Ward Room
Covering Chicago's nine political influencers

Opinion: What Mitt Romney Can Learn From Mayor Daley

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Here’s a drinking game you can play while watching the Republican National Convention. It’s called Spot The Minority. Every time you see an African-American or a Latino on camera, pound a beer.

Bet you won’t need more than a six-pack.

The most recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll found that Romney is pulling 28 percent of the Latino vote and 0 percent of the African-American vote. That’s right. Zero. Not a single black person who answered the phone is voting for Romney. As one wag said, the convention is designed in a patriotic color scheme: red floor, blue seats, white delegates.

Romney has made “Chicago politics” one of his campaign’s boo lines, but he could learn a lot from a Chicago politician who was once in the same situation. In 1989, State’s Attorney Richard M. Daley was running his second campaign for mayor. Chicago’s black community, still mourning the death of Harold Washington, was determined to hang on to the mayor’s office. Daley, the white candidate, ran as a Democrat. Ald. Timothy Evans, the black candidate, ran as the nominee of the Harold Washington Party. The swing voters were Latinos, who had helped elect Washington as part of a “black-brown” coalition.
    
Daley was able to win over the Latino community by taking advantage of a blunder by 10th Ward Ald. Edward Vrdolyak.

Vrdolyak was the face of the white ethnic backlash against Mayor Harold Washington. After the ethnics lost their City Council majority to a mongrelized caucus of blacks, Latinos, WASPS and Jews, Vrdolyak made a decision guaranteed to kill any political career in Chicago: he ran for mayor as a Republican. His Latino precinct captains refused to follow their boss into the party of Ronald Reagan.

“Hey, that’s it,” one reportedly told Vrdolyak. “I cannot knock on a black or a Latino door and tell them, ‘We’re Republican.’ And you just lost your job in a steel mill? I’d get my ass kicked.”

Instead, they defected to a bigger boss. In a back room at G’s, a South Chicago tavern, one of Daley’s henchmen promise the precinct captains in exchange for supporting Daley's campaign. That was the birth of the Hispanic Democratic Organization, the toughest political mob in Chicago.

Daley got only 7 percent of the black vote in the 1989 election, but as he consolidated his power, and the memory of Harold Washington faded, he eventually won black wards against black candidates.

Can Romney do the same with Latinos? In 2004, George W. Bush won 44 percent of the Latino vote, which helped him carry Florida, Colorado, Nevada and New Mexico. But Romney is in a bind. In order to prove his conservatism to the Republicans’ white, nativist base, he’s had to adopt anti-immigration positions that antagonize Latinos.

“He called Arizona’s harsh new immigration policies a model for the nation and…not only promised to veto the [DREAM] Act, he castigated Texas governor Rick Perry for giving in-state tuition to undocumented immigrants,” writes Melba Newsome in Playboy.

Meanwhile, Obama signed an executive order to stop deportation of young undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. by their parents.

“Romney can’t embrace the policy without angering his base, and he can’t denounce it without further alienating Latinos,” Newsome notes.

As the nation becomes more diverse, Republican voters become less so. Romney may not be able to reverse that, but the nominee who follows him will have to.

 This month, Ward Room blogger Edward McClelland’s Young Mr. Obama: Chicago and the Making of a Black President will be available on Kindle for $2.99. Tracing Obama’s career in Chicago from his arrival as a community organizer to his election to the U.S. Senate, Young Mr. Obama tells the story of how a callow, presumptuous young man became a master politician, and of why only Chicago could have produced our first black president.

Related Topics Opinion, Daley, Vrdolyak
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