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Former Illinois GOP Chair introduces Meeks at campaign kickoff

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Disclaimer:  This is meant to be frank analysis.  Chicago is the most segregated city in America and the political units are almost entirely racial or ethnic.  I wish it wasn’t this way, but it is.


Yesterday Illinois State Senator James Meeks officially announced that he’s running for mayor of Chicago.

What was more interesting was who introduced him at his announcement, former Chairman of the Illinois GOP Andy McKenna.

Besides counting on support from his 20,000-member Salem Baptist Church, the minister from the Pullman neighborhood announced that ComEd CEO Frank Clark and former state Republican Party Chairman Andy McKenna Jr. will lead his mayoral bid’s fundraising efforts.McKenna introduced Meeks at the campaign kick-off event Sunday evening on the campus of the University of Illinois-Chicago.

McKenna’s support for Meeks stems from their shared views on school vouchers. Meeks, whose church has run a private school since 1990, is a rare Democrat who favors the concept of letting students use taxpayer-funded vouchers to pay tuition at private schools.

Meeks is going to have to forge an unconventional coalition if he’s going to be the next mayor of Chicago.  If normal racial politics play out, Rahm is going to be the next mayor.  The racial breakdown in Chicago is roughly 40% black, 40% white and 15% hispanic.  Rahm managed to shoulder out the other white contenders early on, and there’s a huge vacuum in the hispanic community because Luis Gutierrez isn’t running.  Meanwhile, the black community seems to be in danger of being fractured, as today Danny Davis announced he’s running and Carol Moseley Braun isn’t really keeping it a secret she’s going to be in it as well.  If this election is going to be like every previous Chicago election, Meeks, Braun and Davis will slug away at each other for the black vote while Rahm courts hispanic leaders and wins with over 50% no problem.

But, probably more than any other candidate, Meeks has the ability to shift the normal paradigm.  He’s going to get a lot of votes from the black community, there’s no question about that.  Salem Baptist, Meeks’ church, has 20,000 members who love him.  That makes for a nearly obscene campaign apparatus.  He can also speak with more bass in his voice because he’s always had his own power base, so he’s never had to fight over Mike Madigan‘s scraps like the black Democratic establishment has had to so many times.  People are going to be drawn to that.

He also has a unique connection to white conservatives, and this is where things could get interesting.  Chicago is a fiscal disaster.  Just a couple of years ago they sold the parking meters to a private company for the practical equivalent of forever and now there’s only $65 million left.  While blowing through all of that money Chicago still has a $600 million deficit.  Rahm Emmanuel is running as the new Daley, and I think there are a lot of people who, if pressed, will admit that there are no happy ending down the road Chicago’s going.

James Meeks has always made it a point to reach out to white conservatives, while still grandstanding enough to stay credible.  He led a lot of cooperative ministries with Willow Creek Community Church, a mostly white, very rich, nondenominational evangelical church in South Barrington.  He made a lot of friends amongst Illinois Republicans and conservatives when he spearheaded a school vouchers bill for the poorest neighborhoods in Chicago.  And he has now made a clear point that he is going to reach out to white conservatives.

The question is, how many conservative white voters are there in Chicago?  Chicago has very significant Irish and Polish populations that, despite being consistent Democrats, would not be what anyone thinks of when they think of the left-wing.  They’re both very catholic and very old-school communities and would probably be open to finding someone other the pro-abortion and jewish Rahm Emmanuel.  That said, those communities have always loved Daley, and as Rahm seems to be Daley’s choice as an heir, I find it hard to believe that their visceral antisemitism would be so powerful to make his word cease to matter. Still, Meeks is pro-life and anti-gay marriage, which could certainly open some doors into these communities.

Then there are the finance guys.  Although most finance guys moved off to the suburbs a while ago, these guys definitely wish they had a guy they could back for mayor.  If Meeks goes with a somewhat disguised fiscally conservative rationale, he could get a lot of institutional support from the white community that otherwise would probably line up behind Rahm.

Going this route, one or both of Braun and Davis could start to drift out of serious contention, and Rahm would have to spend time that he’d like to use courting the hispanic community trying to keep his white base from disintegrating.  This means Meeks and Emmanuel would have an actual fight on their hands over the hispanic community.  Despite being a small community as compared to the whites and blacks, it is a very politically organized community, especially ever since hipsters started moving into Logan Square and Pilsen.  In other words, get your popcorn ready.


2 Responses

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  1. How could you discuss mayoral bids and the Latino vote without factoring in Miguel Del Valle and Gerry Chico?


    November 15, 2010 at 6:00 pm

    • I like Chico, I really like his reserve fund idea (although it’d be raided within seconds no matter what the law said), but neither are going to be mayor and I’m pretty sure hispanic community leaders aren’t going to seriously consider making themselves irrelevant in the actual power struggle. Gutierrez had the ability to get serious earned media, Chico gets his fair share, but his coverage is a lot like Hendon’s, it wasn’t putting him up as a genuine contender.

      Or I could be completely wrong.


      November 15, 2010 at 6:12 pm

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