It happens every election year in Chicago: some political pundit comes forward and predicts the demise of one candidate or another because he or she was an opponent of Mayor Harold Washington during Council Wars.
In his profile of LeRoy Martin’s Republican candidacy for Cook County sheriff (October 30), Ben Joravsky wondered if incumbent Democratic sheriff Mike Sheahan might fall victim to some sort of backlash because he often voted against Washington when he was a member of the City Council more than a decade ago. Martin, an African-American, could upset Sheahan on election day with a big turnout in Chicago’s black wards–or so Joravsky theorized.
As it turns out, there was a big turnout in the predominantly black wards, but LeRoy Martin didn’t benefit from it–Mike Sheahan did. The sheriff was reelected by a whopping 42 percent margin, and he carried nearly 70 percent of the black vote, without the benefit of straight-party voting.
This year marked the third time Sheahan has run for Cook County sheriff. He was opposed by an African-American candidate on all three occasions, and each time his opponent found a friendly reporter to do a story about how black voters were doing to rise up and defeat Sheahan. It never happened. Perhaps African-American voters are more sophisticated than LeRoy Martin, Ben Joravsky, and a host of other pundits think.
Based on the election results, it’s safe to assume factors like party affiliation and the candidate’s record in office are far more important to black voters than the candidate’s race. Mike Sheahan has increased minority hiring in the sheriff’s office (52 percent of the department’s sworn positions are now held by minorities), and he has put in place a number of rehabilitation programs for nonviolent offenders that are very popular in inner-city neighborhoods that have been devastated by drug-related crimes.
Those who miss the good old days of Council Wars may find it hard to accept, but the race for Cook County sheriff was a referendum on Mike Sheahan’s job performance, not the color of his or his opponent’s skin.
Press Secretary for
Sheriff Michael F. Sheahan