With Jesse Jackson’s Chuy Garcia Endorsement, Black Leaders Begin to Unite Against Rahm Emanuel

García could be on his way to building the cross-racial coalition needed to unseat Emanuel and become Chicago’s first Latino mayor.

Miles Kampf-Lassin March 9, 2015

The Rev. Jesse Jackson's endorsement of Jesus "Chuy" García is a major boon for Rahm Emanuel's progressive challenger in the race for Chicago mayor. (Chicago for Chuy)

The Rev. Jesse Jack­son on Mon­day became the lat­est high-pro­file black leader in Chica­go to throw their sup­port behind Cook Coun­ty Com­mis­sion­er Jesús Chuy” Gar­cía in the city’s may­oral runoff election.

“His entire life has been dedicated to working to help make the world a more fair, just and equitable place for all. I have no doubt that Chuy will be a great mayor for the city of Chicago,” said Congressman Danny Davis.

Cit­ing the dilap­i­da­tion and lack of devel­op­ment or invest­ment in Chicago’s low-income African-Amer­i­can areas under Rahm Emanuel, Jack­son chid­ed the may­or: We lose 50 schools, and 50 drug stores, and 75 gro­cery stores; thou­sands of vacant homes and aban­doned lots.”

Of his deci­sion to sup­port Gar­cía, Jack­son said, He has a con­sis­tent track record of ser­vice, and we trust him and believe that he will assume the bur­den of respon­si­bil­i­ty to work with us to recon­struct where we live.” 

Gar­cía is locked in a tight race with the well-fund­ed but embat­tled incum­bent Rahm Emanuel, whose $30 mil­lion war chest has so far appeared unable to blunt the momen­tum on his pro­gres­sive challenger’s side.

Jack­son was joined in his endorse­ment by a num­ber of oth­er black min­is­ters, includ­ing Rev. Leonard DeV­ille. On Sat­ur­day, Gar­cía was endorsed by Team­sters Local 743, a union rep­re­sent­ing 10,000 work­ers. And on Sun­day, Gar­cía gained the pub­lic sup­port of Con­gress­man Dan­ny Davis, anoth­er promi­nent black leader in Chicago. 

Chuy Gar­cía has spent more than 30 years advo­cat­ing for pro­gres­sive pub­lic pol­i­cy in our city,” said Con­gress­man Davis. His entire life has been ded­i­cat­ed to work­ing to help make the world a more fair, just and equi­table place for all. I have no doubt that Chuy will be a great may­or for the city of Chicago.”

Davis’s endorse­ment is also sig­nif­i­cant as the con­gress­man had pre­vi­ous­ly thrown his sup­port behind may­oral chal­lenger Willie Wil­son in the first round of vot­ing, a busi­ness­man who was able to cap­ture over 10 per­cent of the vote on Feb­ru­ary 24, and whose vot­er base was pre­dom­i­nant­ly in the city’s African-Amer­i­can com­mu­ni­ties on the South and West sides. 

Both Gar­cía and Emanuel have been active­ly court­ing Wil­son to receive his endorse­ment, and the for­mer may­oral hope­ful has already pub­licly stat­ed that he plans to vote for Gar­cía on April 7, though wants to con­sult his sup­port­ers before mak­ing a for­mal endorse­ment. This con­sul­ta­tion has report­ed­ly includ­ed sev­er­al phone calls with new Illi­nois Repub­li­can Gov. Bruce Rauner, encour­ag­ing Wil­son to back Emanuel. But Davis’s sup­port could be key in this regard, help­ing to move black vot­ers to Gar­cía even if Emanuel man­ages to win over Wilson. 

Cap­tur­ing the city’s African-Amer­i­can vote over the next four weeks will be the key to deter­min­ing the next may­or of Chica­go, as recent polls have shown the race neck-and-neck, with 18 per­cent of vot­ers unde­cid­ed, many in large­ly African-Amer­i­can areas. In the last round, Emanuel received 42 per­cent of the vote in pre­dom­i­nant­ly African-Amer­i­can wards while Gar­cia received 26 per­cent. The remain­ing 32 per­cent was divid­ed between oth­er chal­lengers, includ­ing Wil­son; both cam­paigns now see those votes as for the taking. 

Emanuel’s sup­port in the city’s African-Amer­i­can com­mu­ni­ty has been cra­ter­ing ever since the city’s first teach­ers strike in 25 years in 2012, as well as the mayor’s deci­sions to close 50 pub­lic schools large­ly in black and Lati­no neigh­bor­hoods, pri­va­tize pub­lic ser­vices and shut down pub­lic men­tal health clinics.

Gar­cía has come out strong­ly against Emanuel’s poli­cies in all of these areas, and has the back­ing of the pow­er­ful Chica­go Teach­ers Union and its pres­i­dent Karen Lewis. How­ev­er, long­stand­ing ten­sions and dis­trust between the city’s black and Lati­no com­mu­ni­ties may be play­ing a part in keep­ing African-Amer­i­can vot­ers from ful­ly embrac­ing García. 

Of course, May­or Emanuel has his own high-pro­file African-Amer­i­can sup­port­er with great pop­u­lar­i­ty in Chica­go: Pres­i­dent Barack Oba­ma. But while Oba­ma is still beloved in much of the city, his sup­port for Emanuel in the last round (includ­ing a pub­lic event in the week ahead of the elec­tion and appear­ances in cam­paign ads) proved not enough to pre­vent the first may­oral runoff elec­tion in the city’s history.

Since the Feb. 24 elec­tion, Emanuel has sought to soft­en his image with vot­ers through a new cam­paign ad many have read as a mea cul­pa of sorts for the may­or’s brash style. This change in cam­paign approach appeared to be quick­ly con­tra­dict­ed, how­ev­er, as Emanuel report­ed­ly screamed at men­tal health activists in a closed-door ses­sion at a pub­lic meet­ing on Wednes­day night, demand­ing they respect him. 

If Gar­cía’s recent endorse­ments are any indi­ca­tion, he could be on his way to build­ing a coali­tion across racial lines that would send him to the fifth floor of City Hall, becom­ing Chicago’s first Lati­no mayor.

By high­light­ing his close rela­tion­ship with the late May­or Harold Wash­ing­ton, Karen Lewis, as well as his boss, Cook Coun­ty Board Pres­i­dent Toni Preck­win­kle (who has mulled pub­licly back­ing Gar­cía but has so far stayed neu­tral), Gar­cía can show the breadth of his rela­tion­ship with black lead­ers in the city — and poten­tial­ly pull off one of the biggest upsets in the his­to­ry of Chica­go politics.

Miles Kampf-Lassin, a grad­u­ate of New York Uni­ver­si­ty’s Gal­latin School in Delib­er­a­tive Democ­ra­cy and Glob­al­iza­tion, is a Web Edi­tor at In These Times. Fol­low him on Twit­ter @MilesKLassin

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