter turnout and mindset that we can’t change anything is unfortunate for the city.”

Despite her poor showing, Watkins got just under 10,000 votes, she said she will not go away quietly into the night and is accessing her next move. She would not rule out another run for political office, but said she will need time to reflect and strategize for her future.

Two of Braun’s most notable supporters Congressman Danny K. Davis and Bobby L. Rush had differing views of Braun’s fourth place finish. Davis said he was surprised by Braun’s near 9 percent showing. He says that resulted from a lack of a political organizing machine within the Black community.

“I never would have thought that 9 percent would have been the number,” Davis said. Also the Obama factor did not help. Davis explained, many — especially in the Black community — viewed President Barack Obama’s characterization of Emanuel’s time in the White House as a thinly-veiled endorsement. “There were people who took all of that to mean that the president was endorsing Emanuel,” he said.

Regardless, Davis said he plans to work with mayor-elect Emanuel “to make sure that federal policy reflects the needs, the hopes, and aspirations of the people of Chicago. And, we’ll move on.”

Rush noted “the voters spoke, either by their actions or lack of action.” In the dimly lit Plush Lounge on the city’s Near West Side, Walls watched the returns with his wife and about two dozen supporters. The drab mood inside the establishment was symbolic of Walls’ campaign. He finished with a little over 5,200 votes, garnering him less than 1 percent of the total ballots cast. The Crusader spoke him early on election day. Walls said he is done running for political office and plans to practice law in the future.

Earlier in the day Walls visited several polling places throughout the city. He said it became clear that Emanuel was going to win in a landslide as all of his exit polling showed the mayor-elect was doing well in every neighborhood. “I think the people want a mayor who they can believe in and apparently Rahm Emanuel is that person because he got an overwhelming percentage of the vote and that’s a mandate, especially when you had a lot of other good candidates,” Walls said.

Walls said despite his unsuccessful run, he believes he was able to raise several issues that would have never been talked about. Walls is in favor of mayoral term limits, something he pushed throughout his campaign and said the Chicago Public Schools system needs to be completely revamped to have dozens of good schools, instead of just a few elite ones.

Walls supporter Tania Hawkins told the Crusader after she voted in her South Side ward that Walls came off as the most articulate of the six candidates and based her vote on the candidates political stance. She said she was not influenced by the television or radio ads of other candidates because she saw those as “orchestrated advertisements” and to truly gauge a candidate, she watched the debates and how candidates responded to questions put to them by journalists.

“To me Walls is the only one who seems to have an idea of what the people of Chicago are going through and he has no political ties, which means he doesn’t owe anybody,” Hawkins said. “I never thought he would win, but I couldn’t bring myself to voting for any of the other candidates because I didn’t like their messages.”

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+1 # Guest 2011-03-03 08:32
Braun wasn't defeated by Emanuel, she was defeated by Braun.
She is an unqualified, opportunistic train wreck whose eye was more on once again mismanaging funds than managing a city. Kudos for Chicago's black voters for having the insight and integrity to not support her..
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-1 # Guest 2011-02-28 20:00
If God wanted Watkins in office she would be there. Let the Reverend practice what she preaches. What measure she has measured other is offered back. She isolates her self with her own rhetoric . Watkins had a whopping 40000 petitions signed to get on ballot and less than 10,000 votes. HUMMMM> something went wrong somewhere.
We can always blame someone though.. the blame game
is now the final laugh she now offers us. Glad she running for something again someday we need the entertainment, but LORD let it not go any further than that or we are in trouble.
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