The battle over the African-American vote in Chicago’s mayoral race intensified Monday as one of the city’s most iconic activists, the Rev. Jesse Jackson, stood in front of a vacant lot in Englewood and put his support behind Jesus “Chuy” Garcia.
The assembling of a slew of local black ministers and Jackson to endorse the Cook County commissioner was Garcia’s best response to date in an attempt to neutralize President Barack Obama’s appeals to African-Americans to back Mayor Rahm Emanuel.
“Our agenda is a very positive one and a very focused one: We’re about neighborhood reconstruction,” Jackson said, with a crowd of African-American supporters, including a group of ministers. The endorsement didn’t come with a promise of fundraising, but one of Jackson’s sons, Yusef, donated $25,000 to Garcia’s campaign last week.
In offering his backing, Jackson spoke of the 50 schools closings by Emanuel as well as violence, high unemployment, income disparities and racial disparities on “this side of town,” singling out the Lawndale, Austin and Englewood neighborhoods.
Jackson lauded Garcia’s work as a delegate when Jackson ran for president in 1988 and his work with the late Mayor Harold Washington.
“He has a consistent track record of service,” Jackson said. “We trust him and believe that he will assume the burden of responsibility to work with us to reconstruct where we live.”
Jackson said his Garcia backing didn’t signify any deeper conflict between himself and Obama.
“This is not about President Obama and me,” Jackson said. “It’s about Chuy and Rahm Emanuel.”
Rev. Jesse Jackson, Rev. Leonard DeVille and other ministers endorsed mayoral candidate Jesus “Chuy” Garcia on Monday. | Ashlee Rezin/For Sun-Times Media
It’s unclear how much of an impact a Jackson endorsement would make on Election Day. Jackson’s endorsement, first reported on Saturday by the Sun-Times, aimed to lift Garcia’s profile with African-American voters — a critical voting segment of the city where Garcia was lacking in the Feb. 24 first round. It comes with just four weeks before the winner-takes-all April 7 runoff.
But both Garcia and Emanuel are working to secure broader African-American support. Radio ads have been airing criticizing Garcia for once referring to Obama as “disappointing.” Garcia responded by saying Emanuel had apparently taken off “the fuzzy sweater” seen in a recent Emanuel TV ad.
Emanuel won 42 percent of the black vote in the Feb. 24 first-round election – down from 58 percent in 2011. In most black wards in the Feb. 24 race, Garcia generally hovered in the low 20 percent range.
It would surprise few if Obama took another swing through Chicago between now and April 7 to push for Emanuel.
Rev. Jesse Jackson endorsed mayoral candidate Jesus “Chuy” Garcia on Monday, saying he “has a consistent track record of service.” | Ashlee Rezin/For Sun-Times Media
Garcia promised to release a detailed financial plan this week and pushed back on Emanuel’s criticism that he was unprepared to tackle the city’s economic problems. Garcia pointed to a recent Moody downgrade of the city’s bond rating, declaring Emanuel was “sinking the city’s financial ship.”
Asked what he would do differently to revitalize the kinds of vacant lots he was addressing, Garcia said: “For one, we will stop giving taxpayer subsidies to the wealthiest in the city of Chicago. You don’t need tax-increment financing to do development in the city center.”
Garcia also called for citywide audits.
On Monday, Englewood resident Artise Smith called Garcia’s candidacy encouraging.
“I feel some type of relief that they are going to do something about all of this because this is just ridiculous. Something should be done about all this garbage over here, these empty, abandoned houses and all sorts of stuff,” said Smith, who was holding her 3-year-old daughter, Mariah. “We just need some type of help over here, period. Some type of work, something that’s going to help us with our families.”
Earlier, Jackson and Garcia stood at the front stoop of Smith’s residence and Garcia held up her daughter for the cameras.
Smith, wearing a “Chuy for Mayor” campaign button, welcomed the attention Jackson’s presence brought to her block on Monday.
“It does make a difference now that we see someone that cares. Because most of the time you just stay in the house, because there’s a lot of shooting, the kids are in the house, a lot of things going on around here that people don’t even know about,” she said.
Resident Danielle Anderson said she welcomed some of Emanuel’s changes, including raising the minimum wage for city contractors to $13 an hour and his push to make City Colleges of Chicago tuition-free to students who earn at least a B.
Still, there’s one thing that sticks in her craw and why she won’t vote for Emanuel.
“They close the schools down and that causes a problem,” Anderson said.
She said she has seen school consolidation inflame tensions of competing gang members. “They about to close my son’s school down; this is the last year.”