Mayor Rahm Emanuel has spent the past four years undoing virtually everything former Mayor Richard M. Daley did without mentioning his predecessor by name.
But, there’s one thing Emanuel has in common with his mentor: turning to African-American ministers at his time of political need.
Emanuel took a page from Daley’s playbook on Tuesday. He assembled dozens of black ministers to endorse him, sing his praises from the pulpit and, on Palm Sunday, to literally lead their parishioners’ “souls to the polls.”
In attendance at the political show was former Cook County Commissioner Charles Bowen, who served as Daley’s liaison to black ministers.
Standing next to Bowen at the community center across the street from Haven of Rest Missionary Baptist Church, 7901 South Chicago Ave., was former gang enforcer-turned-“urban translator” Wallace “Gator” Bradley, who has endorsed Emanuel.
Daley sold vacant city lots to black churches for $1 and used city grants to maintain loyal support from the African-American clergy.
During one infamous, pre-election endorsement session, the ministers prayed, “Give us this day our Daley bread.”
On Tuesday, the Rev. Albert Tyson III, presiding elder north district Chicago conference and pastor of St. Stephen A.M.E. Church, used a similar mix between the biblical and political.
“We remember that the Scripture says, `Oh come, oh come, Emanuel,’” Tyson said.
The mayor was obviously pleased.
“Pastor Tyson, I’m gonna have you call my parents,” Emanuel joked.
Turning serious, the mayor said he grew up “believing in the separation of church and state.”
“While you speak from a pulpit and I speak from a podium,” he told the ministers, “if we’re gonna get to the city we want to be and everybody get there together, the pulpit and the podium have to be pointed in the same direction because we’ll get there a lot faster. … It’s not about April 7. It’s the work we do on April 8th that counts.”
When the praying stopped and the questions began, Tyson fielded a doozy.
He was reminded that Daley was “legendary” for corralling support from black ministers and that Emanuel has accused the former mayor of “screwing things up” — from the widely despised parking meter deal to city and school finances, hiring, labor negotiations, city services, public schools and City Colleges.
Given that history, Tyson was asked why he believes black ministers now have “any credibility at all” in recommending for whom to vote for mayor of Chicago?
“The credibility is based on the call that we have received from the Lord,” Tyson said.
“We operate in a prophetic mode. Operating in a prophetic mode doesn’t mean that you’re gonna always agree with what the Lord has instructed us to do. However, it means we are required to stand on the wall and to call it like we see it and to be watchmen for the city, despite the fact that there are those who may think that our call is not always correct.”
Turning to the issues, Tyson said he is willing to overlook the record 50 school closings in predominantly black, South and West Side neighborhoods that have prompted so many African-American voters to abandon Emanuel.
“The question for me is, do I want my children going to a failing school? If I don’t want my children at a failing school and nobody else is doing anything else about this situation, then I applaud the mayor’s effort,” Tyson said.
“Instead of the acrimony that goes forth as a result of what happened, look and see what the results are. Are the children getting better education? Yes. Has the upsurge in crime occurred because they’ve crossed street lines and boundaries? No. Have there been adults out there protecting them as they made their way to and from school? Yes. People who are upset about the closing of schools have their own personal interest involved that may not be the interest of the city or our children.”
The news conference Tuesday was the latest chapter in the high-stakes competition between Emanuel and Jesus “Chuy” Garcia for a black vote that’s virtually certain to decide the runoff April 7.
Four years ago, Emanuel got 58 percent of the African-American vote and captured every black ward on the strength of President Barack Obama’s tacit endorsement.
On Feb. 24, the mayor got just 42.8 percent of a much smaller pie. An eleventh-hour, in-person endorsement from Obama was not enough to get Emanuel over the finish line and avoid Chicago’s first mayoral runoff.
Last year, a $100,000 sole source contract the Chicago Police Department awarded to Bowen “in apparent violation of the city’s ethics and contracting rules” was at the center of an Illinois Supreme Court ruling that could tie the hands of Chicago’s corruption-fighting Inspector General Joe Ferguson and insulate Emanuel and his top aides from investigation.
On Tuesday, Bowen was asked whether he assembled the ministers on Emanuel’s behalf. “In a way, yeah. I’m still active. I’m not being paid, but I’m working” for Emanuel, Bowen said.
Bradley added, “My role here is to make sure that everyone knows that, when the mayor says inclusiveness, he’s talking about even former gang members who want to work with him and help him with his public safety agenda.”