Ward Room
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Why Meeks Can't Reach Out

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Why Meeks Can't Reach Out
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James Meeks needs to learn a few things about broadcasting.

Number one, a broadcast is no place to display a narrow mind. Even when you’re appearing on a niche radio station, like WMBI or WVON, the signals travels all across the city -- even into the suburbs, in some cases.

Last week, Meeks told WMBI, the Moody Bible Institute’s radio station, that the churches of Illinois were “under condemnation” for not stopping the civil unions bill. On Wednesday, he told WVON, Chicago’s leading black station, that only blacks should qualify for the city’s minority contract set-asides.

“I think that the word ‘minority,’ from our standpoint, should mean African-American,” Meeks said. “I don’t think women, Asians and Hispanics should be able to use that title. That’s why our numbers cannot improve, because we use women, Asians and Hispanics, who are not people of color, who are not people who have been discriminated against. We fought for these laws based on discrimination. Now, groups that have not been discriminated against are the chief beneficiaries.”

Meeks was expressing a common grievance in his community -- that other ethnic minorities have unfairly benefited from the civil rights struggles of blacks -- and he probably thought WVON was a safe place to express that sentiment. None of the regular listeners would disagree. But when you’re running for mayor, people all over the city listen. The next thing Meeks knew,he was on Fox Chicago, saying Asians and Hispanics can be minorities, but not white women.

It’s all part of a Meeks’s biggest problem: he’s running for mayor of a diverse city, but he can’t seem to transcend the attitudes of his church and his Far South Side state senate district. At Salem Baptist, it’s OK to talk down gay rights. In fact, it’s considered part of being a good Baptist. In Roseland, it’s OK to say that only blacks should benefit from affirmative action. The neighborhood around 111th and Michigan is 98 percent black, so you won’t find many people who disagree.

The other black candidates in the race aren’t burdened with Meeks’s provincialism: Carol Moseley Braun is from biracial Hyde Park, where she learned to represent blacks and whites. That’s why she won countywide and statewide. Danny Davis’s West Side congressional district runs from the Gold Coast to Oak Park, two strongholds of wealthy, well-educated whites. They can relate to the entire city, something Meeks can’t seem to do.

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