The lineup for Illinois’ 2018 Democratic gubernatorial primary is firming up fast. So far, the six-candidate field is mostly white, and all male.
To win, one of them must energize and capture the party’s crucial base. African-American voters should be asking: What have you done for me? What will you do for me?
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Public affairs consultant Alexandra Sims says they should be making deals. In the governor’s race, “what’s going to happen across the state and across Cook County is deals. And you want the black community to be part of those deals.”
Isn’t that so unseemly, so smoke-filled room?
“I don’t think there’s anything wrong with a deal,” she replied as we met for coffee last week near her Wicker Park home. “I think that’s what democracy is all about. I’m going to vote for whoever represents me best. Let’s hope that people keep promises.”
She wants to do more than hope. Sims, 29, is a fresh face in an elite, white-male dominated field. The African-American organizer and political operative recently left her job as senior advisor to Chicago City Treasurer Kurt Summers to launch APS & Associates, a public affairs consulting firm.
The Detroit-area native previously ran President Barack Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign in the St. Louis region and was Missouri coordinator for Organizing for Action. She moved to Chicago to lead Every Vote Counts, a voter registration effort, and managed Summers’ 2014 race for treasurer.
Now her shingle is on the door. “I want to help the black community leverage our power. Until we have economic power, we need to use the power we have — in votes and numbers.”
Sims loves to talk “metrics.” To win the Illinois primary, a Democrat needs “60 to 65 percent of the vote in Cook County,” Sims notes. At least a quarter of that is the black vote.
Her message to candidates: “Take a holistic, strategic approach. If you want to know what messaging the black community wants to hear, speak to the black community.”
And, Sims adds, “really truly understand what the community needs.” Instead of just parachuting into church podiums on Sundays, and glad-handing at soul food dinners the rest of the week.
At the other end of the deal are many black elected officials, pastors and executive directors “who have been in our community for a long time,” Sims adds. “If they are communicating a strong platform and the demands that they want, then we have to make a very clear deal for what we are getting in exchange.”
Can they stick together and support one candidate? Since the golden age of Harold Washington, black folks have failed to do that.
Illinois’ crippling budget crisis, and Donald J. Trump, are hitting us hardest. Gun violence is exterminating our young people. Our unemployment rates are sky high. Our social services are running dry. Chicago’s public schools may shut down three weeks early.
We must be unapologetically black and make unapologetic demands. African Americans should be consulted as equal partners, not viewed as desperate supplicants.
Treasurer Summers, an African American, is exploring a gubernatorial bid and will announce his intentions soon.
I hope he gets in, but no one gets a free pass.
Time to deal.
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