Much of that resolve was not so much Jackson as it was the threat of his Democratic primary rival and former Rep. Debbie Halvorson potentially taking the seat. The Chicago Black political establishment frets loudly about the prospect of multiple Black challengers canceling each other out and leaving the spoils to Halverson, who is White. Halvorson, in very typical White-politician-plays-dumb fashion counters that they should all get past “this racial stuff.”
But, it’s a legitimate concern given, ohhh … we don’t know anything … but, that long and very raw history of disenfranchisement Black people have had to experience for about 400 years. Still, the problem here is that the focus seems to stay on an outdated Black vs. White political power model rather than a conversation on whether or not there are some truly qualified Black candidates in District 2 who can take Jackson’s place.
Instead, we’re seeing this beginning to play out the same way it always does: the machine is stepping in, perhaps with some input from the Jackson family since their names keep popping up as contenders. That’s very problematic – and indicative of many Black political strongholds over the years in which familial name brands seem to hold sway over common sense. Not so long ago in Detroit, it was Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, obviously living off the Congressional mother’s political coattails. While everything seems cool in Indianapolis, Andre Carson stepped in as heir apparent to take over the late Aunt Julia Carson’s seat upon her untimely passing. There’s Kendrick Meek in Florida, who simply walked right into his mother Carrie Meek’s seat. And, the Harold Fords – Sr. and Jr. – in Memphis who failed to any memo of their political sunset until Jr. lost an ambitious Senate bid. For a time, we had John and Milton Street in Philly; there are also the Goodes, from daddy the first Black Mayor of Philly to son who is a city councilman. The list is long with many, like Jackson, being groomed for seats kept warm by current elected officials or parents with iconic political clout in their respective jurisdictions.
It would take a book to examine this a bit more, but much of the high profile modern Black political class is not your homespun community activist with grass root street cred. It’s a trend of political offspring, of primarily Black Democratic parents who are thinking legacy, some recently catapulted into the upper middle-class by political fortunes. Not certain if it’s intended, but it definitely shows. It’s as if the message is if you’re Black and you want to run for office, you have to be of a certain stock – and, let’s not forget that one must also be wearing a certain Greek letter or be a member of someone’s Pan-Hellenic council.
What happened to the authentic candidates? We talk about how much we hate the Tea Party, but you have to give it to them: they dig authentics. We can question the credentials of those candidates all day, but maybe some Black Democratic primaries could use a heavy dose of that. A process where candidates are picked on some substance and not the shiny rims of an illustrious family name or connections to a colorful step-showy organization.
Interestingly enough, and speaking of Chicago, the current President Obama appears to have defied this trend. In fact, he pretty much strapped dynamite to it. But, on a more local level, there’s quite a bit of high tolerance in places like District 2 for some of the same “old boy” and “country club” style, Tammany Hall machine politicking that one thought we spent quite a few centuries fighting against. Sadly, a former convicted pedophile and former member of Congress, Mel Reynolds, thinks so little of the intelligence of folks in this urban southeast Chicago suburb that he’s feeling the bug.
That says a lot about voters there – perhaps Reynolds thinking that “hey – they voted for Jackson and he wasn’t even showing up for work. This should be easy.” It’s unfortunate, but it’s politics. And, ultimately, it’s a question of whether or not voters are holding these folks up to a higher standard. Judging from the nonsense in Illinois’ 2 nd Congressional District, doesn’t appear so. Thus, quality candidates need not apply.
CHARLES D. ELLISON is Washington Correspondent for The Philadelphia Tribune and host of Showdown on SiriusXM 124, Thursdays 7-9pm ET. He can be reached via Twitter @charlesdellison