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Hermene Hartman Headshot

Writing About Politics

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When I started N'DIGO some 21 years ago, I wanted to create a print media that discussed the stories untold, mis-told and that needed to be re-told about Black folk.

I wanted to bring the parlor talk, the barber and beauty shop conversations, to light. I didn't want to dodge the issues, I wanted to hit them head on.

I wanted to provide space to columnists to stretch and develop their points of views without caution and political consequence. I wanted people to look to us for the discussion and point of view.

I never thought our word was gospel or that we had the exclusive voice, but I wanted to weigh in. I wanted us to speak so that people would listen.

I wanted to change and challenge the landscape of Chicago media that I perceived as sometimes racist and/or ignorant and/or protective. I wanted to push the envelope for the Black urban agenda. I wanted to make points and examine issues, as a real newspaper does.

I didn't want to print press releases and limit the discussion to the church, the game, or the party. I wanted to introduce significant people who go uncovered and who are marginalized. We have done all of that. At 21 years old, we are in adulthood, with all of what that means.

My Controversial Endorsement

Recently, I endorsed Rahm Emanuel for Mayor of the City of Chicago, saying that he was the best candidate for the job at this time. The endorsement in some quarters was stunning and newsworthy, but neither response was my intent.

I went against the Black norm, stepped out of my box and stereotype. I was challenged and cited on blogs and in newspaper articles, mostly notably by Laura Washington and Mary Mitchell, both writers for the Chicago Sun-Times.

My endorsement proved to be shocking. Some said I was no longer for Black political empowerment. Not true. Some questioned my intentions, suggesting that I had been "co-opted." Not true. Some said I was seeking national attention, and well, I am looking for national attention in all that I write.

Mitchell wrote that I humiliated Braun by saying she was not the one to unite the city at this time. I spoke the truth. Carol ran a lousy campaign, for a host of reasons. Her message never resonated or connected. Her crackhead comments at the debate at Trinity Church put her in a downward spin.

I wonder if Mitchell attended the editorial board meeting when the paper she writes for endorsed Emanuel. This is where her voice had power. Did she speak up for Braun at that time? I'm just asking.

There is a double standard for Black press and White media. White press in any shape, form or fashion can speak their minds, offer opinions and viewpoints and all is well. They are seldom threatened, harassed, co-opted or questioned about their integrity.

My friend Stella Foster, the Sun-Times columnist, talks about this often -- how Black celebs and other VIPS call to tell you about the news in their life and then tell you not to write about it. And then the next thing you know, that same information is there in what you consider the competition's column or paper.

Mary Mitchell's article raised a compelling question: what does Braun's run say about the city's Blacks? I take the opposite view of Mitchell.

The Black community was indeed in search of a candidate, but a consensus candidate was never found, so we had a compromise and condensed candidate. The community was ready, the candidate was not. The community was running for Carol, but she never ran for herself.

Missteps and New Rules

The Black community is doing some things politically incorrectly, and we need an honest appraisal. Our leadership is in question because it has changed and we don't know where we are going.

First, we come to the game late. We are not planning campaigns or training candidates. The machinery is not up and running.

Second, we keep comparing and using the Harold Washington model of winning. That model is 30 years old and the world has changed about three times since then.

That model is simple and assumes that a Black candidate automatically equates to a Black-voting populist. It assumes the Black community is monolithic. Wrong.

The model should be the new one Barack Obama introduced. Crossover. Inclusion. Solidify your base and move outward. Use social media to raise money constantly in small amounts with constant messages. Work hard for all of the votes. The winning formula is one-third of all ethnic groups voting for you.

Third, Black political talent is limited and needs to broaden and recognize generational transition. The usual suspects, along with pop-up and pull-back candidates, continue to run and lose.

Fourth, you have to build a team of people. The team crosses over and represents multi-everything. Did Carol campaign on the North Side, the Southwest Side, or did she just cover Black neighborhoods? Did she campaign enough?

Fifth, fund-raising is not limited to the Black business community. When campaigning you get money from all who will give. Where are the smaller donations? Where are the $25 and $50 and $100 donations? Where were the public fundraisers? Who hosted the rally?

Sixth, run against the big elephant, not the ant. Keep your eye on the prize.

Seventh, run to win, not to place.

Eighth, it is not fruitful that candidates run when they have been out of the game or are brand new to the game just because they want to or a small interest group has selected them to.

Ninth, no candidate can run with heavy baggage, with constant excuses, and a litany of problems and campaign mishaps. The public is seeking a leader who presents solutions with a problem-solving attitude.

And tenth, business people constitute the fund-raising element of the campaign, but the campaign cannot rest on their shoulders alone.

Ariel Capital's John Rogers was absolutely correct as quoted in Mitchell's article, when he recognized that Black businesses have suffered and shrunk in revenues and number of employees and that the rules of the political contribution have changed.

New rules are in place and so are new times. The Black business community has suffered drastically in this recession that is really a depression, from layoffs to close-ups and no bank loans.

The most important element for the next mayor, besides the city's deficit, is to address small business in Chicago, particularly African-American business, which has suffered mostly because of racism, fraud and neglect.

Last year, the set-asides were robbed of $17 million, by the city's own admission. If Rahm Emanuel is elected to office, this will be a primary issue and Black business will hold his feet to the fire for equity and opportunity.

Voting For A New Chicago

You cannot blame an entire community for a poor candidate. The community can be ready, but the candidate has to be able and ready to go. Neither can you assume that people will vote strictly on gender, religion and ethnicity.

And in this historical moment, when there is about to be a New Chicago, we vote beyond pride, history and promise. Some of us are independent thinkers and vote from a reality base.

In this day and time, Blacks vote for Whites and Whites vote for Blacks and in-between. Would it have been "fair" for Whites not to vote for Obama because of his skin color alone?

Elections are supposed to engage public debate. It is the duty of the press to remove the personalities out of the equation and stick to the issues in that debate. I am glad the Black press weighed in -- the Chicago Defender's debate was newsworthy and meaningful, where all the candidates participated.

It is also the duty of the press to speak the truth, be you a columnist or publisher, be you an African American writing for either mainstream media or the Black press.

I have paid civil rights and political dues, more than most. I have participated in independent democratic politics for the most part. I have the right and freedom to endorse as I see fit. We can disagree, but my integrity is not in question.