“Pyramid of Power” Looking for Successor to Jesse Jackson Jr
“Change We Need” is the prevailing political attitude in Chicago’s black community, and it has nothing to do with Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign slogan or 2012 re-election campaign.
Getting rid of the “Tiresome Threesome” black city congressmen – the ailing Bobby Rush (D-1), first elected in 1992; the scandal-challenged Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-2), first elected in 1995; and the indolent and increasingly irrelevant Danny Davis (D-7), first elected in 1996 – has become a priority among black politicians.
A congressional seat is a prized plum, nestled at the apex of the “Pyramid of Power” which typifies Chicago and Cook County politics. It is deemed a steppingstone to the mayoralty. Harold Washington, elected congressman in 1980, used the post to elevate his name recognition, solidify his black base, and get elected mayor in 1983. Rush and Davis have run for mayor. Jackson was primed to run in 2007 against Rich Daley, but folded; by 2011, when Daley retired, Jackson was ensnared in the Blagojevich morass, the subject of an ethics investigation, an admitted adulterer, and totally without credibility and viability.
One should not speak ill of the dead, or pronounce the dead as ill. But it’s unmistakably evident that Jackson’s career is on life-support, just waiting for somebody (meaning Jackson) or something (meaning the FBI or the House Ethics Committee) to flick the switch. Once perceived as the “Great Black Hope,” he’s now derided as the “Great Black Dope.”
He will never be mayor, or U.S. Senator. The only unresolved question is: How long can be last as the 2nd District’s absentee congressman? He will be re-elected on Nov. 6, but unless he resigns sometime during his 2013-2014 term, he will surely be defeated in the 2014 primary.
One can surely emphasize with Jackson’s plight. He has acknowledged that he suffers from a bi-polar disorder, which is characterized by daily, sometimes hourly, mood swings between elation and depression. After the heady years of being perceived as a mayor-in-waiting, or better, Jackson is now beset and besieged. The media, and political columnists regularly lampoon, lambaste and lacerate him. The FBI is reportedly investigating possible irregularities in campaign spending. The House Ethics Committee is investigating whether he used his federal staff to intercede in the alleged Blagojevich “Senate seat sale”; if so, he could be censured, sanctioned or expelled.
If Jackson resigns, the probing and anxiety ends.
But sympathy is easily dwarfed by political ambition, and a gaggle of 2nd District politicians, including white former congresswoman Debbie Halvorson, who lost the 2012 Democratic primary to Jackson by 56,130-22,678 (71.2 percent), are eagerly eying the seat. Blacks are almost 70 percent of the primary vote, but a contest with multiple blacks against Halvorson could result in her victory.
Now, in political circles, like the protocol at a fast-food restaurant, there’s a rising crescendo that it’s time for the Threesome to “step aside” and let the next generation of black mayoral wannabes move into those congressional seats – and begin positioning themselves to run for mayor when Rahm Emanuel moves on to another office.
According to insiders in the black community, here’s the line of succession:
In Davis’s West Side 7th District, the possible successors are Alderman Walter Burnett (27th), a protégé of Secretary of State Jesse White; Alderman Deborah Graham (29th), a former state representative; State Senator Kimberly Lightford (D-4), of Maywood; and State Representative LaShawn Ford (D-8), of Chicago. Another possibility is State Senator Kwame Raoul (D-13), from the Hyde Park area, who took Obama’s seat in 2005. The 2011 remap added a sliver of the 5th Ward, where Raoul lives, to the 7th District.
Should Davis, age 71, who lost a 2012 race against Graham for 29th Ward Democratic Committeeman, run again in 2014, he will have competition from one or more of the aforesaid. The congressman’s days are numbered.
In Rush’s near South Side 1st District, which takes in all or part of 16 Chicago wards, plus a large swath of suburban and rural territory (166 precincts) stretching west of I-57 to Tinley Park, and then into Will County to Mokena, Frankfort, New Lenox and Manhattan. The black population is 55 percent.
Rush, age 65, has been battling cancer since 2008, and underwent major surgery and five months of treatment. He looks wan and frail, but is still combative. He got headlines when he donned a “hoodie” on the House floor to condemn “racial profiling” by the police in the wake of Florida’s Trayvon Martin slaying.
The congressman’s stature in the district borders on the iconic. He won the 2012 primary with 83.6 percent against five challengers. He will not lose a Democratic primary – ever. In 2000, he thumped Obama by 59,599-29,649 (61 percent). When Rush retires, which will likely be in 2014, Raoul is the designated successor, and will boast Obama’s endorsement, even though he lives in the 7th District. Under the U.S. Constitution, one need only live in the state to represent any district. Another possibility is white Alderman Bob Fioretti (2nd), whose ward was cannibalized by the council’s 2012 remap, and will be out of a job in 2015.
In Jackson’s south Lakefront and suburban/.rural district, which stretches from Pershing Road in Burnham Park, which is 3800 South, east of the Dan Ryan Expressway, to the southern Kankakee border, a distance of 66 miles, the succession is quite clear: It will be Alderman Will Burns (4th), a protégé of Cook County Board president Toni Preckwinkle, not Alderman Sandi Jackson (7th), the congressman’s wife. Another possibility is Alderman Anthoony Beale (9th).
The district has 194 precincts in Chicago, in six wards; 263 precincts in the south Cook County suburbs, including heavily black Bloom, Bremen, Calumet, Rich and Thornton townships; 27 precincts in Will County and 85 precincts in Kankakee County.
“There’s no way Sandi (Jackson) can win that seat,” observed a South Side black Democrat. “If Junior resigns, it will be in disgrace. He (Jackson) has been neglecting his district. His baggage is too heavy for her to win (the seat,” he added.
However, said one black South Side insider, the interim successor, if a special election is called in 2013, will be Bob Shaw, a shopworn 34th Ward politician, who would be the placeholder until 2014. “In a low-turnout primary, Halvorson could win,” he said. “With only Shaw running, she loses.”
The so-called “Pyramid of Power” is like a ladder. The lowest rung is that of state legislator. At present, there are 8 black state senators and 16 black state representatives whose districts lie within the three congressional districts. The next Recorder, Maywood’s Karen Yarbrough, was a state representative, as were her black predecessors Gene Moore, Jesse White and Carol Moseley Braun.
The next rung is Cook County commissioner, of which there are four, elected in districts: Earlean Collins (D-1), Deborah Sims (D-5), Jerry “Iceman” Butler (D-3), and Bobby Steele (D-2). None, except West Sider Steele, is deemed congressional material, and Collins and Butler will likely retire in 2014. The next rung is countywide office, of which blacks hold 5: Board president, Clerk of Court, Recorder, and two Metropolitan Sanitary District commissionerships
The next rung is Chicago alderman, of which there are currently 19 (which will decrease to 18 in 2015). Both Rush and Davis were aldermen, as were Preckwinkle and her predecessor, Todd Stroger.
The top rung is U.S. Representative, which guarantees visibility, a lifetime tenure, and a shot at mayor.
A bit of history is in order. Prior to the Great Depression, Chicago’s blacks were solidly Republican. They provided South Side votes for Mayor William Hale Thompson and other Republican bosses. Chicago’s first black congressman, in the near South Side 1st District, was Oscar DePriest (R), elected in 1932. The massive 1930s influx of Southern blacks, coupled with Roosevelt’s “New Deal,” created a Democratic base, and DePriest lost in 1934. Bill Dawson, the Republican 2nd Ward alderman from 1933-39, switched parties, became Democratic ward committeeman, and beat DePriest’s successor for Congress in 1942. Born in 1886 in Georgia, Dawson rose to become chairman of the Government Operations committee; as South Side “boss,” he delivered black votes for the Kelly Machine, and critical votes for Richard J. Daley in 1955.
Dawson died in 1969, and Daley picked 60-year old 3rd Ward Alderman Ralph Metcalfe, a 15-year Daley loyalist, for the seat. After being harassed by a white cop, Metcalfe morphed into a Daley critic, and pondered a 1975 run for mayor. Metcalfe died in 1978, was replaced by Bennett Stewart, whom Washington beat in 1980. Washington was succeeded by Charlie Hayes, an obscure union official, whom Rush unseated in 1992.
An explosive black West Side population growth made 24th Ward Alderman George Collins the congressman in 1970; he died in a 1973 plane crash, and his widow, Cardiss Collins, held the seat until 1996, when she retired and Davis was elected.
Equally explosive black far South Side population growth enabled the controversial, publicly anti-Semitic Gus Savage to win the seat in 1980; he kept his job until 1992, when attorney and talk show host Mel Reynolds beat him 63-37 percent. Reynolds, after being charged with having sexual relations with a teenager, resigned in 1995; in the Nov. 1995 primary, in a turnout of 62,228, Jackson won with 46 percent, beating state senators Emil Jones and Alice Palmer (whose seat was won by Obama in 1996).
With Emanuel moving on, those three black congressional seats are a coveted prize.
Russ Stewart is a political analyst for the Chicago Daily Observer