Daley’s surprise announcement of his retirement after 22 straight years in office caught everybody off guard, especially Chicago’s putative Black power brokers. A farcical mad dash to identify a “consensus Black candidate” began with at least three separate groups of Black “leaders” convening – each ironically proclaiming “Black unity” as its prime directive. And “candidates” sprouted like mushrooms after a spring rain. There were, of course, the usual suspects – a bevy of perennial (professional) candidates, former and current congressmen, community activists, city, county and state elected officeholders, and the ubiquitous black preachers (one of whom was both a state senator and pastor of one of Chicago’s largest “mega churches”).
In a sad irony, dripping with historical overtones, the one Black politician who held the most promise to actually defeat the Daley machine had shot himself in both feet just after Obama became America’s First Black President — Congressman, Jr. Junior had been groomed since his election to Congress in 1995 to some day succeed Harold Washington as Mayor of Chicago as well. But, in what may only be described as a tragic-comedy, he had disqualified himself by making constant, very public, very loud and obsequious pleas to be named as Obama’s U.S. Senate successor by the indicted (and ultimately impeached and criminally convicted and now imprisoned) ex-governor Rod Blagojevich. Further, an allegation surfaced against the married Congressman of an unseemly dalliance with a youthful blond Washington, D.C. “hostess.” Jackson Junior’s less than forthcoming explanations for both incidents ruled him out of the mayoral sweepstakes.
Thus, at one candidates’ forum held at a historic Black Baptist church, over 20 individuals showed up claiming to be “The One.” The one Black candidate, that is, whom Black Chicago was looking for as the rightful heir, protector and embodiment of Harold Washington’s legacy.
Early in the First Black President’s term his Chief of Staff,, publicly declared that he considered the mayoralty of Chicago as his ultimate “dream” job – but would only seek that office if the current mayor, , chose not to run again. This pronouncement set in motion a fast-moving and apparently unstoppable train of events: The First Black President rushed to bless his Chief of Staff’s aspirations, dutifully declaring that Rahm would make a “great” mayor of Chicago. Daley, as if on cue, promptly announced his retirement, citing, among other reasons for his decision, family issues (sick wife). The First Black President’s Chief of Staff, again in turn, resigned and returned to Chicago to run for his now suddenly open “dream job.” (Of course, it was merely coincidental that Rahm Emanuel had once also served as Daley’s Chief of Staff). And then, the pièce de résistance: As Emanuel’s replacement, the First Black President nominated the mayor’s very own brother, William Daley, recently a Wall Street honcho and past heavyweight in the Clinton regime, as his new Chief of Staff. Emanuel went on to soundly defeat all comers, Black and Hispanic. The Hispanic vote split between two prominent Hispanic candidates. Conveniently, all potential white candidates had dropped out of the mayoral sweepstakes earlier – actually well before the contest moved even into second gear — without having attended so much as one “white candidate consensus” meeting. The circle had been squared and all was now right with the world.
Black people in Chicago, particularly the elderly, and more particularly elderly Black women, seem to believe that the First Black President can do no wrong. They supported and voted for Emanuel not because he represented anything that might actually help them or our people. They voted for Emanuel because the First Black President told them to. They voted for Emanuel so that the First Black President would not be “embarrassed” by his “base” constituency in his “home town.” How else to explain their desertion of a Black woman, who despite her many flaws, was much more so than Rahm Emanuel or even Obama, himself, ever could be, of them, from them, for them? These people are simply, plainly, thankful that they have lived long enough to see a putatively “Black” family in the White House. His presence alone appears to have satisfied them. His presence alone appears to have compensated them for their long sojourn and travail at the absolute bottom of white America’s political, economic, cultural, social, and racial hierarchies.
Thus, the First Black President is routinely excused for every insult or disrespectful position, policy or utterance he makes with regard to Black people. More often than not, however, he simply ignores Black people and their longstanding “issues.” This First Black President pretends that there is no “Black Agenda” separate or distinct from the larger framework of “America.” (The “rising tide” syndrome). We must understand, his indefatigable supporters argue, the unique pressures that he is under; that for him to openly embrace anything “Black” would alienate him from that minority among whites who helped put him over the top in 2008 and who will be necessary in November for his re-election. It is then, after he is safely re-elected, that they believe – hope — that Obama’s “blackness” will come to the fore, when he has no more elections to worry about, when he does not have to answer to the big moneyed people on Wall Street or any other street. Then he will turn his attention to Black people and their unresolved problems.
As we are witnessing, of course, just as he did immediately prior to the 2010 mid-term elections, the First Black President re-discovered the 40 million Black people who have unwaveringly supported him. Perhaps he has discovered that his continued disregard of us will cost him his job. I doubt it. He must discover his own own blackness before he will be able to relate to the rest of us, particularly the, poorest of us, the least us. Until that time, though, Black people should expect more of the same from this First Black President. He will continue to make nice, inspiring speeches, but his practices and policies will continue to benefit those who contribute most in terms of dollars and cents to his reelection bid. As my mother used to say, “It’s what you do, not what you say that counts.”