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A split black vote could undo Preckwinkle’s front-runner status

Mayoral candidate Toni Preckwinkle was interviewed by reporter Fran Spielman in the Sun-Times newsroom Friday, December 14, 2018. | Rich Hein/Sun-Times

Mayoral candidate Toni Preckwinkle was interviewed by reporter Fran Spielman in the Sun-Times newsroom Friday, December 14, 2018. | Rich Hein/Sun-Times

Where will the black vote go in the historically crowded 2019 mayoral campaign?

At least 13 candidates will be on the ballot. The vote will be sliced and diced by demographics, political inclinations and style.

Chicago’s a tribal town, where voters tend to lean along racial and ethnic lines.


For African Americans, however, that tendency has not been enough to elect a black mayor in decades.

African-American voters, roughly a third of the electorate, are a coveted commodity.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel would not have won two terms without it. African-American anger over Emanuel’s policies surely played a role in his decision to hang it up.

Like his predecessor, Richard M. Daley, Emanuel co-opted black leadership and keep the real threats at bay.

Harold Washington was the last — and only — African-American elected mayor by the voters.  In 1983 African Americans gave Washington 98 percent of their vote.  Washington had no black competition in 1983, nor in his 1987 re-election campaign.

Today there are many choices. There are more credible, accomplished black mayoral candidates to choose from than ever before.

That’s a problem for Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle. She is perceived as the front-runner because she is black, and brings nearly two decades as a Hyde Park alderman, two terms as Cook County Board president. She is the first woman and African American to head the Cook County Democratic Party.

To make the mayoral runoff, she must draw big from her African-American base.

Given some early missteps and miscalculations, Preckwinkle’s campaign could be in trouble.

That’s why, last month, Preckwinkle challenged the petitions of four of the five black women who filed to run for mayor.

That’s why, last week, Preckwinkle launched a controversial TV ad to take credit for helping expose the cover up of the police murder of Laquan McDonald.

Preckwinkle won’t apologize for taking on her female opponents. Serious candidates use petition challenges to weed out competitors running in their same lane, who share a demographic and political base.

The Chicago Board of Elections may soon rule that Dorothy Brown, a popular vote-getter in her fifth term as Cook County Clerk of the Circuit Court, does not have enough signatures to make the Feb. 26 ballot.

That would be a plus for Preckwinkle, but there are still threats ahead.

Threats like Amara Enyia, the charismatic community activist and director of the Austin Chamber of Commerce. The Garfield Park resident is backed by Chance the Rapper and a diverse swath of millennials who are pumped about her idealistic message.

And Illinois State Rep. La Shawn Ford, also based in Austin, where he has represented the 8th Legislative District since 2006.

For decades, West Siders have felt they were stepchildren to South Siders in the black power structure. They may be ready to demand their turn.

Wealthy businessman Willie Wilson is mounting his second mayoral run. He audaciously ran for president in 2016.

RELATED: Preckwinkle accused of inflating role in Laquan McDonald case

In this race, he has spent $1 million of his own money, and promises more. Wilson regularly hands out thousands of dollars to the poor, and is blanketing Chicago neighborhoods with his campaign signs.

Lori Lightfoot, an early entrant in the race, is a former federal prosecutor and president of the Chicago Police Board. She wants to be the first openly LGBTQ mayor in Chicago history.

Plenty of choices. Plenty of ways to split the base.

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