The Changing Face of Illinois Politics

06/15/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011
  • Hermene Hartman President, Hartman Publishing Group, Inc.; President, N'DIGO Foundation

The face of local politics is changing.

Barack Obama's election as president of the United States will prove to be a curse or a blessing for black politicians. He has established a new standard. The jargon of diversity takes on a whole new meaning. There are no excuses or limitations, and crossover is evident.

Jackson's Saga

The recent political saga of Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr. is mysterious. I am certain he will be proven innocent of all impropriety when the case comes to full light. He is probably the only sitting Congressman with a degree in divinity and law.

There was much drama in the appointment of the junior senator from the state of Illinois. Jackson was clearly the best choice. He has experience in the U.S. Congress, and his next obvious step was the U.S. Senate. He had the highest poll ratings for the seat. He was the youngest among those mentioned for the position and this meant he had an opportunity for real seniority and power.

His name appeared on the Obama list, where he served in a national capacity during the campaign. Jackson even criticized his father's off-the-cuff comments about then-candidate Obama during the campaign, which was a risky move not sanctioned by many. (Perhaps a public condemnation was politically necessary, but your father is your father after voting is done!) His voting record is stellar. He has missed one vote in 15 years in the Congress. He will be challenged to climb the political ladder, and it will be a shame if he misses his chance at the seat.

All the politicians had candidates in the Senate race. Reportedly, the contenders were: Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, Illinois Veterans Affairs Director Tammy Duckworth, U.S. Reps. Danny Davis, Luis Gutierrez and Jan Schakowsky, Chicago Urban League President Cheryle Jackson and former state Senate President Emil Jones. Jesse Jackson Jr. was the stellar candidate. He was the best-qualified and had the best portfolio, but was he purposely derailed? He would have had a head start on the race.

What happened? Politics happened.

Everyone possibly had a backroom agenda but Jackson. His intentions were pure. But there might have been payback. Is there a conspiracy against Jackson to knock the fresh, bright political force down to size? Is the issue to limit Jackson to the congressional seat? Is it to prevent him from forging a campaign for the fifth floor of City Hall one day? Was the White House skittish to have a Jackson in a well-earned cabinet post or to promote him to the Senate seat? What's the deal with a Jackson replacing Obama?

These are all curious questions that became parlor room talk as the Jackson saga unfolded.

Political Promotions and Pastures

The political landscape of Chicago and Illinois politics is destined to change in its black representation. The County Board presidency will surely change. Todd Stroger has been a disappointment. He should go home and not waste the public's time with another run. He will be a downer for the Democrats. At this point, he is having a tough go signing people up for his re-election committee. Ald. Toni Preckwinkle (4th) is running for the seat, though her challenge will be running countywide.

Roland Burris should move on, too, and not run. His interim term will have served him well and be so noted historically. The future is promising for Danny K. Davis; he is well-liked and well-received by all, and he has his pick of some prime spots. Davis played smart politics in not accepting the Blagojevich appointment to the Senate. It could be the County Board; it could be the U.S. Senate. Depending on the Davis destiny, state Sen. Rickey Hendon will elevate either in state politics or make a move to Washington for Congress. He is ever-popular and will move his territory.

If Chris Kennedy enters the U.S. Senate race, the family business, he will bring it. The Kennedy name is magic and Chris has a wonderful business track record that will transfer nicely into politics. He is certain to have the money and political backing necessary for a win.

Cheryle Jackson is a wild card, but with sufficient women's backing and black support, she could be an upset to the apple cart. But then what happens to the Urban League? The League has always been politically astute, but never participating directly in electoral politics. There absolutely would not have been the historical election of Harold Washington had there been no Bill Berry, the then-director of the League. And James Compton was often called upon for his valued opinion and voice of reason in political matters.

And after all that, there is the governor's seat. Will Pat Quinn win an election or will he do what is necessary to make the state solvent and move on? The million-dollar question is raising the taxes.

Lisa Madigan is sure to run for governor and if state Sen. James Meeks runs, he will challenge the race with the black vote. He will run to push the envelope on school funding and will undoubtedly have a huge chip.

The black community should be meeting in its various groups now. We stand to lose a lot in the next election. We stand to lose political ground. All politics is local, and in a real sense, the White House does not matter until the second time around.

The stakes are high, and the bets are flying. But one thing is for certain: Change is coming.

A new guard will be ushered in, and at best, we may see familiar faces in new seats.