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Black aldermen would be in a bind if Preckwinkle runs for mayor

If County Board President Toni Preckwinkle decides to challenge Mayor Rahm Emanuel, it would put African-American aldermen between a rock and a hard place.

They would be forced to choose between a cutthroat politician known for playing hardball and a black elected official popular enough to lead a Harold Washington-style movement.

One day after Preckwinkle pointedly refused to rule out a race for mayor, some black aldermen who served with Preckwinkle in the City Council were predicting she won’t challenge Emanuel and hoping she doesn’t.

“I had a conversation with her and she said she enjoys the job she’s running for now. So, I have to take her at her word. She’s running for county board president,” said Ald. Carrie Austin (34th).

Austin was asked whether she would support Preckwinkle if she gets re-elected and turns right around and runs for mayor. That’s what then-State’s Attorney Richard M. Daley did in 1988.

“If I believe at the time she’s the best candidate for us, then I would support her. If not, I’ll continue to support my mayor,” said Austin, chairman of the City Council’s Budget Committee.

What about the political pressure to unite behind a black candidate?

“Why? Because she’s African American? No, no, no. I don’t support or vote that way. . . . She don’t feel pressured in supporting other people not of African-American descent, so I don’t either. If she don’t feel pressure, neither do I,” she said.

Pressed to describe what kind of mayor the former alderman would be, Austin made reference to what she views as the similarity between Emanuel and Preckwinkle.

“Well, they’re both tyrants,” Austin said.

She added, “Mayor Emanuel does a good job. Nobody is gonna ever agree wholeheartedly with anybody. Nobody really agreed with Mayor Daley on a lot of things that he did. But he did them to make Chicago a better city. This mayor does the same thing. They’re hard decisions. But it’s for the betterment of Chicago.”

Ald. Anthony Beale (9th) was equally noncommittal when asked if he would support Preckwinkle over Emanuel.

“Right now, I’m concerned with one race and that’s my own re-election. That’s where all my focus is going,” he said. “I’m not involved in any other race. I have to make sure Anthony Beale is successful in being re-elected.”

Beale acknowledged that the mayor’s popularity has taken a nosedive among black voters who helped put him in office, after school closings, charter openings, new school construction and a teachers strike that Emanuel helped to instigate.

“There were some tough decisions that were made that ruffled a few feathers, but the mayor is actively trying to turn those things around,” he said.

Beale was adamant about one thing: Former Ald. Robert Shaw (9th), who declared his candidacy for mayor on Thursday, doesn’t have a prayer against Emanuel.