January 30, 2019


The year 2019 is not 1983. Toni Preckwinkle is not Harold Washington. And Preckwinkle's precipitous plunge in mayoral polls, due almost entirely to publicity surrounding her ties to indicted Alderman Ed Burke (14th), has punctured her aura of inevitability and invincibility.

Taking $138,000 in donations from Burke is not helpful.

(Many politicians, including state comptroller Susana Mendoza have received campaign contributions from the embattled alderman. Some have since given back the money in an effort to distance themselves from Burke.)

But it seems that this connection to Burke has dampened enthusiasm among African-Americans over the possibility of electing a black Chicago mayor in 2019. And, most notably, it has impacted aldermanic contests in the city's 18 black-majority wards. A low black turnout on Feb. 26 means a low aldermanic turnover, meaning probably 16 of the 17 incumbents seeking re- election will prevail, with only Toni Foulkes (16th) going down.

Recent polling shows a 10 percent ceiling in the 14-candidate contest, with Preckwinkle and Bill Daley around 9 to 10 percent, Susana Mendoza around 12 to 15 percent, Garry McCarthy, Paul Vallas, Gery Chico, Lori Lightfoot and Willie Wilson in the 5 to 8 percent range, and the rest scraping the bottom. It should be remembered that when Preckwinkle announced her candidacy for mayor in November, after winning re-election as county board president, she was deemed the frontrunner and was polling at more than 20 percent. And it was deemed a certainty that she would gather 70 to 80 percent of the city's black voter base, numbering one-third of the 1,503,353 registration pool, and finish 1-2, setting up a Preckwinkle-Mendoza runoff. That may not be the case anymore.

If African-American voters are un-energized, if liberal white voters have soured on Preckwinkle as a "reformer," and if other black mayoral candidates (Wilson, Lightfoot, Amara Enyia, La Shawn Ford and Neal Sales-Griffin) chip away at her racial base - which they will - then a Daley-Mendoza runoff looks likely.

The only certainty is that undecided voters are holding strong at 35 to 38 percent, and that percentage is not moving. No candidate has developed voter rapport, confidence or campaign momentum, and voters do not want to choose until necessary, which means in the April 2 runoff. If current trends persist, the Feb. 26 turnout will be very light, with undecided voters not voting.

Chicago's African-American population is about 788,000, primarily scattered among 18 wards, of which 13 are on the South Side. Wards 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 and 8 are along the lakefront, stretching from Bronzeville to Hyde Park, all east of the Dan Ryan Expressway. Wards 9 and 34, are south of 95h Street to the suburbs, east of Pulaski, and Wards 16, 17, 18, 20 and 21 are west of the Dan Ryan to Western Avenue. And five are on the West Side, with Wards 27, 24, 28, 29 and 37 stretching from the West Loop through Lawndale to Austin, along the Eisenhower Expressway.

The economic, demographic and cultural striations are stark, and largely geographic. Crime and unemployment are highest and income is lowest on the West Side. Crime and unemployment are lowest and income highest along the Lakefront/Hyde Park corridor. White gentrification from the West Loop is accelerating, along with Hispanic encroachment from both the north and south of the Eisenhower, pushing West Side blacks either into Maywood and near west suburbs or to the Southwest Side, from where middle-income blacks are moving to the Far South Side, and others to the northernmost southern suburbs, where those more prosperous are moving southwestward into and beyond Oak Lawn in Cook County or into northern Will County.

The main commonality among black voters, both Chicago and suburban, is that they vote Democratic versus any Republican (see chart), and they vote universally along racial lines in contests where a candidate is deemed racially unfriendly or undependable. Clinton won 377,613-14,706 in the black wards. And Preckwinkle-backed Kim Foxx obliterated incumbent Anita Alvarez's vote (see chart) in the 2016 state's attorney primary after allegations that Alvarez conspired to suppress the Laquan McDonald video. Foxx won 229,919-31,433 in the black wards. Turnout was 400,000 in the 2016 general election and 280,000 in the 2016 primary.

Take the 2015 Emanuel-Garcia runoff: The choice was diffuse, it was not an us-against-them situation, and black turnout collapsed. Emanuel won 57.6 percent of the black vote.

Being alderman is deemed a splendid job opportunity. It pays $107,000, offers a staff, has $1.3 million per year in menu money, and permits donations from those the alderman satisfies. Burke has $9,726,595 in his account, by the way..

It's all about motivation, mentors and money - and luck. Keep running until the incumbent screws-up. Catch an anti-incumbent wave. Find a bankrolling mentor. Hope the FBI is around. Just don't quit.

27TH WARD (West Loop): Walter Burnett Jr. is technically running for Secretary of State, not re-election. He anticipates that his mentor, 84-year old Jesse White, will vacate his job during 2019-2022, and that J.B. Pritzker will appoint him. Burnett won with 74.1 percent in 2015. He will beat Cynthia Bednarz. The ward will be majority-white by 2030, so Burnett's clock is ticking.

29TH WARD (Part of Austin and Galewood): Police sergeant Chris Taliaferro beat incumbent Deborah Graham 6,702-6,262 in 2015, despite an influx of money from Emanuel and Madigan sources. The ward is about 30 percent white, absorbing Galewood from the old 36th Ward. Taliaferro is pro-police and has $16,610 on-hand. He faces Zerlina Smith and Dwayne Truss. Taliaferro wins with 75 percent.
37TH WARD (Austin): Emma Mitts was appointed in 2000 when Percy Giles was convicted, and is a don't-rock-the-boat, pro-mayor kind of alderman who is pro-business and brought a Walmart to the ward. She won with 53.1 percent, topping teacher Tara Stamps 5,340-4,734. Stamps is running again, with CTU backing. Mitts may seem tiresome, but she will squeak to another term.

28TH WARD (Garfield Park): Incumbent Jason Ervin is focused not on his re-election, which is a given, but on his wife's campaign for city treasurer. Ervin is trying to build a West Side power base, preparatory to a future bid for Danny Davis's 7th District congressional seat.

8TH WARD: Michelle Harris did not cover herself in glory when she ran against the much-maligned Dorothy Brown in the 2016 Clerk of Court primary and lost handily. She was recruited and slated by the party, and later endorsed by Preckwinkle. But her hold on the 8th Ward, where the legacy of the Stroger Clan remains undiminished, is solid. She has four opponents and will push hard for the Preckwinkle/Harris duo. The alderman's nightmare is being in a runoff, and Preckwinkle losing "Round One." Harris has $415,000 on-hand.

20TH WARD: The seat is open because Willie Cochran, alderman since 2007, got himself indicted for corruption. Ten candidates are running, the most formidable being Democratic committeeman Kevin Bailey and Jeanette Taylor, who has union support. They will be in a runoff.

16TH WARD: Revolve and resolve. The ward is a residue of two wards, going through four aldermen since 2011. Foulkes won in 2007, was to face another alderman in 2015 in a remapped ward, but that alderman died. Then Foulkes beat Stephanie Coleman, daughter of a former alderman, who then beat Foulkes for committeeman in 2016, and will prevail in 2019.

21ST WARD: Incumbent Howard Brookins has been living on the edge for some time. After losing to Alvarez in 2008, Brookins' ward base eroded. He won with 55.3 percent in 2011 and 51.1 percent in 2015, but none of his 2019 foes have much money. Brookins wins.