Young black leaders cool their heels because ‘elders’ won’t move on

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City Treasurer Kurt Summers has announced he will not seek reelection. | Sun-Times file photo

Two moments. Two sides of the same coin of generational change.

Last Tuesday morning, City Treasurer Kurt Summers, 39, announced he would not run for reelection.

That same morning, the millennial entertainer-philanthropist-activist Chance the Rapper convened a press conference to endorse Amara Enyia, 35, for Chicago mayor.


The nod from Chance propelled the relatively unknown activist and director of the Austin Chamber of Commerce to media stardom. At least for now.

Summers also was once a rising star. He was 35 when Mayor Rahm Emanuel tapped him to fill the treasurer vacancy. Summers then was handily elected to a full four-year term in 2015.

The South Side native and Harvard University MBA had been a senior vice president at a capital management firm run by Michael Sacks, a close Emanuel advisor. Summers also had served as chief of staff to his political mentor, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle.

For years, Summers has been posturing for higher office, first contemplating a run for governor, then for mayor in 2019.

He was probably a safe bet for reelection. But he’s leaving politics at 39.

Summers isn’t saying much. “I believe the best opportunity for me to serve in this next chapter will be outside of elected office,” he said in a written statement. He will continue, he said, to address “issues of economic disinvestment and lack of capital access.”

Some of Summers’ allies had urged Preckwinkle and other senior elected officials to back him for mayor, supporting a new generation. Preckwinkle decided to run instead.

Summers was counting on his experience and establishment connections to help force generational change.

In African-American politics, the debate over generational change has been brewing — for generations.

With every election, the black leadership ages. Most of our top elected officials are eligible for Social Security. How do you cultivate new leaders and fresh ideas if longtime incumbents won’t move on?

The young’uns must wait their turn, the elders reply. The “community” needs our experience and seniority. Now is not the time.

That time never comes.

Flip the coin, and there’s a Chance.

Chance the Rapper is calling on millennials to support Enyia in a movement for “change.”

“I want to work with somebody that’s about change. Somebody that’s about our community,” he said. “Somebody that’s about fairness.”

The millennials are not looking for an appointment, nor an anointing.

Young activists pledge to build on the stunning success of the movement that led to the murder conviction of Chicago Police Officer Jason Van Dyke; the electoral defeat of Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez; the resignation of Police Supt. Garry McCarthy; and Emanuel’s decision to retire.

At a recent press conference, a bevy of millennial aldermanic candidates and mayoral aspirants promised to fire the veteran elected officials who have failed their communities.

“Several of the incumbents … have voted against the self-interest of the people in vulnerable communities. That has got to stop,” said Kina Collins, founder of the Chicago Neighborhood Alliance. “The next target that we hope to hit is City Council.”

Enyia is looking to a cadre of young voters to give her the electoral edge in the crowded mayoral race.

Chance touted plans for a massive voter registration drive and “the largest 18-25 voter turnout in Chicago’s history this upcoming election.”

That would be generational change to believe in.

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