Two or three months ago, I’m not sure how many people would have paid much attention to whom City Treasurer Kurt Summers was endorsing for governor.
Although an acknowledged political up-and-comer, Summers’ leadership profile just wasn’t that high, not even in Chicago’s African-American community.
Summers changed all that by actively floating his own name for the state’s highest office, leaving little doubt that, if he ran, he would champion the issues of minorities.
Because of that, Summers’ surprise endorsement Wednesday of J.B. Pritzker for the Democratic nomination became a whole lot more valuable.
It’s too soon to say whether Summers’ backing will have its intended effect of log-rolling the black community’s support to Pritzker, but it’s bound to move things in that direction. Summers’ decision already has led to Ald. Roderick Sawyer (6th), chairman of the City Council Black Caucus, endorsing Pritzker.
That makes the Summers endorsement a huge breakthrough for the billionaire investor, who has been trying since his announcement three weeks ago to differentiate himself from the rest of the multi-candidate field that now is very unlikely to include an African-American.
The truth is that none of the Democratic candidates seeking to face Gov. Bruce Rauner naturally generate much excitement among black voters, and there is nobody outside former President Barack Obama who could automatically confer instant legitimacy on any of them.
As Summers told the reporters gathered for his announcement, “The black community’s vote is powerful, especially in the Democratic primary where we’ll likely make up 25 to 30 percent of the electorate.”
Many believed those demographics argued in favor of Summers making the race.
“The more the merrier” was what a smiling Summers told me a couple weeks ago after Pritzker’s entry into the contest, a clear reference to how a large field could work to his favor.
But something convinced Summers this wasn’t his time.
There are political operators in this city who could have plotted this out from the start to play out exactly as it unfolded, but I don’t think Summers is one of them.
He looked genuinely disappointed, his hand in his left pocket, as he stood at a podium and read a statement about his “difficult decision” to not run, a sharp contrast to the beaming Pritzker.
I didn’t take that as any lack of enthusiasm for Pritzker, who Summers said he has known for more than a decade.
“I know that with J.B. Pritzker we have a seat at the table. Our voices will be heard. We have a friend and a partner who understands the needs and the desires of our community that have been misunderstood or not listened to for so long,” Summers said.
Pressed by reporters afterward about his reasoning, Summers added: “I’ve seen who he is in deed and not just in word, and I’ve seen that over a long period of time. I know who this person is. I trust him.”
Perhaps more helpful to Pritzker was Summers’ brushoff of candidate Chris Kennedy as someone who doesn’t have “a true understanding of the needs of the underprivileged and communities of color in particular.”
Endorsing Pritzker will no doubt pay off politically for Summers in the future, no matter the outcome of the governor’s race.
At the very least, he ought to be able to count on a certain wealthy fundraiser for his future political endeavors, which may or may not include a campaign for mayor.
The ambitious Summers definitely doesn’t intend to grow old in the treasurer’s office.