Is Chicago past racial elections?

February 23, 2011 4:47:21 PM PST
Much of Mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel's support came from Chicago's predominately black wards even though Carol Mosely Braun was considered the community's consensus candidate.

Emanuel won 40 of the city's 50 wards while Gery Chico picked up the remaining ten. Braun finished a distant fourth in Tuesday's election, which was a disappointment to many in Chicago's black community.

Some say Emanuel's huge support from African-American voters is tied to his strong connections with President Barack Obama and former President Bill Clinton. Others, including presidential advisor David Axelrod, call Emanuel's victory proof that Chicago is ready to move on from racial politics.

Emanuel will be the city's first Jewish mayor. He won the race with more than 50 percent of the vote in several predominantly African American neighborhoods. There were three black candidates on the ballot, but not one won a single ward.

"I think it demonstrates for African-Americans 40 and under that we live in a post black era really reflected in the last election," Maze Jackson, political consultant. Jackson said the post black era is one where voters vote qualifications over race.

But not all African-American voters are ready to buy into post racial politics.

"I think it is really hard to generalize about black politics in one election cycle," Alderman-elect Will Burns, 4th Ward, said.

Burns, who was elected as 4th ward alderman by a landslide, said there wasn't enough time to field a good African-American candidate, build the infrastructure and raise money. Northeastern University professor Robert Starks said the older generation of leaders like Jesse Jackson and Bobby Rush have done a poor job of grooming the next generation's African-American leaders.

Starks believes the idea of a consensus candidate remains a sound one. "Most people still feel they need to have a sense of voting for their own ethnic group."

Starks says post racial politics must work both ways

"While blacks still overwhelmingly vote for white candidates, white candidates don't overwhelmingly vote for black candidates, except Obama," Starks said.

Starks says he will not be convinced there is a post racial era until white voters overwhelmingly support an ordinary African-American candidate. Burns says black politics is in a transitional period where the younger generation is beginning to emerge.