Almost anything can make a difference in a mayoral race with 14 candidates and an angry, unpredictable electorate. That includes getting the endorsement of a candidate who was kicked off the ballot.
Circuit Court Clerk Dorothy Brown has called a City Hall news conference for 10 a.m. Thursday to announce who in the crowded field she has chosen to support. Brown did not return repeated phone calls Wednesday.
Speculation abounds that it will be either millionaire businessman Willie Wilson, who shares Brown’s church-based constituency of older African-Americans, or Amara Enyia, whose campaign is geared toward disenchanted millennials.
Wilson challenged Brown’s nominating petitions, but then dropped it, leaving the dirty work to County Board President Toni Preckwinkle.
He looked awfully chummy with Brown on the day he made that decision, fueling speculation that the two natural allies may have cut some kind of a deal that might help Brown raise money to re-stock a campaign fund running on empty.
Wilson categorically denied any such horse-trading.
“I made a habit not to go ask anybody to support me. I just refuse to do it. . . . Let the public decide who they want in office. Plus, I don’t want to get into owing anybody any favors,” Wilson said Wednesday.
“The day I dropped the challenge against her, I didn’t go to her and work out any deal. … When Toni Preckwinkle knocked her off, I called her up and [said] she’s not obligated to me on anything. What I did was unconditional. … We’re in the same circle, church-wise, religion-wise. I thought it was the best thing to do.”
A poll conducted for the Chicago Sun-Times last week showed Wilson running fourth with 9 percent of the vote in a field led by Preckwinkle (12.7 percent); Bill Daley (12.1 percent) and Gery Chico (9.3 percent). All four were within the poll’s 3.88-percentage-point margin of error, making the race essentially a four-way tie.
Even more significant was Wilson’s 20.3 percent showing among likely African-American voters surveyed, compared to Preckwinkle’s 11.4 percent.
Wilson acknowledged he and Brown are a natural fit because they share the same base. Even if Brown decides to go elsewhere with her endorsement, Wilson believes he still will inherit “the majority” of her supporters.
“I’ve been in the religious community a long, long time. … I’m getting stronger and stronger,” Wilson said.
“With her not being on the ballot, a lot of those voters will come my way regardless. I wouldn’t put much emphasis if she endorsed somebody else. The African-American community is gonna do what they want to do.”
Enyia’s campaign was elevated by the celebrity endorsement of Chance the Rapper and is finally airing television commercials, thanks to a $400,000 donation from Chance.
On Wednesday, Enyia made a public pitch for Brown’s endorsement.
“She’s always spoken about how she beat the machine. How she’s been independent in caring and having a heart for the community. I would think she would want to support a campaign that echoes that,” Enyia said. “I would find it difficult to support a person who challenged me … even if they dropped it at the end because the money has already been spent fighting the challenge. The time has already been spent. The harm has taken place.”
Although she’s a long-shot to win it, Enyia did not underestimate the value of Brown’s endorsement in a mayoral race more crowded and unpredictable than any Chicago has seen in decades.
“She does have a base of support that she’s had for quite some time. And that’s important. That’s a strong base. They are consistent voters,” Enyia said.
“In a field of 14 candidates, you need every single person you can count. So any additions to your existing base would be beneficial.”
Delmarie Cobb is an African-American political consultant who knows Brown and her grass-roots, church–based constituency after working on the clerk’s 2012 re-election campaign.
That was four years before the Cook County Democratic Party took the highly unusual step of dumping Brown as its endorsed candidate — and replacing her with by Ald. Michelle Harris (8th) — only to have Brown breeze to re-election.
Pointing to the “church connection,” Cobb called Wilson the odds-on favorite for a Brown endorsement that could ultimately cost Preckwinkle “one or two percentage points” of the African-American vote.
“What is the make-up of that 25 percent [undecided vote]? If they’re black and Dorothy goes out there and becomes a surrogate for Willie and really campaigns for him, that could push a few more people toward him,” Cobb said.
“I don’t think he’s gonna stop Toni from making the run-off, necessarily. But it will be a closer race than it would be [because of Brown’s endorsement]. That also means that, in the runoff, Toni’s work is cut out for her because there is no love lost between Dorothy and Toni.”
Last week, Brown sent strong signals that her mayoral endorsement would be a lot more than lip service.
She announced plans for a “grassroots movement” to “educate and engage” her base about her upcoming mayoral endorsement and “mobilize an aggressive” get-out-the-vote campaign in that group.