In 2011, Black voters formed Rahm Emanuel's political base, but after 23 months of violent crime, unemployment and uncertainty in the public school system, the mayor is trying to convince African Americans, he's still their guy.
The groundbreaking for the $45 million development on South Cottage is proof-positive, according to City Hall, that the Emanuel administration cares about Bronzeville, the historic, as well as symbolic, heart of Chicago's African American community.
"This is the beginning of a new chapter in the history of Bronzeville which is a rich history for the city of Chicago," Emanuel said.
Bronzeville and many other predominantly Black neighborhoods are wracked by violent crime and unemployment, and targeted for the vast majority of school closings. Even his African American political allies said the mayor, who won 59 percent of the black vote in 2011, is now in the crosshairs of Black voters.
"People are angry and the leaders become the focus of their frustration," said 4th Ward Alderman Will Burns.
"Is the criticism of him fair? Certainly," said Illinois Senator Kwame Raoul (D-Hyde Park). "I think the criticism of him would be fair, criticism of me would be fair."
"I know the person my mother raised and my father raised," Emanuel said. "I also know the person who went to work for President Clinton and President Obama."
Emanuel said that during his public life he'd never short-changed the African American community. He said his administration was leveraging $1 billion worth of developments in Bronzeville alone, that the $700 million redline rehab would create hundreds of jobs on the South Side.
He also cited that violent crime was trending downward sharply, and said the school consolidations plan is aimed at improving the 44 percent high school graduation rate for Black males.
"I will never be satisfied with the status quo because as you know, without a high school education you're going to be worse off," Emanuel said.
On jobs, the mayor was less clear about how he would increase the number of African-American workers on city-funded construction sites including the development at 47th and South Cottage.
The mayor has introduced an ordinance in City Council to require city contractors to hire 7.5 percent of the workers on their jobs from the surrounding neighborhoods.
Activists say that's not nearly enough. They want Blacks hired on every job in proportion to their population in the city.