Chillin’ with Radio host Thom Clark and the lakefront libs

Chillin’ with Radio host Thom Clark and the lakefront libs 5.00/5 (100.00%) 1 vote

By Ray Hanania

RayHananiaColumnBoxThom Clark is probably the nicest journalist and radio talk show I have ever met. The guy just has class, and he always shows it to everyone, regardless of politics.

Clark, who used to head the Community Media Workshop — now headed by an equally talented news media taskmaster Susy Schultz — co-hosts the weekly radio show “Live from the Heartland” along with documentary photographer Michael James and activist Katy Hogan.

The show is broadcast live on WLUW 88.7 FM Radio from the Heartland Cafe at 7000 N. Glenwood Ave in Chicago’s 49th Ward every Saturday morning at 9 am. Guests included popular State Rep. Kelly Cassidy and later also Cook County Clerk David Orr.

Before we get into politics, I have to say the Heartland Cafe is phenomenal. I loved it. Aaron, my son, and I had breakfast there before the show and enjoyed the homey environment. The walls were lined with original art combining paint, computer parts and magazine collage clippings. In addition to the dining room, it has a small store and retail room, too. It reminded me of the 1960s and the cafes that inspired some great writing, music and political debate and discussion. You just don’t find inspiring places like that in Chicago any more, and I can’t travel to Paris all the time to re-experience that much fun.

Live from the Heartland radio panelists discuss the hot issues facing Chicagoland every week on WLUW 88.7 FM radio Saturday mornings at 9 am.

Live from the Heartland radio panelists discuss the hot issues facing Chicagoland every week on WLUW 88.7 FM radio Saturday mornings at 9 am.

On Saturday morning at 8 am, the place was filling up with customers. Some were there to listen to the radio show chew on the obesity of Chicago politics — this time the race for mayor of Chicago — while others were there for the great food and comfy environment.

It’s the kind of place you don’t want to write about because you think you found a pristine beach in Hawaii and you don’t want anyone else to know about it. But, they should.

Back to the politics.

Clark and I don’t always see eye-to-eye on politics, but that’s why I love the guy. He’s not judgmental. And his attitude allows for a civil discussion, something that is too often missing from political discourse. I’m tired of the BGA (Better Government Association) style of beat and bash political analysis where they bully people they dislike and coddle those they favor. People that wrap themselves up in “good politics’ usually are the opposite.

The heartland cafe

The heartland cafe

But we had a great discussion about the mayoral race, Mayor Rahm Emanuel and his challengers, Cook County Commissioner Jesus Garcia, Alderman Bob Fioretti, businessman Willie Wilson and former Harold Washington aide William Doc Walls.

What makes a good mayoral election? Well, most political writers assert it has to do with addressing issues like jobs, economy, education and crime. But the truth is that those staple issues must be addressed but are not the foundation of successful campaigns for government office. There has to be a “tipping point” issue from which a leader can rise. There’s got to be the “big mo” momentum that pushes a challenger to unseat a well-financed mayor like Emanuel.

Emanuel certainly is ripe for the picking. He’s been a terrible mayor. Instead of bringing solutions to Chicago’s problems, he’s been bringing clout and money to his campaign. Emanuel is a bully and always has been. So why did Chicago voters elect him in 2011?

The heartland cafe

The heartland cafe

Well, mayoral elections are not about how bad an incumbent it. Mayoral elections have to do with the challengers.

Jane Byrne didn’t beat Michael Bilandic in 1979 because she had money. It wasn’t about jobs, economy, education or crime, although those were certainly being debated and of concern to voters. It was about a “tipping point” issue of Bilandic’s failure to remove the snow. The blizzard became an avalanche of anger against Bilandic. Polls showed him losing to Byrne who barely had enough money to fund one major round of TV commercials.

Let’s face it. Voters complain about high taxes. They hate to see property taxes go up. But deep down, increasing property taxes isn’t by itself a reason to oust a mayor. But screw with their garbage pickup, their snow or even the price of their annual vehicle stickers, and they go berserk.

The Heartland Cafe, 7000 N. Glenwood

The Heartland Cafe, 7000 N. Glenwood

Being a bad mayor isn’t enough. There has to be a clear focused controversy that voters can wrap their anger and dissatisfaction around.

One issue might have been the recent tragedy of Mayor Emanuel’s son being beaten and robber by thugs. Crime is an issue. What’s so tragic about the event besides the attack and theft was that this happened to the son of Chicago’s mayor and till this day the police can’t find the suspects involved. He’s the mayor. Imagine how unsuccessful the investigation would be if the crime were committed against your son or daughter.

Fioretti tried but failed to ignite the issue.

Another issue is red light cameras. Mayor Emanuel’s two-car security motorcade recklessly speeds through red lights often, and he is caught on tape. When the videos of his black SUVs flying through red lights was released to the TV media, many people shrugged when Emanuel said, basically, “Hey, I am like you. I’ll pay the fine, too.”

The Heartland Cafe, 7000 N. Glenwood. Artwork

The Heartland Cafe, 7000 N. Glenwood. Artwork

But the real issue that the public and candidates missed was that in one instance — and probably in many others — is that Emanuel’s entourage shot through a red light and cut off a disabled man in a motorized wheelchair who was waiting to cross the street in a marked pedestrian crossing.

The media, which loves Mayor Emanuel and has been running his election campaign, gave Emanuel a pass on the controversy by describing the disabled man on the motorized wheelchair as “a man on a scooter.” Scooter? Are you kidding me?

Normally, the Chicago media jumps all over politicians who would cut off disabled pedestrians in motorized wheelchairs. They would crucify the politicians. They would destroy them, beating them to the ground in endless news stories, exaggerated descriptive accounts of the incident, and in brutal, no-holds-barred columns and holier-than-thou editorials.

But not the Chicago media. They’re in a lovefest with Emanuel, as evidenced by the fact that despite the poor economy, lack of jobs, poor schools and education, and shocking crime wave in Chicago, both newspapers, the Chicago Tribune and the Chicago Sun-Times have endorsed him.

Mural on the CTA wall near The Heartland Cafe, 7000 N. Glenwood

Mural on the CTA wall near The Heartland Cafe, 7000 N. Glenwood

That could have been an election tipping point.

But even with a big-mo controversy, a challenger has to be realistically able to defeat an incumbent.

Garcia is a weak candidate, I argued. Remember, it was Karen Lewis of the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) who was the original candidate of the disgruntled Chicago constituency. She had a strong base in the powerful African American community, and among the school system focused White and Hispanic voters.

But Lewis got sick. She handed the mantle to Garcia. But she couldn’t hand over her charisma. Garcia has no charisma.

Wilson and Walls are projecting themselves, subtly, as the successors to the late great Mayor Harold Washington, but they are not. They have not been able to energize the African American vote or appeal to White and Hispanic voters. I think Fioretti has the potential to reach across race and bring Black, White and Hispanic voters together.

Mural on the CTA wall near The Heartland Cafe, 7000 N. Glenwood

Mural on the CTA wall near The Heartland Cafe, 7000 N. Glenwood

Although the Chicago population is basically 40 percent Black, 40 percent Hispanic and 20 percent White, that’s not the breakdown of the vote which is more like 40 percent Black, 40 percent White and 20 percent Hispanic. You cannot rely on the Hispanic vote to win a citywide election. Part of the failure of the Hispanic community has to do with the selfishness of their leaders, like Congressman Luis Gutierrez, who by the way, endorsed Emanuel. Gutierrez is one of the closest political allies to Garcia. Either Gutierrez is working with Garcia to help Emanuel, or Garcia isn’t that great of a candidate because his best political ally can’t find the courage to risk supporting him.

Regardless, the Gutierrez endorsement of Emanuel has hurt Garcia immeasurably.

How did Emanuel win in 2011. Well, race is only an issue of voter constituencies, not confrontation as it was under Mayors Michael Bilandic and Jane Byrne. A candidate for mayor today has to appeal to the racial turf of voting blocks. But before, race was about racism and anger and fear. One reason why is because of Richard M. Daley. When Harold Washington died in November 1987, Chicago was on the edge of a race war fueled by politics. Daley managed to step in and assure voters that he would control racial problems and he created the perception that racism is no longer a challenger. Daley’s ability to sell that perception to a city that till this day is really still traumatized by racism explains how he managed to remain in office longer than his father even after the so-called “death” of the Chicago Machine.

When Daley unbelievably decided to retire from office by not running — rather than dying in office as most mayors do if they are not thrown out — he opened the door to Emanuel who sold voters on the perception he would continue the same policies of suppressing racial fears. He did that, at the expense of seeing the city fall apart under the heavy burden of uncontrolled street gang crime.

Here are my notes on the topic. I hope they help you recognize some of the dynamics that will play in the upcoming Chicago mayoral election.

And don’t forget to check out Clark’s radio show “Live from the Heartland.” It was a lot of fun.

Notes:

Chicago elections have tipping points and it is about the Big Mo, not basic issues … and so far no one has it …

Money isn’t always the key to winning elections but it does come down to how you spend it and creating an issue that captures the hearts and minds of voters.

Jane Byrne did that in 1979 … Bilandic lost the momentum over snow … not jobs, unemployment, or making schools better

She promised a neighborhood renaissance … her campaign was about things that were bigger than the basic election campaign staple that we see candidates embrace

  • Jobs, businesses and economy
  • Education, schools, students
  • Fighting crime, street gangs, violence

Byrne won with “she could do a better job” … and Snow put the spotlight on Bilandic and on Byrne

Harold Washington won because, to be honest, his two rivals failed to create an excitement for themselves … Byrne was no reformer … Daley was the privileged or “fortunate son” … Washington was the outsider who galvanized the Black vote which was the core of the Machine

Daley held onto to office by creating the sensation that he resolved the primary issue that came out of the Washington Era … Race Relations … and held on for 22 years, longer than his father

What did Rahm Emanuel do? He was the answer to the question, why did Daley just quit? No Chicago mayor quits. It was unheard of … Emauel came in and anointed himself … he had all the basic issues (Jobs, economy, education, crime) … but he hasn’t been able to restore what Daley gave us, which is why Emanuel’s polling numbers are so vulnerable … his massive money sold the impression in 2011 that he was a “Boss” and really that’s what Chicago voters want …

Jesus Garcia is stumbling through with lame solutions to the fundamental issues like jobs, education and crime … but the fact is that the voters are smart enough to know that you can’t change the economy … it changes itself … you can’t make massive new jobs to make a real difference … you can’t raise the quality of education in Chicago overnight … and you can’t stop crime and street gangs simply by saying you are going to hire more police or show up at funerals and make inspiring speeches of empathy …

That’s what’s missing from this campaign … none of the candidates have created the Big Mo and we’re only weeks away from the election …

The election is about what voters Feel not the same old rhetoric we hear about fighting crime, helping Johnny read, or getting dad who has been out of work for four years a job …

There’s no feeling out there yet …

But I think Bob Fioretti comes closest to this

Elections are like a chess board … each candidate is grabbing pieces … but to win you have to inspire voters … Mayor Emanuel clearly can only inspire people outside of Chicago to give him money … Garcia is surfing on the dead excitement that was the momentum of Karen Lewis … she created some excitement … but you can’t take her out and replace her with a guy who has been in politics like vanilla in the progressive movement … Garcia is the man behind the scenes … he’s never been upfront leading the fight … despite what he may say … he didn’t get Washington election … Washington got Garcia elected … and controversy has kept him in office …

Emanuel had 60 percent of the Black vote … it isn’t about race … that vote is out there waiting for someone to lead … if they get behind someone, that someone will win … I think Fioretti might be that guy … Wilson is a good candidate but he’s not inspiring either … where has he been all these years .. Doc Walls has marginalized himself by always fighting to win and exploiting his ties to Washington … but as nice a guy as Walls is … he can’t win …

I think the Black vote is the key to this election … Karen Lewis could have gotten it … she can’t hand it over to Garcia like a game chip ,,, it doesn’t work like that

Recent polls show Emanuel winning… of course they would … he’s the mayor … but 44 percent in the Binder poll is pathetic for a Chicago mayor today … and I don’t think Emanuel can rely on the Machine any more …

Fioretti is more of a candidate the old Machine can back not Emanuel …

The media loves Emanuel but their influence is pretty pathetic. There is no Mike Royko to swing 75,000 votes any more the way he did for Byrne in 1979

Ogden Fry polls have Emanuel at 41 percent …

You don’t look at how bad the challengers are … Jane Byrne, Harold Washington and other challengers did poorly in polling … you look at the weakness of the incumbent … Mayor Rahm Emanuel is vulnerable … then you look at which challenger is strongest among voter constituencies

And, the Chicago media is not doing its job. The Chicago media loves Emanuel … the reporters love him … none of the scandals around him have found any traction because the media is killing the controversies …

Eventually Emanuel might win simply because none of the challengers were able to create that excitement to stir voters into believing there is someone out there who can save them from the turmoil called Chicago, the distress of no jobs, bad schools, and unacceptable crime rates

Crime is probably the one area where someone can make a difference … but you have to think out of the box and so far no one has

Let’s face it … Emanuel has failed on fighting crime … he can’t even find the criminals who attacked his son last December …

I also think the system favors Garcia which is why he was leaked debate questions and notes for the last debate … that actually hurts Garcia because it plays into the perception hat he can’t answer the tough questions … that he’s weak on issues and he needs a cheat sheet … it’s an issue that no one grabbed and ran with though … instead, they made it about the organizations who compromised the election and Garcia’s half asleep “legacy” movement that isn’t awake …

(Ray Hanania is an award winning former Chicago City Hall reporter. He is President of Urban Strategies Group media consulting and continues his writings as editor of the Illinois News Network and as a columnist and political analyst for the Des Plaines Valley News, the Southwest News-Herald, the Regional News and the Palos Reporter newspapers. Reach him at [email protected])

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