Where Was Daley?

On the day after the presidential election Mayor Daley weighed in with his explanation for why the Democrats lost. The Republicans, he said, had become the “party of the people,” while the Democrats had become the “party of the money” and “the insider.”

Hang on a second. Under Daley’s watch Chicago’s reputation as a city of clout and connections has only grown. One brother works at a law firm that represents developers seeking zoning changes from the City Council. Another brother was president of SBC when it sought regulatory relief from the state. His wife has two friends who were part of a consortium that won a lucrative contract to run some newsstands at O’Hare Airport, a deal brokered by one of Daley’s friends. Two of Daley’s former chiefs of staff left City Hall to become lobbyists and help wealthy companies get city contracts. All while Daley himself was piling up millions in campaign contributions from lawyers, contractors, and developers who do business with the city–even though he doesn’t really need the money, having had no real opposition since 1989. And this is the guy criticizing the national Democrats for being a party of insiders and money?

In his postelection analysis Daley went on to deliver a rant against “Washington elitists” who “don’t like faith-based organizations” or people “who maybe read the Bible or read the Koran.” It was strange to hear him getting so worked up over the election after it was over, since he’d shown little interest in it while it was going on. He certainly didn’t do much for his party’s candidate, Senator John Kerry, whom I can’t recall ever making a disparaging comment about anyone’s faith or religious beliefs. Daley didn’t stump for Kerry. Didn’t hold a rally for him. Didn’t fly to other states to speak on his behalf, as Rudolph Giuliani, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and John McCain did for Bush. I know, I know–Daley’s support wasn’t needed locally, because Kerry had Illinois’ electoral votes sewn up. But you’d think Daley would want to help–after all, it’s his party, right?

As it was, Chicago voters did a pretty good job of rallying on their own. Kerry won all 50 wards–including the 41st, which has the city’s only Republican alderman–racking up about 81 percent of the total vote.

Nevertheless registration and turnout were slightly lower this year than in 2000, when Daley’s brother William was Al Gore’s campaign manager. In the Hispanic wards around Little Village and Pilsen turnout was around 50 percent. In black areas on the south and west sides it ranged from 62 to 73 percent. By my conservative count there would have been at least 30,000 more votes for Kerry if blacks and Hispanics had voted at the same rate, 80 percent, as whites.

Again, I know their votes wouldn’t have swung the election. But if Chicago’s an indication of turnout patterns in other big cities across the country, thousands and thousands of people who would probably have voted for Kerry never showed up at their local polling place. And yes, I also know that the pundits are throwing around numbers that show a big increase in the national black turnout, from 10.2 million in 2000 to 13.2 million this year. But as far as I can tell, they’re using unreliable exit-poll numbers. I’m using hard numbers–actual precinct counts.

I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised by Daley’s lack of interest in encouraging a higher turnout among minority voters. He probably remembers what happened in 1982, when Alderman Edward Vrdolyak, then the Democratic Party chairman, helped engineer a massive registration drive in an effort to increase his clout. A huge turnout that fall nearly toppled Jim Thompson, a popular Republican governor. But Vrdolyak never expected that a few months later tens of thousands of fired-up new black voters would help Harold Washington unseat Mayor Jane Byrne, Vrdolyak’s City Hall ally. For the only time in Chicago’s history the black turnout matched the white–80 percent.

The party bosses haven’t made the same mistake since. If anything, they’ve tried to quash participation and intimidate the opposition, ensuring that only party loyalists, however incompetent, get elected. Their attitude toward newly registered voters is like their attitude toward independents–the fewer the better. A small, sleepy electorate is easier to control. (In last year’s mayoral race only about 484,000 people voted, roughly a third of registered voters. Daley, running against a bunch of hapless unknowns, got over 70 percent of the vote.)

Daley’s father, Richard J. Daley, wasn’t any nicer to independents, but at least he was loyal to Democratic presidential candidates. He held torchlight parades and sent out his precinct captains to bring in a big vote. In 1960 he supposedly slowed down the city’s vote counting until the statewide totals came in and he knew just how many west-side votes were needed to put John Kennedy over the top. He was so loyal to his party that in 1972 he held a gala fund-raiser for George McGovern, even though McGovern’s supporters had booted him out of the Democratic convention.

The current Mayor Daley demands loyalty, but he doesn’t give it. Some of his City Hall apologists tell me he withheld his support from Kerry in hopes of getting more goodies from the Bush White House–as if his administration has ever been good to Chicago. Did he forget that federal cuts are among the reasons the city is being forced to consider raising fees, fines, and taxes to meet its budget?

The fact is that Daley’s always cautious about endorsing Democrats. Perhaps he’s worried that some hot Democrat’s going to steal his limelight. In this election he was openly chummy with Bush, going so far as to praise the president’s handling of the war in Iraq. He won’t even say whether he voted for Kerry–he jokingly told reporters that whom he voted for is a private matter. (According to a recent item in Sneed’s Sun-Times column, his son Patrick voted for Bush.) The Boss would have been ashamed.

Blacks for Bush? Not Here

About three weeks before the election the Sun-Times reported that up to 18 percent of black voters might cast ballots for President Bush, according to a poll by the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, a research firm that specializes in polling African-Americans. “Bush is picking up support among self-styled conservative Christian blacks and blacks making more than $60,000 a year,” the paper stated. The president’s “support among conservative Christian blacks is tied to his backing for a constitutional amendment banning gay marriages and his ‘faith-based’ initiatives to funnel federal social welfare funds through church-linked groups.”

Now, I know there have always been black Republicans–it’s the party of Lincoln. I know that some blacks have trouble with gay marriage, that some black churches have received federal contracts, that some people just want to be contrarian. But 18 percent? Even given the wildly fluctuating polls of this election, that seemed way too high.

I decided to conduct my own, admittedly unscientific, survey. On a nice day in late October I stood on the corner of Madison and State for about 15 minutes and asked black passersby how they planned to vote. I couldn’t find a single black person who intended to vote for Bush, and I found only two people who said they even knew a black person who intended to vote for Bush.

According to my survey, African-Americans didn’t like Bush, his father, his brother Jeb, his war, or his stand on affirmative action. They sort of liked Colin Powell but weren’t sure about Condoleezza Rice. They were still upset about the election in 2000, when Bush’s campaign disenfranchised so many black voters in Florida. They weren’t going to be influenced by black preachers who sang Bush’s praises in hopes of getting federal contracts. And they didn’t care about gay marriage. “No way Bush is getting 18 percent of the black vote,” said a man named Joseph. “He’ll be lucky to get five.”

Well, the vote’s in and guess what? The Joint Center was wrong and Joseph was right, at least in Chicago. Roughly 95 percent of voters in the city’s 20 majority black wards voted for Kerry. In the almost entirely black wards–thanks to segregation and gentrification, we still have five of those–Kerry got a whopping 97 percent of the vote.

In some precincts the total vote count was around 400, and Bush managed to get only 8 or 9 of them. In the 26th precinct of the 21st Ward he didn’t get a single vote. Of 296 votes cast, Kerry got 295 and Michael Badnarik, the Libertarian candidate, got one.

I hope these results kill the canard that blacks are more prejudiced against gays than whites are. If a vote for Kerry is an indication of one’s immunity to GOP gay bashing, then gays have no greater friends than Chicago’s African-Americans. In fact, in this city Bush might have more support among gays than among blacks. He won 20.6 percent of the vote in the four precincts of the 44th Ward that surround Belmont and Halsted–Boys Town–which the pols say have the highest concentration of gay voters. Of course, not all the voters in these precincts are gay. But if you could separate out the straight vote, you’d probably still have a surprising turnout for the party of Alan Keyes.

The Bushiest Precinct

Here’s an election-day trivia question. Which precinct in which ward had the highest turnout for Bush? “I’d say it would have to come out of the 19th or 41st wards on the southwest and northwest side,” 50th Ward alderman Bernard Stone told me. Good guess, but wrong. Bush’s best showing was in the 49th precinct of the 42nd Ward–on the near north side of all places. He won 77.9 percent of the vote there, besting Kerry 294 to 81. Even the local alderman, Burton Natarus, was surprised. “I didn’t realize it until I saw the numbers,” he says.

The precinct–bounded by Wells, LaSalle, Chicago, and Oak–contains a big subsidized-housing complex with a large contingent of Jewish immigrants from Russia. “Here’s what happened,” says Natarus. “[Former New York City mayor Ed] Koch came out in favor of Bush, and that had a big impact. Even though Jews are very sensitive to economic and social issues, the status of the state of Israel is important. But you should know, I came out strong for Kerry. We carried every single precinct–except for that one.”

Alan Keyes: Stranger Than Fiction

Charles Edwards is a former City Hall press aide who wrote America’s First, a steamy political thriller about Calvin Smart, a black man from Chicago who gets elected to the U.S. Senate from Illinois. “I wasn’t thinking about Barack Obama when I wrote my book,” he says. “My book came out in 2000, and Barack wasn’t even well-known back then. But since Barack won the nomination, people have been calling me to point out the coincidences.”

Edwards lists them: “Calvin’s physical description is almost the same as Barack’s. Calvin’s wife’s physical description is like Barack’s wife’s. Calvin’s parents are dead. Barack’s parents are dead. Calvin’s grandfather’s a cook. Barack’s grandfather’s a cook. Calvin went to Harvard Law School. Barack went to Harvard Law School. It’s eerie, man.”

In Edwards’s book, which has been optioned for a movie, Calvin goes on to become the country’s first black president. “I hope that happens to Barack,” says Edwards.

Edwards didn’t predict a Republican opponent like Alan Keyes. “Everything about Keyes, including how he wound up running for senator, is stranger than fiction,” he says. “I don’t have the imagination to make him up.”

If Keyes has a literary forebear, Edwards says, he’s in Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man. He cites a passage in which a small southern town’s leading white citizens, drunk on whiskey, insist on a bare-knuckled fight between the bright, young black narrator and Tatlock, a brawny black boxer: “[Tatlock] kept coming, bringing the rank sharp violence of stale sweat,” Ellison writes. “His face was a black blank of a face, only his eyes alive–with hate of me and aglow with a feverish terror.”

Edwards says, “It didn’t work, but I guess the Republicans thought they were making a smart move, bringing in a black guy to fight another black guy. That way Keyes can rough him up, but Obama can’t play the race card. Keyes is definitely out of Ellison–like he stepped right out of the book.”

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photos/Joeff Davis.