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Breaking ranks: Black voters appear to dismiss idea of ‘consensus candidate’

by Chevonne Harris
Feb 10, 2011

Back in December two experienced black politicians dropped out of the mayoral race to avoid splitting the black vote. But black voters apparently aren’t going to deliver as a voting block for Carol Mosley Braun.

Recent polls show black voters are split among all the candidates. This week Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White and N’Digo publisher Hermene Hartman endorsed Rahm Emanuel, further undermining efforts to have blacks vote for a consensus candidate.

According to a recent ABC7 poll of 600 voters, 53 percent of black voters favored Emanuel.

White, who said he is friends with several of the mayoral candidates, said the decision to back Emanuel was not an easy one and one he knew would draw criticism from black leaders and some voters.

“I had some sleepless nights trying to decide which one I was going to support,” White said. “I had to pick and choose the person who I thought was the best for the state of Illinois, and I decided to pick Rahm Emanuel, because I thought he was the best for the city of Chicago.

“I’m a tough guy and when you’re in my position you have to make tough decisions. I made one and I make no apologies for it.”

U.S. Rep. Danny Davis (D-Chicago) and the Rev. James Meeks dropped out of the race following a multi-day December meeting in which black political leaders coalesced around Mosley Braun as the consensus candidate in an effort to avoid splitting the black vote.

Encouraging blacks to think along the same lines can be a challenging task for black leaders, said Audra Wilson, director of diversity and education outreach for Northwestern University Law School. Wilson said although blacks share a common history, they have a diversty of economic backgrounds and political views.

“It’s kind of two sides to the same coin,” Wilson said. “[African-Americans] don’t want to be taken for granted, but on the other hand we want people to recognize that we do diverge and we may see things differently, but there are issues that do affect our community much harder. We want to have an elected official who recognizes that and addresses those issues and talk to us about them.”

In past elections African-Americans support of black candidates has varied. In 1983, more than 90 percent of blacks voted for Harold Washington to make him the city’s first black mayor. In more recent mayoral elections, African-Americans have overwhelmingly supported Mayor Richard M. Daley, despite several black challengers.

Since dropping out of the mayoral race, Davis has been vocal in his support of Braun, touting her as the consensus candidate for African-Americans. Although Davis said he supports White’s decision to endorse Emanuel, he also said he still believes that Braun is the better choice, particularly for African-Americans.

“I guarantee that Carol Moseley Braun knows more about the experiences of my base constituency than any other candidate running,” Davis said. “I bet that young African-American women that need to be inspired and motivated can be inspired more by [her] than any other candidate running.”

Michael Towler, an African-American who was entering the Martin Luther King Community Center on Cottage Grove Wednesday to vote early, said it undermines the intelligence of black voters to assume they will vote for a candidate strictly based on skin color. Towler, 32, said he was going to cast his vote for Emanuel, the candidate he said is best qualified.

“I never considered race when I was making my decision,” Towler said. “I vote for the best candidate and I’d advise others to do the same. Just because a candidate is black doesn’t mean that they will serve me and my interests better.”