On Monday, I spoke to a book club about my book, Young Mr. Obama: Chicago and the Making of a Black President. And I got a question that had nothing to do with Obama.
“Do you think Toni Preckwinkle will run for mayor?” a woman from Lincoln Square asked me.
My answer: I hope so.
Preckwinkle is not only the only politician who can defeat Rahm Emanuel, she has a good chance of doing so. As a Hyde Park independent and an African-American, Preckwinkle can bring together the same magic coalition that elected Harold Washington as mayor and Obama as senator: lakefront liberals and minorities. (Washington, Obama and Preckwinkle all hail from the neighborhood that's been a cradle of black leadership for the city and the nation.)
Emanuel won the 2011 election with the votes of affluent lakefront dwellers and blacks who were motivated by Obama’s endorsement of his ex-chief of staff. Preckwinkle could capture votes from both those communities.
I'm having a hard time finding many black voters—outside of appointees, contractors, and aldermen—with nice things to say about Mayor Emanuel's administration.
Even though lots of black people voted for him.
Admittedly, there's nothing scientific about my survey. It mostly consists of me going up to anyone of any race, creed, or color and asking: (a) Did you vote for Mayor Emanuel? and (b) If so, are you happy with what you got?
And the overwhelming response from black people goes like this:
Yes. And—hell no!
The black community has been looking for a champion ever since Harold Washington died of a heart attack. They’ve gotten a succession of losers who can’t come up with a platform beyond racial solidarity: Timothy Evans, Roland Burris, Joseph Gardiner, Bobby Rush, Dorothy Brown and Carol Moseley Braun, whose “Harold to Carol” campaign garnered 9 percent of the vote. Preckwinkle is a post-racial politician who can reach outside the community. She’s so post-racial she married a white man -- in 1969.
White liberals also like Preckwinkle because she stood up to Mayor Richard M. Daley by voting no on the parking meter, cut Todd Stroger’s county sales tax hike, and cut the county budget. Unlike Emanuel, Preckwinkle has never looked at politics as a way to get rich. Preckwinkle was a schoolteacher, a famously cheap profession, and takes her fashion cues from Miss Jane Hathaway on the Beverly Hillbillies. Also, as a former Chicago Public Schools teacher -- she began her career at Calumet High School -- Preckwinkle is better informed about education and would run the district with more sensitivity than Emanuel.
The drawback to Preckwinkle’s candidacy: at 68, she would be the oldest person to take office as mayor. But lifespans are longer than they once were, so she’d probably be good for two terms. That would break the modern tradition of mayors serving longer than popes. It would also be one term more than Emanuel has shown himself to deserve.