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WASHINGTON: Black aldermen working together — what a concept

Chicago City Council meeting

Mayoral hopeful Bill Daley has proposed shrinking the City Council, and now is backing a citywide referendum to let voters decide whether to draw a new map with 15 wards instead of the current 50. | Sun-Times

The Chicago Aldermanic Black Caucus had a party the other night. You might think that’s no big deal.

This news hound knows better. I had to be there.

The 18-member caucus hosted “its first collective fundraiser,” the press release declared. “Chicago’s Black Aldermen are making a concerted effort toward working together as a collective unit to serve the interests of Chicago’s Black citizens.”

OPINION

What a concept.  Working together hasn’t come easy. The City Council’s African-American caucus is greatly divergent in age, geography and disposition. Some tilt left, others are more conservative, and many closely toe Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s hard line.

Yet in recent years, working together has become more urgent.  Chicago’s African-American aldermen are under pressure to deliver. Black neighborhoods suffer the highest unemployment rates, record-breaking violent crime, and decrepit community relations with the police.

Together, the caucus represents hundreds of thousands of Chicagoans and vast swaths of the city’s South and West Sides. They have the numbers to push a common agenda. But, like the people they serve, they don’t always think or act alike.

At their monthly caucus meetings, “people come in with different (legislative) bills, views,” says a Chicago political operative who works with council members. “Getting all 18 of them on the same page can be a challenge.”

Now here they were, dancing, chowing down on pulled pork sliders and cornbread, all in good cheer.

The event was hosted by Killerspin House, a downtown, high-tech party space. It’s “the hottest spot in Chicago,” its web site claims. Owned by African-American tech entrepreneur Robert Blackwell Jr., Killerspin offers table tennis on its “notorious Revolution tables.”

I spied 5th Ward Ald. Leslie Hairston, deftly paddling a move.

Alan King, prominent lawyer, house music disc jockey and husband of Ald. Sophia King (4th), spun the jams.

Ald. Roderick Sawyer (6th), the caucus’ low-key chairman, beamed as he greeted guests. The fundraiser would surpass its $50,000 goal, he told me, and will support academic scholarships for students throughout the city.

There was plenty of politicking in the crowd of 150 or so politicians, government staffers and community leaders.

The event did double-duty as a showcase of black clout. The African-American vote may not be monolithic, but it is certainly coveted. Leading politicos showed up to kiss those 18 proverbial rings:

J.B. Pritzker, Chris Kennedy and Illinois State Sen. Daniel Biss, the leading 2018 Democratic gubernatorial candidates, were there.

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle and Cook County Assessor Joe Berrios also were in the house. They run the Democratic Party countywide.

Emanuel made a major donation, I’m told, but did not appear. He sent representatives.

I heard plenty of chat about Emanuel’s 2019 reelection prospects. His ears must have been toasty.

Cook County Commissioner Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, who forced Emanuel into a runoff in the 2015 runoff, was there. He worked the room, beer in hand. If Garcia tries again, he’ll need a lot more backing from black Chicago than the last time around.

I hear that the black caucus is working together on policies to boost African-American participation in city contracts and purchasing, and city budget issues.

And Sawyer and the council’s Latino Caucus Chairman Ald. Gilbert Villegas (36th) are looking at ways the two groups can team up on common causes.

What a great concept.

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