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Millennial voters fail to take their energy to the polls

Maria Hernandez, an organizer with Black Lives Matter speaks to the crowd gathered outside of City Hall after the Vandyke verdict was announced, Friday, October 5th, 2018. | James Foster/For the Sun-Times

What happened?

This was the election that was supposed to sweep the Chicago City Council clean of the incumbents that police reform activists blamed for covering up the deadly police shooting of Laquan McDonald in 2014.

“The City Council that voted for the settlements have to be removed,” declared activist William Calloway on Oct. 5 — the day former Chicago Police Officer Jason Van Dyke was convicted of second-degree murder.

But the expected “McDonald effect” that bounced former Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez out of office and pushed Mayor Rahm Emanuel into stepping down never materialized.

By early Tuesday evening, the Chicago Board of Elections was reporting that the millennial vote was a lot lower than it was in the governor’s race.

“In the 25-34 age group last fall we had 189,000. We have more than 100,000 fewer than that. We are at 74,605. In the 35-44 [age group], another key group, we had 163,000 last fall, and we only have 85,000 now. Those two groups account for the biggest declines,” said Jim Allen, a spokesman for the Chicago Board of Elections.

Perhaps driven by the mayoral candidates that included familiar names — Bill Daley and Toni Preckwinkle, for instance — it was the middle-aged and senior citizen turnout that closely aligned with the statewide election.

“The millennials flexed their electoral muscle last time around, but this time, the 55-64 [age] group were at 160,000, and so far it is 110,000 now,” Allen said, citing numbers available about a half-hour before the polls closed.

“The age group 65-74 was 118,000 in the fall, and they are 90,000 so far today,” he said.

Calloway, a leading voice for police reform, took on Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th), a regular critic of the mayor, who was first elected 20 years ago. Hairston had 49.1 percent of the votes to Calloway’s 26.5 percent with 98 percent of precincts reporting Tuesday night. That race seemed to be heading toward a runoff.

In the neighboring 7th Ward, another police reform activist, Jedidiah Brown, took on first-term incumbent Ald. Gregory Mitchell. Mitchell was leading with 66.2 percent of the votes to Brown’s 21 percent with 100 percent of precincts reporting.

Several other millennial candidates campaigned on police reform issues, including some who vowed to ditch the proposed construction of a police and fire academy on the city’s West Side.

But by early evening, it became clear that there would be no uprising at the polls.

When I voted around noon, I walked into an empty polling place.

This election was not only historic because of the number of qualified people who tossed their hats into the ring, but it came on the heels of the Van Dyke trial.

That trial might not have taken place had it not been for the hundreds of young people who took to the streets to protest the police-involved shooting.

It was a demonstration of the power of the internet to connect people for good and to organize activists in a short period of time.

This mayoral election was a contest between old-school politicians and new-school activists.

I had expected that candidates Amara Enyia, who was backed by Chance the Rapper and Kanye West, John Kozlar, a fresh face, and Neal Sales-Griffin, the tech wizard, would have rallied an unprecedented number of youthful voters.

Maybe the millennials mistakenly thought their work was done.

It isn’t, not by a long shot.

Marching is good, but voting is a lot better.