I remember when Mayor Emanuel participated in the Chicago Westside Branch NAACP’s candidates forum this spring.  The moderator asked him the following question: ‘The voices of African Americans on the West Side have virtually been absent from your policies over the past 4 years. There are no African Americans from Chicago’s West Side on the Board of Education, in spite of the fact that the West Side is ground zero for school closings and turnarounds. There were no African Americans from the West Side on the TIF Reform Panel in spite of the fact that almost every inch of North Lawndale is in a TIF. There was no African American from Chicago’s West Side named to the School Repurposing Committee until about 90 percent of the work was done. No African Americans from the West Side have been named as agency commissioners. If elected, what will you do to reverse this trend to make sure that West Siders are able to participate more fully in your administration?’

The mayor was unprepared for the question, and had no real answers. His responses were canned and he provided South Side examples to assure West Siders that he had our best interests at heart. What I found most striking was his lack of commitment to do better by us the next time around. Some members of the audience were so frustrated with the mayor’s apparent lack of knowledge of the West Side that they began to heckle him. Some shouted, “What about the West Side? We didn’t come here to hear you talk about the South Side!” Another heckler shouted something to the effect that the mayor could have stayed home if he didn’t come to address West Side issues.  After all, the forum was sponsored by the Chicago Westside Branch NAACP to get a sense for where mayoral candidates stood on issues of importance to West Siders.

Along the campaign trail, the mayor, who had a penchant for drive-by photo-ops without engaging constituents, assured us that things would be better.  He gave us a taste of a ‘kinder, gentler’ Rahm by getting out among the people that he hadn’t engaged before.  He even made a commercial with his now-famous gray sweater. 

“They say your greatest strength can be your greatest weakness. I’m living proof of that. I can rub people the wrong way, or talk when I should listen. I own that.” He insisted that he was “driven to make a difference in this city,” but stopped short of an apology by saying he “wouldn’t always get it right.”

Now that the campaign is over, we see that nothing has changed regarding his relationship with the West Side.  The mayor is shaking up his management team and has a new chief of staff. He recently went all the way to Toronto, Canada to hire a new head of the Chicago Housing Authority. (I guess he didn’t want to let all those relationships he built during his time working on NAFTA under President Clinton to go to waste).  The mayor has also appointed new members to the Board of Education, Public Building Commission and the City Colleges Board of Trustees.  To the best of my knowledge, none of the appointees are African Americans from the West Side. 

During Jesus’ time, people asked, ‘Can anything good come out of Nazareth?’ (John 1:46). Today, I have to wonder if the mayor is asking himself, ‘Can anything good come out of the West Side?’  Apparently, his answer is ‘No.’ I am thoroughly convinced that there must be a sign somewhere in Mayor Emanuel’s administration that says, “West Siders Need Not Apply.” 

I never heard of any instance of Mayor Emanuel turning down a property tax dollar or red light camera ticket fee from the West Side. Yet, our voices remain absent from any meaningful policy discussion in his administration. We clearly have a situation that demonstrates taxation without representation in one of its worst forms. 

My good friend Karl Brinson reminds me all the time, “If you’re going to complain, then you better be ready with your list of people with their qualifications who can hit the ground running; otherwise, it’s just talk.”  Karl, I hear you — loud and clear.  No more procrastinating. I’m going to get you that list and I hope I’m not the only one.

CONTACT: consulting@valerieleonard.com | Twitter: @Austinweeklychi

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