In Chicago politics, 100,000 voters is a magical figure.
In 1982, U.S. Rep. Harold Washington was asked to run for mayor by a coalition of black leaders who felt disrespected by the administration of Mayor Jane Byrne, who had created a white majority on the Chicago Housing Authority Board. Washington agreed to do so on one condition: “Give me 50,000 new voters, and I’ll run.”
The registration drive that followed added 100,000 new black voters to the rolls. His demand met doubly, Washington ran -- and won.
Ten years later, a Washington, D.C., lawyer named Sandy Newman was looking to expand Project Vote!, his minority empowerment project, to Chicago. To head the registration drive, he hired a young Harvard Law graduate named Barack Obama. Modeling his campaign after the effort that swept Washington into office, Obama signed up 150,000 voters. He was helped by the fact that Carol Moseley Braun had won the Democratic primary for Senate that March. The black community, depressed since the death of Harold Washington, was once again excited about politics. Obama’s effort helped Moseley Braun, too: she won the general election with 54 percent of the vote.
Now Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis wants to repeat that trick. Lewis, who is Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s leading political adversary, wants to register 100,000 voters. Her goal: get rid of Rahm Emanuel.
It worked for Harold. It worked for Carol. Will it work for whoever the CTU chooses to run for mayor?