J.W. Terrell remembers the Emma Mitts of 15 years ago, when she first came into office and was green with ambition. Terrell, a resident of Austin since 1972, was having trouble with a flooded basement.
“I’d get someone out who said they’d fix it and they wouldn’t fix it,” he reminisced as he waited for a haircut at Herb’s Barber Shop, 5118 W. Chicago Avenue.
“So my wife talked to Mitts and she told us to get a licensed plumber over there and when he comes to call her and she’ll come over,” Terrell said. “It turned out that it was the tile in the street. She got the city to repair all of that. She was great when she first got in. She’s kind of backed up a little bit now, but maybe it’s not as much to do.”
On April 7, Mitts won a tense runoff election to fifth-grade teacher and Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) candidate Tara Stamps. Mitts garnered 53 percent to Stamps’s 47 percent, but despite the six-point edge, Mitts didn’t coast to victory.
Buoyed largely by an infusion of cash from CTU and other unions, and the unrest generated by a large contingent of residents dissatisfied with the 37th Ward incumbent’s service, Stamps presented an opposition to be reckoned with.
Terrell said that he hopes that Stamps’s forceful opposition helps to rekindle that initial enthusiasm he saw in the alderman, who he suspects may have started to take her seat for granted.
“I think she thought she was going to be a shoe-in,” Terrell said. “After finding out that people were considering Tara Stamps, she’ll probably tighten up and do better.”
Terrell’s sentiment was shared by Frank McNutt, 80, who supported Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s bid for reelection against Cook County Commissioner Jesus “Chuy” Garcia.
Emanuel beat Garcia by about 12 points, 56.18 percent to 43.82 percent, with the mayor carrying virtually every predominantly black ward in the city. Emanuel won the West Side’s 24th, 28th, 29th and 37th wards.
Media reports have often focused on the reticence of many black voters when it comes to casting a ballot for a Hispanic candidate for mayor. McNutt is among them.
“I like Emanuel better than the other guy running,” he said. “I didn’t know anything about [Garcia]. I never voted for a Spanish person before. This guy here [Emanuel], the president came and talked to him and told him what he wanted him to do,” McNutt said. “Treat every ward equal and I believe he’s going to do that. He’s going to be better.”
But McNutt’s assessment of the mayoral incumbent didn’t extend to the incumbent alderman of the 29th Ward, where he lives. He said he’s satisfied with the results from his ward’s aldermanic elections, in which attorney and police officer Chris Taliaferro unseated five-year incumbent Deborah Graham.
Taliaferro garnered 58 percent of the vote to Graham’s 48 percent in a race that had been unpredictable since Graham was forced into a runoff in the Feb. 24 election.
“We got a new alderman now. I live in this ward and I think I’ll get a little more work on his watch,” said McNutt, a semi-retired masonry contractor who recently turned the business over to his son.
Nathaniel Longstreet, a barber at Head Quarters, 5131 W. Madison Street, was also pulling for Emanuel.
“I think Rahm Emanuel just got the best interests of the city at heart,” he said. “He wants to see this be a better city. And Obama chose him to run Chicago. Emanuel was well-rounded and he has more experience in politics than Garcia,” said Longstreet, who voted for Deborah Graham.
“I really wanted Chuy to win, because I personally don’t think Rahm Emanuel has the minorities’ best interest at heart,” said Roy Flowers, a Herb’s barber who noted that he voted for businessman Willie Wilson in the Feb. 24 election.
Like Flowers’s support for the commissioner, Curtis Brown’s vote for Garcia was more a protest against Emanuel than a rousing vote of confidence in the man who would have been the city’s first Hispanic immigrant mayor.
“Rahm is killing our pockets,” said Brown. “There was really nobody [on the ballot] who you could actually pick. Chuy, I don’t know much about him. I got a friend who was a cop and he said he was going to vote for Chuy because of the way Rahm is trying to cut police pay.”
But for Herb Harrington, a close observer of politics and the owner of Herb’s, Garcia’s philosophy was more in harmony with his vision of democratic politics.
“I think Rahm is more of a corporate guy. Chuy is more of a populist. I was around when Harold Washington ran for mayor and I remember Chuy being a loyal member of that Washington coalition. Unlike [Rep. Luis Gutierrez, Emanuel’s campaign chairman], who broke with the coalition, Chuy stayed with it. I like that about him. You have to have somebody who’s willing to stay the course.”