Amara Enyia’s campaign was instantly elevated by the celebrity endorsement of Chance the Rapper and his friend and collaborator Kanye West.
A more recent, $400,000 contribution from Chance allowed Enyia to hit the television airwaves with her first commercial tailor-made to boost turnout among young voters notoriously indifferent about mayoral elections.
On Thursday, Enyia got a boost of a different kind, but with potential to make an even greater impact on one of the most crowded and unpredictable mayoral elections Chicago has ever seen.
Nine days after being knocked off the mayoral ballot herself, Circuit Court Clerk Dorothy Brown endorsed Enyia and vowed to be a campaign “surrogate” to spread the word and get out of the vote.
“It’s a game-changer in terms of what it does for Amara. She becomes a top-tier candidate,” said Delmarie Cobb, an African-American political consultant who worked on the clerk’s 2012 re-election campaign.
Cobb noted that Brown is a proven vote-getter with a dedicated church-based constituency that has stood beside her through years of federal investigations.
She got 4.7 percent of the vote in a recent Sun-Times poll, even though she was kicked off the ballot while voters were being surveyed.
“It’s a major coup for Amara because it introduces her to a new set of voters, older black women in particular who are the church base,” said Cobb, who thought Brown would endorse Wilson.
“It’s going to vault her into the top-tier over Willie Wilson. And it certainly hurts Toni Preckwinkle because she needed those additional black women voters.”
Political operative Victor Reyes is a Preckwinkle supporter and former chieftain of the now-defunct Hispanic Democratic Organization at the center of the city hiring scandal.
Reyes argued that Brown’s endorsement adds nothing to Enyia’s campaign and might even be a net negative.
“Enyia’s credibility as a fresh new face could be compromised by associating herself with somebody like Brown,” Reyes said pointing to the federal investigation of alleged job and promotion selling in the clerk’s office.
“Enyia has not been touched by any of this pall of corruption and now she’s voluntarily associating herself with Brown and her problems. Whoever is serving as her political adviser is committing political malpractice.”
After accepting Brown’s endorsement at a City Hall news conference, a triumphant Enyia was asked whether she’s concerned the marathon federal investigation of Brown could culminate in an indictment.
“What I’m worried about is…we have several candidates already in the race who have significant ties established—official ties–to corruption…and those candidates are being labeled as frontrunners,” Enyia said.
Brown said she has a “huge base of support” and she looks forward to transferring those supporters to Enyia.
“I will be … a surrogate for her, speaking on her behalf, bringing her before many, many people. This is not a one-hit [wonder]. We’re going to the mat with Amara Enyia,” Brown said as her supporters cheered.
“We have seniors that have contacted us. … They were not gonna vote at all. I said, `That cannot be. You cannot not vote in this election.’ They were just waiting for who we’re going to endorse. Who we assess to be that person that can bring real change to the city.”
Brown acknowledged that Willie Wilson would have been the logical choice considering their shared, church-based constituency comprised of older African-American voters.
But, Wilson also cost Brown time and money with his petition challenge, only to drop it at the last minute and leave the dirty work to County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, who ultimately knocked Brown off the ballot.
“There have been some things over the years that I have learned that were very concerning to me in the area of honesty and integrity that just does not fit right for me [with] that particular candidate,” Brown said of Wilson.
Pressed to explain what she meant, Brown said, “I do not want to say. I’m just saying there were some concerning things. On top, of course, of challenging me for five weeks, then at the last minute withdrawing, there were some other concerning things that I learned over the years that made me not want to endorse him.”
Wilson said he has no idea what Brown is talking about. He noted that he has “donated a lot of money” to Brown’s past campaigns for mayor and Circuit Court clerk.
“My integrity is not for sale for anybody,” he said.
As for Brown’s endorsement of Enyia, Wilson said it’s irrelevant.
“Nobody has an influence on these voters — not even myself. She has a base. I’ve got my base. This is much ado about nothing. People are gonna vote the way they want to vote regardless” of what Brown says, Wilson said.
Another veteran Democratic operative not aligned with any of the mayoral candidates said Brown’s support among older African-American voters carries “only upside” for Enyia.
“It’s not like anyone is running away with this race. Everyone is within single digits of each other. So, even these small things matter,” the operative said.
The operative noted that there are “multiple options for every voter out there,” a “remarkable” development that is likely to produce “two run-off candidates barely scratching at 20 percent.”
“If I were Amara, I’d try to utilize having Chance on her side. Try to generate some energy in a race that lacks energy with no real momentum candidate. I’m not saying she will be that. But, she has just as good a chance to do that as any of the others,” the operative said.