Monday, December 20, 2010

8274: Meeks Shall Not Inherit Mayoral Seat.

From The Chicago Sun-Times…

Mayoral race can be teachable moment

We love it when mayoral candidate James Meeks says what’s on his mind.

Even when he’s wrong.

That happened last week, when state Sen. Meeks, speaking on a black radio station, said that only African Americans, and no other ethnic and racial minorities or women, should be eligible for city contract set-asides for minorities. He was discussing the low percentage of city contracting that goes to African Americans.

Meeks was out of line, of course. He’s right to be frustrated by the small cut of city business going to African Americans, but dealing out other minorities, whom Meeks said haven’t suffered discrimination, won’t boost those numbers.

It’s also pretty offensive.

Feeling the heat, Meeks later backpedaled, saying “all minority and women-owned businesses deserve their fair share of city contract opportunities.”

But before an audience where he’s hunting for votes — an audience where Meeks felt comfortable, where he is known for working well with others and for fighting for improved education for all kids — Meeks said what he really thought.

That won’t work if you want to be elected mayor — Chicago’s mayor has to be able to speak to all of us — but Meeks expressed a view and a frustration that all of us ought to be aware is out there.

If we’re lucky, Chicago might get more out of this campaign than a new mayor.

We could learn about each other.

Chicago remains one of the nation’s most segregated cities, as we all know. Far too many of us are cloistered in our separate pockets of the city.

But among the 14 mayoral candidates — and among the six candidates getting the most attention — we have a real cross-section of Chicagoans, each of them inclined to view the big issues of the day in part through the lens of his or her own life experiences.

Many of these experiences are ones the rest of us will never encounter. So feel free to disagree with Meeks. We certainly do. But we see his remarks, and others to come from other candidates, as a chance to better understand where they and others who have walked in their shoes are coming from.

This same sentiment applies in reverse. Given such a diverse field, the candidates themselves have an opportunity to learn something new about Chicago from each other and from each voter they meet.

This is true for every candidate, but we’d like to single out Rahm Emanuel for special attention. Emanuel, the front-runner in all the polls, is skipping the smaller debates and forums, such as the one hosted by the Chicago Teachers Union last week, agreeing only to participate in a few large debates. This is bad for voters and bad for Emanuel. As a former congressman representing the North Side, Emanuel doesn’t have broad experience as a public official in every corner of Chicago.

These smaller forums, admittedly along with Emanuel’s own efforts to campaign throughout the city, offer him a chance to hear what’s really on the minds of all kinds of Chicagoans.

That’s an education that no potential mayor of this wonderfully diverse city should miss.

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