State Sen. James Meeks is a moonlighter. In addition to his work as a politician, Meeks has a side job, as pastor of a 20,000-member congregation on the South Side. This is understandable, as the state senate only pays $74,000 a year.
But now, Meeks says he wants to keep his weekend gig if he’s elected mayor. He’ll run the city from Monday through Friday, then preach on Sunday. It’s “non-negotiable,” he says.
This bothers some of his would-be supporters, even though preaching has long been a way to build a political career in the black community. Meeks has used his huge congregation as a political army.
“How do you give your time to your church that you need to give to your church when you are the mayor of Chicago, which absorbs your Sundays?” Ald. Carrie Austin told the Sun-Times. “He believes that he can do both because he does both in the same way now. He’s the [state] senator as well ... But, this [being mayor] is a seven-day-a-week job. This is not a part-time job. You can not serve two masters.”
Meeks’s mixture of religion and politics has already gotten him into trouble -- his tirades against homosexuality are inflaming the gay community -- but as Austin points out, it’s difficult to mix business and politics, too, at least in Chicago. In fact, if Meeks wins, he’ll be one of the few Chicago mayors who’s ever suckled from someplace other than the public teat. Mayor Daley has been at it for 40 years, since he was elected to the state’s constitutional convention. Harold Washington inherited a precinct from his father, and went to “work” as a ghost payroller in the city’s legal department, before getting elected to the state legislature. Richard J. Daley began as an alderman’s assistant at age 21, and remained on the government’s payroll for the rest of his life.
The only modern mayor with a career outside politics was Martin Kennelly, who made a fortune in the moving and storage business. And Kennelly was a weak executive, dominated by the political pros on the City Council.
In a city where politics is a business, it’s not easy to mix business with politics. And as Meeks is finding out, when your business is religion, it’s even harder.