Community leaders discuss the likelihood of a formal coalition 

Photo from NBC Chicago
Photo from NBC Chicago

Capturing a winning bloc of Chicago’s African-American and Latino voters will become a major issue in the build up to the April 7th mayoral runoff election, political strategists, campaign insiders and community activists said this week.

“The winner will bring people together, not divide them,” said Hermene Hartman, publisher of N’digo, a popular Chicago-based news outlet, at a Monday forum on race and politics sponsored by the Chicago Headline Club and Positive Vision.

But Hartman and others on the panel pointed to frictions between the black and Latino communities, saying that these are likely to surface in the campaign battle between Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Cook County Commissioner Jesus “Chuy” Garcia.

Indeed, Ameshia Cross, the Chicago-based national diversity and outreach director for the Young Democrats and an Emanuel supporter, said in an interview that the runoff campaign would divide rather than bring together the two communities.

She also downplayed the likelihood of a black-brown coalition.

Talk about the power of black and brown voters has grown, as Chicago has become a majority-minority city. The 2010 US Census showed that blacks account for 32.9 percent of the city’s population and Latinos make up 28.9 percent.

The two communities “don’t share the same policy initiatives or promote them in the same ways. You will be hard-pressed to find two communities that are as separate as the African-American and the Latino communities. I think this election will shed some light on that,” said Cross.

She said that the decline in Emanuel’s support among African-American voters “was not a vote for Chuy,” but rather was a vote against Rahm. “I believe that would have happened regardless of who the opponent was. I think in April we will see a lot more people motivated to come out and vote,” she added.

Emanuel won 59 percent of the black vote in 2011, dominating all of the 18 majority black words. This time, however, he swept the black vote in only six wards and suffered losses in all of the other majority black wards as compared to the vote four years ago, according to figures from the Chicago Elections Board.

But Delmarie Cobb, a 25-year veteran of Illinois political campaigns is confident that a black brown coalition will take place, and put Garcia in the mayor’s office. “Black voters will be the margin of victory,” she said in an interview.

“I think even though Rahm won the black wards and Garcia was second in the black ward and number one in the Hispanic wards, the African-American vote is the one that can turn this whole thing around. We have far more (registered) voters than Latinos voters.

“We already know what the current mayor thinks of us. What we don’t know is if Jesus will be the answer to turning around our neighborhoods. The mainstream media can make the election about pensions, or bonds or ratings or any of that.

“The one issue for African-Americans is what are you going to do about our neighborhoods, our community.”

“I think we can pull that same coalition together that we had for Harold. Harold Washington had 80 percent of the Latino vote. The black-brown coalition that everyone has worked on can come together for the betterment of the city, and that is what this will be about – the betterment of the city.”

“It is in the interest of those who have become part of the establishment to be with Rahm. We now see who is part of the neighborhood and who is part of the establishment. You get to see who the 88 percent is and who the 1 percent is,” Cobb explained.

Sylvia Ewing, one of Garcia’s top campaign staffers, said that his campaign recognizes the need to bring together black and Latino voters.

“We are collectively progressive people who understood the only path to victory is to come together as a Black-Brown and generally progressive collaboration. We also have the Young Progressives for Chuy and young people from all communities and ethnic groups, who are supporting the campaign,” she said in an interview.

Officials from Emanuel’s campaign could not be reached for comment.

Alvin Boutte, a second-generation political kingmaker in Chicago’s black community, echoed Cobb’s prediction that Garcia will be able to form a coalition among black and Latino voters.

“The idea of a black-brown coalition is only new to people on the outside. There almost always has been a black-brown coalition in the city and Cook County,” he said in an interview.

Influential Democrats, especially Cook County Assessor Joe Berrios, Water Board Reclamation District Commissioner Tim Bradford and County President Toni Preckwinkle “are at the front of forging these kinds of relationships,” he said.

Boutte’s prediction is backed by long-time Garcia friend and fellow Enlace board chair Maurice Sone. Garcia was a founder of the Latino community organization.

“Chuy’s candidacy has rekindled the alliance forged between Chicago’s African-American community and Hispanic community from the Harold Washington days. I think we will see a stronger number of black people and Latinos coming out for Chuy in April. His history has always been a black-brown coalition,” Sone said in an interview.

The West Side attorney said that Garcia “will have to continue the message he has been giving and that is he will be mayor for everybody and not just the downtown of the city. I think now that is down to a one-on-one runoff it is his opportunity to get that message out more broadly.”

Luis Perez, a North Side political consultant, who has been involved with African-American and Latino campaigns, said that Garcia’s message has a basic appeal to the two communities.

“They’re getting involved (with Garcia) because they are not hamstrung by ethnicity. They see the reform movement needs them because regardless of what color, their lives are being put on hold by current policies,” he said in an interview.

Want to read more? Check out this piece in the Chicago Reporter.

Photo from NBC Chicago.