Uniting Voter Pool Key For Chicago Mayoral Hopefuls
MICHEL MARTIN, host:
I'm Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News.
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But first, we go to Chicago, where the election season kicked off yesterday. It was the first day candidates could present their petitions for getting on the ballot. Now, Election Day in Chicago is still a ways off. It's not until late February. But this is the first time in more than 20 years that the campaign for mayor will be wide open. Current Mayor Richard Daley, who was first elected in 1989, has decided not to run for another term.
So here to tell us who is who, and what is what, in the race to lead America's third largest city, we've called upon Mary Mitchell, a columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times. Also with us, Maria de los Angeles Torres, a longtime Chicago politics watcher, and the director of the Latin American and Latino studies program at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Welcome to you both. Thanks so much for joining us.
Ms. MARY MITCHELL (Columnist, Chicago Sun-Times): Hello.
Professor MARIA DE LOS ANGELES TORRES (Latin American and Latino Studies Director, University of Illinois at Chicago): Thank you.
MARTIN: Mary, let me start with you. What was it like yesterday in the Loop in downtown Chicago, with all of these candidates kind of tossing their hats in and doing public events, and crisscrossing the city? Was it festive, or was there a sense of oh no, here we go.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Ms. MITCHELL: Well, oh no, here you go - I think we haven't gotten there yet. I think it is still very - people are very hopeful. Everyone has their supporters. Every candidate has their own little group of supporters and - now, they're poised for what I think is going to be a very feisty campaign. No one's willing to say at this point that there's a possibility that they won't win. Everyone's a winner here. So I think that we saw - more festivities than, you know, any kind of down feeling.
MARTIN: Okay. And Maria, now, of course, I think many people around the country will have heard that, you know, former White House chief of staff, also a former congressman from Chicago, Rahm Emanuel, has thrown his hat into the ring. We understand that former U.S. senator and former presidential candidate Carol Moseley Braun is also throwing her hat into the ring. But are there other candidates who are well-known in Chicago, perhaps less well-known nationally, that we should take note of?
Prof. DE LOS ANGELES TORRES: Well, I think there is Meeks, who was a pastor and also a state-elected official. And in the Latino community we had three viable candidates: congressman Luis Gutierrez; Miguel del Valle, who's a city clerk; and Gery Chico, who is the former chief of staff as well - as Rahm Emanuel was to Daley - has sat on the park district, city colleges and the school board. So there are a lot of candidates.
Luis Gutierrez has actually dropped out. I understand he's meeting with the president this afternoon on the issue that he cares very much about -immigration, which I think will actually come into play here in Chicago as well. So it will be interesting.
MARTIN: So he's not going to run. Luis Gutierrez is not going to run.
Prof. DE LOS ANGELES TORRES: No. He's decided that he needed to be in the Congress. This is a very important issue for him. And at the end of the day, even though he was polling first and had the capacity to raise national money since he's the best-known Latino politician in the country, decided that he would best serve his issue in Congress.
MARTIN: Mary Mitchell, what about the Rahm factor? We understand that he's actually getting protests around town as he's made public appearances.
Ms. MITCHELL: Well, you know, I think the Rahm factor is highly overrated. I think it's like media hype. The reason why I say that is because in earlier polls -and he did not poll first. I mean, in a lot of ways we're treating him - and when I say we, I mean the media - treating him as if he is the star. He is star in name only, meaning that he came from the Obama administration. He's closely linked to the White House. But locally, he's been gone for quite a while, and there are other names that are much more known, much more popular in Chicago. James T. Meeks is one of them.
And the reason for that is because Meeks has been the education reform person consistently talking about education, education reform, reform of education funding. And that's going to be a major issue in this campaign. So I think that the Rahm factor is kind of overrated.
MARTIN: Mary, he's been gone for two years.
(Soundbite of laughter)
MARTIN: That's really a long time in Chicago politics? Gosh, don't go out for a sandwich.
Ms. MITCHELL: Well, he's been gone long enough - in Washington long enough and connected with Washington in a way that many people in Chicago just cannot appreciate him coming back and saying, okay - being treated as if now, he's the conquering hero.
Prof. DE LOS ANGELES TORRES: I actually would agree with that because I think the protest he was met with were mainly in the Latino community, and precisely because he's been gone, but also because Rahm Emanuel was the architect of taking the Democratic Party to the right. He's the one who created the Blue Dogs. He's the one who told them all to run on anti-immigration, and that was a very short-lived strategy, as we have seen in midterm elections. So he comes back to a city of immigrants, basically with his past as being the architect of anti-immigration frenzy.
So I think he is going to have a hard time selling himself to the city. He created his first foray into education, as Mary has just said. He creates a committee - and there are no African-Americans and only one Latino, when you have a host of Latinos who have been involved, actually, in educational reform. We have two candidates, including Gery Chico, in the Latino community, that that is their issue. So there is something missing...
MARTIN: Gery Chico being the former school board chief.
Ms. MITCHELL: Right.
Prof. DE LOS ANGELES TORRES: Right. Exactly - who broke a lot of ground in many schools throughout the city and, you know, held it as many school districts were going, spiraling down, held it to a certain level. So I think that Rahm is going to have trouble.
I think Mary's absolutely right. He has been anointed, and there is this sort of idea that the business community is behind him. I mean, I know a lot of African-Americans and Latino businesspersons, men and women, who are not in that camp. So I'm not sure what business community they're talking about.
MARTIN: If you're just joining us, you're listening to TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm Michel Martin. We're talking about the Chicago mayoral campaign season, which officially kicked off yesterday. Yesterday was the first day that people could present their petitions to get on the ballot. Our guests are Mary Mitchell of the Chicago Sun-Times, and Maria de los Angeles Torres of the University of Illinois at Chicago.
So Maria was just telling us that congressman Gutierrez, who was the top - who was polling in the top - poll early on, has taken himself out of it. He says he'd rather stay in Washington and work on issues of importance there. So Mary, who are the other people who are polling in - polling very early?
Ms. MITCHELL: Well, you know, I would say we already talked about two of them, Gery Chico, we talked about - well, we didn't talk about Danny Davis. Danny Davis is the other name. He hasn't - there haven't been any polls yet taken of where Danny would fit. But the bottom line is that he's a very, very popular congressman. He's well-known - the name factor - he's well-known in the African-American community as well as the Latino community, and also on - in the Caucasian community.
He represents a district on the west side that includes some lakefront liberals. And he has been known, and has built his career, on being an advocate for the low-income community. His latest issue has been ex-offender reform, their reintegration into society and back into neighborhoods. So he is that - now, if there was any star power, and if there was any wow factor, I think that Danny Davis coming into this race would be it.
MARTIN: So tell me about - who has the potential for, you know - clearly, you're hearing a lot of groups have a strong attachment to particular individuals, whether that person has represented their community in Congress, whether that person has been appreciated for his or her stance on certain issues. Clearly, somebody's got to put a coalition together, right? So who do you think has the potential to do that? Or are there any coalitions forming at this early stage? Mary, do you want to take that question first and then Maria, you follow up.
Ms. MITCHELL: Right. I think it's too early to talk about coalitions because this is an - unfortunately for some, this is a race that really centers around racial politics, meaning that there are people who when you, you know, you look at it, who wanted a consensus black candidate to put out there so that the black vote would not be diluted. The same thing with the Hispanic community -they wanted a consensus candidate - would like to have had a consensus candidate because their strength in voting is voting on that bloc.
And also, when we talk about - and Maria already mentioned this - when you talk about the business community, that is code word for the white community coalescing behind Rahm Emanuel. So first off, they have to get through the open election and then hopefully after that, after all those politics and racial politics and groups come together, they can then build a coalition in a run-off situation.
Prof. DE LOS ANGELES TORRES: Right. The other thing that I think is really exciting, though, is that both in the African-American community and the Latino community, there - we have an open field. And to the extent that it does represent that these communities are complex - they're not monolithic; they bring lots of different interests and needs to the table - what may be happening is the building of smaller groups with very deep roots that after the open election, these groups will actually have galvanized, and then that is when the coalition will come in.
I mean, coalitions are being built every day. I mean, I think Carol Moseley Braun is the only woman in the race right now. She is certainly crossing across communities in the city.
Ms. MITCHELL: Which has gotten her in a lot of trouble.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Prof. DE LOS ANGELES TORRES: Well, it has gotten her in a lot of trouble, too, but...
MARTIN: What has gotten - I'm sorry, I didn't hear that. You're saying...
Prof. DE LOS ANGELES TORRES: We were talking about forming coalitions and one of the candidates, Carol Moseley Braun, has gotten herself in a bit of a jam with the African-American supporters in that she is building her coalition involving Victor Reyes, who is known mostly for his work as a Hispanic Democratic -organization.
And then she's also reached across the board and gotten Mr. Noonan -unfortunately, I can't remember his first name now. But the point of the matter is that he's known mostly as an ally of the Daley administration and a close ally of Mike Madigan, which is not seen as something that these African-American supporters wanted to see. So she's forming a coalition, and to her own detriment within some African-American groups.
MARTIN: So coalitions, but not yet - I'm sorry, unfortunately we're out of time, but stay tuned. Obviously, there's going to be a lot to talk about. Mary Mitchell is a columnist at the Chicago Sun-Times. Maria de los Angeles Torres is the director of Latin American and Latino studies at the University of Illinois in Chicago.
They were both kind enough to join us from member station WBEZ, Chicago Public Radio. And something tells me they're going to keep talking after I let them go. Thank you both so much for speaking to us.
Prof. DE LOS ANGELES TORRES: Thank you.
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