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Laura Washington: African Americans keep waiting for ‘better’ from Emanuel

Black Chicago must be suffering from a bad case of buyer’s remorse.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel was re-elected on April 7 in a hard-fought runoff election. African-American voters bought in and elected a mayor who promised to “do better” for Chicago.

Black voters made the difference then and in 2011, when Emanuel was first elected on the strength of his high-powered résumé and his close ties to Barack Obama, America’s first black president.


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By 2014, prominent critics, from Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis to businessman Willie Wilson to Cook County Commissioner Jesus Garcia, were charging that Emanuel had failed to deliver on three issues crucial to black voters: crime, education and money.

Emanuel looked vulnerable. His handpicked Chicago Board of Education closed 49 schools, most in black neighborhoods. Gun violence and chronic joblessness are a way of life in some African-American neighborhoods. Working and middle class families are overburdened with taxes and fees.

The criticism was so fierce that it pushed the mayor into an historic runoff.

Emanuel responded at his quintessential best. He trotted out an array of “regular” black folks to star in a multimillion-dollar TV ad blitz. He lined up the big-name black elites who benefit from his government largess for a chorus of “Rahm’s the man.”

The big guy helped out with an Emanuel radio ad. President Obama chuckled, “the guy can be a little hardheaded,” but assured voters that “he loves our city.”

In another campaign ad entitled, “Better,” Emanuel declared:  “Chicago’s a great city, but we can be even better. And yeah, I hear ya, so can I.”

The pretty package was all wrapped up in a bow. Black Chicago bought it. Emanuel was re-elected with 57 percent of the vote in black-majority wards.

Six months later, things are not “better.”

Barbara Byrd-Bennett, Emanuel’s handpicked Chicago Public Schools CEO, who carried his water for the school closings, has pleaded guilty to cheating Chicago’s children in a multi-million dollar contract fraud. One allegation: She plotted to win illegal kickbacks to fund a college education for her grandchildren.

This summer, hundreds of other people’s children and families spent the summer dodging bullets on the South and West Sides, neighborhoods held hostage by searing street violence.

The chaos has been noted. The Chicago City Council’s Black Caucus, many of whom had endorsed the mayor, are now demanding that he fire Police Supt. Garry McCarthy.

During the campaign, Emanuel refused to admit that a major property tax hike was in the offing. Now, he is proposing a significant new taxes and onerous fees to address the city’s financial woes.

Voters bought Emanuel’s promise of “better.”  Now, the critics can say, “I told you so.”

Emanuel is the only mayor we’ve got. We can’t rewrap the tattered foil and send him back via UPS.

Honest black leadership can aspire to a new kind of politics.

The community needs a plan to engage honestly with city powers to address the dire challenges of public safety, our schools and jobs.

The Black Caucus, along with the hundreds of African-American influentials in commerce, philanthropy, the church and politics should unite behind a comprehensive policy agenda, and push the mayor, in partnership, to achieve it.

One more thing to note about that Emanuel TV ad, “Better.”

It began airing on April 1.

We can’t get fooled again.

Email: lauraswashington@aol.com

Follow Laura Washington on Twitter: @MediaDervish