Sophia King’s greatest strength is also her biggest weakness. His name is Rahm Emanuel.
It was Emanuel’s appointment of King to fill the vacancy created by the surprise resignation a year ago of Ald. Will Burns (4th) that gave King a leg up on the competition in Tuesday’s special aldermanic election.
It’s helped King raise more money than her nearest opponent in the five-candidate race by a nearly six-to-one margin.
But being the appointee of a mayor struggling to regain his credibility with African-American voters is also a heavy burden.
That’s why King’s literature features the endorsement of her husband’s longtime friend, former President Barack Obama, and from Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, who is going door to door with King. But there’s not a word about Emanuel.
“He’s my biggest hurdle, the only reason people have hesitation about me,” said King, who recently tried to separate herself from the mayor by joining the City Council’s anti-Emanuel Progressive Caucus.
“He’s not as popular as he was at one point, that’s for sure,” she said. “Trust is a huge issue. The Laquan McDonald incident had people questioning issues of trust. The school closings were a big deal, too.”
Challenger Gregory Seal Livingston led protests and demanded Emanuel’s resignation in response to the mayor’s handling of the Laquan McDonald shooting video.
“Even Hillary Clinton told Rahm not to come around because he’s 16 shots and a cover-up,” said Livingston, former national field secretary for the Rainbow PUSH Coalition-turned-president of the Coalition for a New Chicago.
“If she gets in, this is Rahm’s ward,” Livingston said. “Whatever team picks you, that’s the team you’re playing for. The moment she tries to assert any type of aldermanic will, she will be put down.”
Challenger Gerald Scott McCarthy said he’s more concerned about the “empty corridors” on Cottage Grove Avenue and on 35th, 39th, 43rd and 47th Streets than about whether King is beholden to Emanuel and Preckwinkle.
“She’s expanded Safe Passage, but why is there a need for Safe Passage?” said McCarthy, one of three attorneys in the race. “Let’s get rid of it by making our streets safer. You do that with more development, better trained police officers and more social programs for our youth.
“Look at how Pilsen has changed and Andersonville has boomed. Let’s get our community involved in determining what we want in these corridors and aggressively go out and find these people. We don’t need another fast-food restaurant, for health reasons alone.”
Attorney Ebony Lucas agreed that 4th Ward development has been “overly dense in the South Loop and Hyde Park and completely lacking in the Bronzeville and Oakland communities.”
She promised to bring “vibrancy and job opportunities through commercial development” to neglected areas and to work with nonprofits, community and faith-based organizations to restore arts, music, sports and social clubs to “under-resourced” public schools.
Another candidate, attorney Marcellus Moore Jr., said violence, schools and jobs are the three biggest issues facing 4th Ward residents.
“As a member of two Local School Councils and the parent of three children in or who have been in CPS schools, I have personally witnessed the impact that budget cuts and strained funding has had on schools,” Moore wrote in response to a Chicago Sun-Times questionnaire. “This is even more evident by the recent $46 million cuts announce by CPS.
“We need to . . . find resources to support our public schools,” Moore said, calling that “critical to reversing the population losses. Once families have school-aged children, large numbers of people move to the surrounding suburbs to benefit from their strong school districts.”
Known for its diversity and fierce independence, the 4th Ward runs from Hyde Park to Kenwood and Bronzeville to the Loop. Its bedrock residents include senior citizens, working-class families, academic and professional elites.
Preckwinkle represented the ward for nearly 20 years and was a thorn in the side of former Mayor Richard M. Daley. She replaced Tim Evans, who ran against Daley and was recently re-elected as chief judge of the Cook County court system.
King is the founder of Harriet’s Daughters and co-founder of Ariel Community Academy.
Her husband is Alan King, a house music disc jockey and Chicago attorney who is a close friend and basketball-playing buddy of Obama. In part, that’s how Sophia King came to the attention of Emanuel, who was Obama’s first White House chief of staff.
But King argues that the parade of movers-and-shakers who have filled her campaign coffers stems not from her friendship with the Obamas but from her 30 years of work in the 4th Ward.
“I helped establish a great neighborhood school that is still doing well,” King said. “I helped build a non-violence nonprofit and a nonprofit to deal with employment and wealth in the African-American community. I met all of those people along the way.”
Saying 4th Ward residents “don’t feel safe any more,” King pointed with pride to her collaboration with neighboring Ald. Pat Dowell (3rd) on a “Safe Summer” program and to her work with school principals to build a 4th Ward Sports program.
She also pointed to the $3.5 million in tax-increment financing money used to build a turf field at Kenwood Academy and to work she has done to restore weekend bus service on 39th and 43rd streets.
As for the old Michael Reese Hospital site, King opposes putting a city-owned casino there, as some have suggested. She said the site represents the “best real estate left in the city” and that she envisions a mixed-use development with residential, retail and recreational space that celebrates Bronzeville’s rich cultural history.
“I’d love to see a boardwalk overlooking the lake,” King said. “Maybe another bridge across there, dog parks, parks, residences, great restaurants.
“A casino would suck the life out of all of that,” she said. “You may get money from taxes, but restaurants don’t want to locate there, other businesses don’t want to locate there, people don’t want to live there. They siphon off the vitality and vibrancy of a community.”