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Mayoral candidates hit the streets, but some community members want more substance

by Gabrielle Levy
Feb 01, 2011

Gabrielle Levy/MEDILL

Miguel del Valle celebrates Chinese New Year.

With early voting beginning in Chicago this week, mayoral candidates are kicking into high gear. They’re shaking hands at “El” stops, schools, grocery stores, and even at an event celebrating the Chinese New Year.

But with just three weeks until the election, leaders in some minority communities on the South and West sides say they haven’t heard enough of substance from front-runner Rahm Emanuel on issues that are specific to their areas.

The Rev. Ira Acree of the Greater St. John Bible Church in Austin said Carol Moseley Braun made a campaign stop at his church in January, but that Rahm Emanuel hasn’t spent enough time in the neighborhood.

“She made her case about why she should be the one for their vote,” Acree said. Emanuel has yet to attend any events or forums in the African-American neighborhoods on the West Side, Acree said, adding “He’s ditched every debate in this community.”  

Emanuel cast his ballot in Austin on Monday, however, taking advantage of rules that allow early voting in any polling place in the city.  

“Out past Madison, over … [on the West Side], we don’t know Rahm Emanuel,” Acree said. “We’ve never seen him on this side of town until he started running for mayor.”

A spokeswoman for the Emanuel campaign said he has been to seven community locations in Austin--not just "El" stops--including schools and churches. She said he had been speaking to anchors of the community and leaders of organizations, as well as people on the street--and not just at "El" stops--at almost 20 locations on the West Side.

Juan Rangel, a co-chair of the Emanuel campaign and a neighborhood activist, said earlier the campaign has focused on reaching voters on the issues that matter most to them.

“Rahm’s been able to have a firm understanding that this [Latino] community is very similar to every other group in this city,” said Rangel, who is the CEO of the United Neighborhood Organization, a nonprofit Hispanic advocacy and community group.

In a Jan. 20 Chicago Tribune poll, 30 percent of Hispanics said they planned to vote for Emanuel, compared with 26 percent for Gery Chico and 23 percent for Miguel del Valle. The poll reported that Emanuel had 44 percent of all likely voters.

Austin community organizer Elce Redmond said he is concerned about the lack of serious discourse and real interaction with the voters.

“You go to the “El” stop and shake a few hands and you say ‘I’m down here with the people.’ There’s much more at stake with what’s going on,” said Redmond, an organizer with the South Austin Coalition Community Council. “Shaking hands at the train station doesn’t really mean really reaching the people.”

Redmond, who accompanied Miguel del Valle on a tour of a foreclosed home on the 4000 block of West Gladys Avenue, said del Valle is the only candidate addressing the housing issues that so concern the Austin community.

Del Valle has aimed his campaign at smaller minority communities, canvassing vigorously in Chinatown and some of the Polish neighborhoods on the North Side.

“The Asian-American population is 5 percent and Latino is 20 percent; as a coalition, that’s very powerful,” said Rebecca Shi, a field organizer for the del Valle campaign. “The margin of difference in past elections has been very slim. Any of those ethnic groups can make a huge difference.”

Shi said she came to Chicago from China when she was 12 years old, and learned to speak English thanks to a bilingual education program del Valle strongly supported as a state senator.