Montgomery: “African Americans only ethnic group that votes for blacks and whites, others support their own”


By Chinta Strausberg

While co-hosting WVON’s “Matt & Perri” show Monday, Attorney James D. Montgomery described the voting patterns in Chicago as whites usually voting for their own, Hispanics voting for Hispanics but blacks being the only ethnic group that votes both African Americans and white.

He said Blacks are the only ethnic group that shares their votes and attributes this pattern to racism.

Matt McGill, the host, was joined by Montgomery, who was the late Mayor Harold Washington’s corporation counsel, and journalist/WVON talk show host Salim Muwakkil. They were discussing the upcoming February 22, 2011 election which ironically falls on the same day 27-years ago that Washington was elected mayor.

The major mayoral candidates running for mayor are: Carol Moseley Braun, Rahm Emanuel, Miguel del Valle. Also running, but not showing at least a one percent rating in the polls are William “Dock” Walls and Rev. Patricia Van-Pelt Watkins.

Asked by McGill why don’t blacks vote for the best candidate rather than by race, Muwakkil said, “All of this black electoral politics movement…after the great Gary convention in 1972, a lot of African American organizations, kind of a consensus, that electoral politics was the next step of the civil rights movement. So, electoral politics took on an added dimension for many African Americans not simply electing the best candidate on paper but also the best candidate in terms of his historical importance and historical context.

“And, for many African Americans, that was a black candidate because they were typically the only candidates that paid any attention to the black constituency. You are right (McGill), it could be seen as two different things….

“Even at this late date so many years after that 1972 convention, we are still looking for electoral politics as a way to give us a sense of meaning and a sense of integrity and the fact that we have some validity…,” said Muwakkil.

He thinks that is why many Blacks became involved with the Barack Obama campaign. “There were issues that transcended electoral politics involved in that particular campaign and I think that’s the case today,” Muwakkil reasoned.

When McGill asked what is the best candidate for the city or the best candidate for African Americans and whether there can be two candidates, Montgomery said, “Absolutely.”

Explaining, Montgomery said, “I think there is a double think in that question. One is can you present yourself as a ‘black candidate’ in a majority white electorate area and the answer is no.

“Can you vote your own interest; i.e., vote on the basis of race in order to get better political representation at the table and I think that’s absolutely you can say that the best candidate for African Americans is the one we need to be concerned about,” he said.

“A part of what we have what I call a great disadvantage to our people is that we tend to believe an act on the proposition that the white man’s ice is colder,” Montgomery stated. 

“We buy from the white man. We don’t buy from each other. We go professionally to the white man because we have a feeling is what ever ours is lesser and what ever theirs is better and that is an unfortunate situation that I think we need to face it on and not sort of skirt around this…the sidelines.

“That is one of the great frustration in politics for me and that is I look at Hispanics who are together at every political election. I look at them organize for their own interests. I look at them getting more from the table politically than African Americans, and I take my hat off to them because that is the nature of the beast called politics,” Montgomery explained. “If you don’t participate with your vote, you don’t participate at the table,” he said.

In looking at three major candidates, Montgomery said, “I see no connection whatsoever historically on the part of  Rahm Emanuel.

“When we interviewed him and talked to him, it is pretty clear that he has no real concept of what being an African American is and African American life is in Chicago and so for me by definition, he cannot be the best person for the black community,” attorney Montgomery reasoned.

“I’m very passionate about that. On the other hand, I look at Gery Chico and I see in him a heck more better understanding of where we are and of course with Carol, in my judgment, you can’t beat the black experience from her perspective because she has experienced it,” said Montgomery.

Senator Rickey Hendon (D-5th) called into WVON praising Montgomery for being one of those in the meeting that encouraged Rep. Danny K. Davis (D-7th) to drop out of the mayoral race. “Now, we have to get over our pain,” said Hendon.

“We have to get beyond our disappointment, beyond on who we wanted…. It’s Black History Month…. It’s not about how the coalition choice came out or what happened at PUSH. We have to get busy. We have to win because if we lose this one we will be laughing stock of the world…not just looking at New York…,” said Hendon.

“Everybody expects Chicago to lead the black community in political aspirations, and we are failing. We need to state that, man up. Who ever your candidate is for mayor…you have to work hard for that person. Get beyond your pain and let’s get to work,” said the senator.

Asked by McGill how does one help the West Side get over their pain given the withdrawal of Rep. Davis, Hendon said, “It’s not the West Siders doing it. We are the step kids. We’re the ones who get the crumbs that are left from what black folks are trying to get. Black folks don’t get nothing and the West Siders are going to get the crumbs from that. So, it’s not us.”

Hendon said Rep. Davis has held many meetings talking about getting over the pain. However, Hendon said there is a classism problem as well. “The wealthy blacks have to stop separating themselves from those who have a little less because we’re all in this mess together,” said Hendon.

“That is what our message is on the West Side…. It is too much to lose,” he said also asking blacks to vote for Patricia Horton for City Clerk.

Muwakkil said the political pain still felt by some West Siders after Davis dropped out of the mayoral election. “Yes that is a side issue, but it is also a surrogate issue for class divisions as well…. The least of those feel somewhat that South Siders are more economically privileged and better class connections than they do….”

Asked if there was a class issue in supporting the late Mayor Harold Washington, Montgomery explained that back then there was no prominent popular West Side candidate versus a prominent popular South Side candidate. “You did not have that division,” said Montgomery.

He said Washington was the sole black candidate. “He was a rare breed and a party guy…who had a streak of independence that focused on our concerns. He was one of the few guys in elective politics who I think the black community genuinely had a lot of respect for,” said Montgomery.

When asked by McGill how does one deal with classism in 2011, Montgomery said, “Class differences and all differences among black folks have been our downfall. I think West Side/South Side is like many of the other differences that we deal with as a people,” he said following McGill’s suggestions of “house Negro, field Negro, light-skinned, dark-skinned, good hair, and bad hair….”

Asked if anything surprise them about the campaign, Muwakkil said he is surprised that the media have given Emanuel a past. He gave as an example when Emanuel was asked in the Fannie Mae involvement with foreclosures. Muwakkil said Emanuel responded “with his experiences with CHA.

“Many people regard that whole plan for (CHA) transformation as something that as badly bungled; yet he is using that as a kind of qualification and the media is not questioning that notion, and that is a little surprising that the media has given Emanuel such a past,” said Muwakkil.

Montgomery said he is troubled about Emanuel and this election. “Starting around September when polling first started. The business group did a poll. It was pretty clear when you pitted Rahm against any of the three major black candidates in terms of polling, he was equal to the best of the three.

“He started out with a polling in the black community at 50 percent of the black vote against the best black candidate as perceived by one poll or another,” Montgomery said.

He asked: “What is his claim to the black vote, and it occurred to me that a part of it had to be the fact that he is  de facto endorsee by the president of the United States. I think that many people perceived that Barack Obama has wrapped his arms around him and endorsed him and of course our people rightfully love the president. I think that issue has not been addressed because it is a very delicate issue to address,” said Montgomery.

McGill does not think that native Chicagoans are not influenced by Obama’s de facto endorsement. Muwakkil said he too is surprised “that the kind of loyalty and allegiance that all African Americans give President Obama. His influence is truly pervasive and that is really surprising.

“It’s hard to get any kind of conversation about the merits of his administration or some of his preferences without black people saying…we have to go along with this brother. He has really become an untouchable…and that is surprising to me,” said Muwakkil.

When McGill asked if Obama publicly endorsed Emanuel would that shift votes with the black electorate both Muwakkil and Montgomery agreed that it would.

“I think that he, like Mayor Washington, becomes a hero figure for the black community whether they are old-timers or Johnny-come-lately.  The bottom line is that our kids look upon this president as being somebody that they can be one day and that is a major piece,” Montgomery stated.

Muwakkil quoted attorney Tom N. Todd, who keynoted a community event at Quinn Chapel over the weekend. “He said that the only thing that we have received from the Obama administration is hope, history and pride where other constituencies actually get resources and political considerations. We have get received that kind of consideration.”

Montgomery explained, “ You’ve got white people electing the president because black people could not elect them themselves….” He hopes Obama is successful in his re-election bid.

McGill asked Montgomery’s opinions of an article outlining how the four major mayoral candidates handle their own personal finances and how Washington was not good at managing his own money. “I think they are using this to belittle Carol,” he said referring to Braun’s struggles with her small business and paying her mortgage.

“Harold was not a guy who had a lot of assets. Money was not important to him, but he was a tremendously excellent leader for our community. Here is a guy who changed the whole culture of Chicago politics in the sense that government was opened up under Harold. It was a whole new day when we stopped hiding stuff and made things transparent in Chicago,” Montgomery said.

Former Cook County Board President Todd H. Stroger called in saying he too saw the West Side/South Side difference. “That is why Danny Davis is always put up for every office because they feel he is the shining star of the West Side and the South Side feels we have no connection whatsoever. We have nothing in common. That’s not true, but that’s the feeling.”

Stroger said younger voters “want to step from the black politicians. They don’t feel a connection to them either. They want to do their own thing and try to create something without blacks in government, but I don’t think that will work. You really need everyone working together.”

McGill said many young blacks who are products of an integrated society feel it is a “personal affront” to talk about supporting black candidates. “They want to live in this world that does not tag them like that….”

Stroger said, “We are still segregated and if they forget that that is why we are in the trouble we are in now because we don’t have anything. I don’t care where you live. If you live on the North Side, you are still connected to the West Side and the South Side.”

Montgomery agreed saying, “We need to focus on what we have in common and not our differences…because we do have one common enemy and that is racism and if we just focus on that, then we can make some better political judgments and other judgments.”

Stroger pointed out that young people want to see more money to create businesses but that has not been high on the agendas of black politicians.

McGill said a lot of young blacks who, like Tiger Woods, who grew up in an integrated society and do not identify with their race. “There’s a downside to that because there is a void of reality if you buy into that America is not” a nation “that looks at you as a black person.”

Montgomery added: “The young folks who are educated through the universities of this country which are largely integrated are programmed to believe in the American ideal that if you work hard and do good, you’ll be very successful.

“And, many of them decry this notion of being black or thinking black but rather they would say this is a free and equal society. The history, they don’t know anything about and rather forget about it, and it doesn’t work,” said Montgomery.

When one caller was critical of the major black mayoral candidates and believe they are not qualified and that he does not see any results from their being in office, Montgomery set him straight. “The people who are running things who are largely white politicians are the people in charge of the policies that result in these evils you are talking about and yet you give the edge to those people and you are hypercritical of a black candidate.

“You talk about being together. Of course, I’m with you on that, but together doesn’t mean being just together on 79th Street. It means together in terms of exercising your political power. You have no power if you’re divided within your self. If we are a people who are voting ‘a conscious,’ then we are a bunch of idiots in my judgments,” Montgomery said.

“To the extent that we vote together as a bloc, it doesn’t matter who gets elected mayor, they will respect your power and your togetherness, but if you are separated as we are and as we tend to be in election after election, we will be divided and destroyed and rendered powerless,” said Montgomery.

All agreed Blacks should become more unified with their purpose and focused on the common problems and differences rather than create chasms that dilute their effectiveness in sharing the wealth of Chicago politics.

The mayoral election will be held on Tuesday, February 22, 2011, which is exactly 28-years to the day where Harold Washington was elected as the first African American in Chicago.

According to Jim Allen, director of Communications for the Chicago Board of Commissioners, in response to the “Blizzard of 2011’s” closing of the polls last week, the Election Board has worked with the city in striking an accord that weather permitting, all 51 Early Voting sites will be open on Lincoln’s Birthday, Friday, February 11, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Early Voting will be available through February 17, 2011. Voters may use any of these sites regardless of where they reside. They should bring government-issued photo identification.

Chinta Strausberg is a  Journalist and Investigative News Reporter for more than 30-years and currently a talk show host on the PCC Network.