EDITOR’S NOTE: Not too long ago an informal discussion occurred among a handful of Black men re: the political future of Chicago City Treasurer Kurt Summers and what was the outlook for him as a candidate for governor or mayor of Chicago. As a result of that discussion lifelong Chicagoan, Antwan Dobson was invited to pen his opinions on the general topic of a Black mayor for Chicago. His observations are below, immediately followed by my thoughts on a Black mayor, and that running for governor might be Mr. Summers’ best bet.
By Antwan Dobson
President ALD Strategic Consulting
Can Chicago have an African-American mayor? Heck yeah, we can! A more poignant question would be; Why hasn’t there been a Black mayor since The Honorable Mayor Harold Washington? The City of Chicago is approximately 33 percent Black, White and Latino. The numbers indicate not one particular race alone should have a carte blanche grip on our municipal election. Nevertheless, in the past 28 years since Mayor Washington, all mayors in Chicago have been White men. At first glance, this might be disheartening and to some and very disenfranchising to think an African-American will ever be Mayor in Chicago again.
If there’s one thing Mayor Washington could do, it was giving people a sense of hope, purpose and audacity to be successful. I intentionally did not say, “he” gave Black people. MaYOR Washington made everyone believe that they too can be successful and part of the political process. Mayor Washington sustained that attitude when he was in the middle what was dubbed the “council wars.” If Mayor Washington said ‘look up’, certain individuals in council chambers would say “look down” just to oppose him. So, even in seemingly insurmountable conditions, Mayor Washington was able to motivate the people and to be an inspiration to young Black boys and girls to be something other than a victim of their circumstances.
In order for Chicago to elect the next Black mayor, there needs to be a Black man or woman with the ability to galvanize the people; a person who can give them a sense of hope and change—sounds familiar? There are plenty of African-Americans armed with college degrees from prestigious universities, but what has to accompany that elite education is that “IT” factor. The goodwill spirit of an individual and an earnest for public service must transcend anyone’s academic acumen, clout or ability to raise copious amount of money. As I alluded to earlier, not one race should be the majority stakeholder in the city’s election. In other words, whomever this African American person may be, they must be able to appeal to all Chicagoans.
If the African American community truly wishes to see one of their own occupying the seat on the fifth floor at City Hall once again, the voter turnout in said community must exponentially increase for such mayoral candidate. Before we get into the science of a successful Black candidate running for mayor, we have to believe it is possible. We have to believe we deserve it! We must believe our time is long overdue.
By Glenn Reedus
By all accounts Chicago City Treasurer Kurt Summers is the total package. It is believed by many Black folks he has everything it takes to succeed in the world of politics – uber smart, great presenter, finance and budget-savvy, and extremely personable. A week ago, when the 36-year-old South Side native sent an open letter to friends, families, and supporters, it set tongues to wagging and social media buzzing.
Mr. Summers used the letter to explain he is interested in running for governor of Illinois and was still exploring the possibility. The wording was such that many, including me, thought he was committing to run. Political novices and weary campaign vets immediately weighed in on his chances of being elected, as well as whether he was seeking the right office. There was no shortage of people ready to put Mr. Summers in the mayor’s office. Ascending to the fifth floor of City Hall would indeed be a miracle for the 36-year-old Summers. The incumbent there, Mayor Rahm Emanuel, cleared the field two election cycles ago making it possible to move Mr. Simmers into the treasurer’s job when he pushed a very capable Stephanie Neeley out of office.
So, it makes little to no sense that Mr. Summers would compete against the man who catapulted him into elected office. If the mayor had been able to parlay a Hillary Clinton presidential victory into a cabinet post, as was highly rumored, then a Summers for Mayor bid would have made sense.
We all know however Mrs. Clinton’s efforts came up short. A Summers for Mayor campaign undoubtedly would have the backing and resources of his former boss, Cook County President Toni Preckwinkle, and much of the business community. With all of that in place, Mr. Summers would still be lacking a critical cog in his campaign wheel-retail politics. He has limited experience in handshaking and kissing babies 12-14 hours a day, six days a week. On the mayoral level that is what it takes to reach voters, not the lofty, numbers-laden speeches.
Inconsequential is how some might categorize Mr. Summers’ lack of campaign experience. The more local an office the more campaigning is required. This is exactly why Mr. Summers has a better shot at being the state’s first African-American governor. While a run for governor covers a lot more ground it is not nearly as intense. A mayoral candidate in the city doesn’t get a respite from the campaign. Whether it is the grocery store, barbershop, or church; folks want to talk and/or complain to the next mayor.
Undoubtedly, voters in other parts of the state will be far more interested in any proposed solutions that Mr. Summers offers than the local minutia Chicagoans, especially Chicagoans would attempt to saddle him with. We saw continuously how Black Chicagoans attempted to make former President Barack Obama the president of Chicago, instead of accepting that he had to be shared with the world
Mr Summers has the wherewithal to do what he can as governor to address Chicago’s many, many needs, while ensuring the balance of the state is taken care of. Additionally, with the majority of both state houses likely to stay on the Democratic side of the ledger, Mr. Summer would have more than adequate air cover to forward his mission. One of the most salient points about a Gov Summers administration is he is likely to bring a cohort of new blood and new ideas to Springfield. Millennials and Gen Xers have repeatedly complained about not being brought into the political and governmental inner circles. One has to believe Mr. Summers would change that.
He represents a new era and new breed for a governor’s office. Unlike the late Virginia Governor Doug Wilder, who had a stellar Civil Rights Movement background, or Deval Patrick,
who left Chicago and ultimately became governor of Massachusetts, and assumed the office of governor, after having federal government experience; Mr. Summers
Mr. Summers also is young enough so that if he does entertain mayoral ambitions he can run down the road. The experience of being top dog in Springfield certainly won’t hurt if he decides he does want that fifth-floor office on LaSalle Street.