As race becomes a defining theme of 2014's hyper-competitive Illinois governor showdown, Republican Bruce Rauner—angling to dethrone Democratic incumbent Pat Quinn—has recruited African-American allies to film video testimonials endorsing him.
The GOP hopeful has attracted an unexpected wave of support from several leaders within Chicago's large and electorally powerful African-American community on the South and West sides. Urban black voters are among Gov. Quinn's core base of supporters; without them, he's essentially toast. Following Rauner's recent endorsements from pastors Corey Brooks and James Meeks, and his controversial donation of $1 million to a South Side credit union owner, Quinn enlisted longtime congressman Bobby Rush to charge up the base with allegations that the wealthy Winnetka investor is trying to buy the election.
"I don't know him," Rush sniffed of Rauner earlier this month. "But he thinks that just because he is rich and got a lot of money that he can buy these people and people who look like these people. Well, he is mistaken. We're not for sale. We are for Pat Quinn."
Meanwhile, Team Rauner has accused Quinn of basically the same thing: Leveraging an anti-violence program, the now-defunct Neighborhood Recovery Initiative, as a "political slush fund" that funneled money into predominantly African-American wards in exchange for votes amid 2010's gubernatorial race.
In a televised debate this week at the DuSable Museum of African American History, the rivals squared off on the subject of who can best upgrade conditions for black Chicagoans. "Gov. Quinn in my opinion is taking the African American vote for granted," charged Rauner, drawing a group of anti-Quinn protesters who were reportedly paid to stand outside the debate. Quinn countered: "All my opponent does is grow his bank account and that hurts everyone."
Earlier Rauner's campaign released a series of ads featuring Brooks, Meeks and businessman Dr. Willie Wilson explaining why they're breaking rank to vote for a guy from the northern suburbs. All three make a strong case, with Brooks lamenting: "The economy is worse, more people are out of jobs, our educational system is definitely failing and there's a lack of hope in our community."
Taking a dig at Quinn, Meeks opines: "The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. ... Why would we do the same thing again?"
Here's Wilson, an entrepreneur-philanthropist: "I've been a Democrat all my life. It changed when I got kind of, like, wise enough to understand that we're being taken for granted."
All told, do the trio's pro-Rauner remarks hold much sway over a diehard Democratic voting bloc? Not really. Quinn's connections run deep—and so does party loyalty—but as we've seen from the racially charged backlash brewing against him, the governor is learning that some votes are not his for the taking.