Around 50 people packed the tight office space at Genesis on the Avenue, 5811 W. Chicago Ave., on March 8 for the grand opening of what is the only official presidential campaign office on the West Side and among only three Clinton offices in the city. The other two, on the North and South Sides, opened last month.
The West Side office opening could be one of the last major mobilizations by the campaign in the run-up to the March 15 Democratic Primary election. Earlier in the day, former President Bill Clinton stopped by MacArthur’s Restaurant, 5412 W. Madison St., before traveling to speak at a rally in Evanston.
Attendees at the March 8 opening included Ald. Emma Mitts (37th), state Rep. Camille Lilly (78th) and Rev. Ira Acree, pastor of the Greater St. John Bible Church in Austin. Mitts and Acree are among nine Clinton delegates who are hoping to witness her accept the Democratic Party Presidential nomination in Philadelphia July.
State Rep. La Shawn K. Ford (8th) and former 37th Ward aldermanic candidate Tara Stamps are two West Siders among the nine Sanders delegates hoping the Vermont senator wins the nomination. Sanders opened an office last month in the South Loop — his only one in the city.
“I have a daughter who is 16 years old and she might be the [first] black woman president. I wanted to do this for her,” said community organizer and nonprofit professional Deborah Williams, who was influential in luring the Clinton campaign to the Chicago Avenue space. Williams said Obama also opened a West Side office during his reelection campaign.
Williams, a member of the Westside Branch NAACP, was a West Side coordinator for President Barack Obama’s successful 2012 reelection campaign. She’s also worked on campaigns for U.S. Rep. Danny K. Davis (7th), former Sen. Carol Mosley Braun, Cook County Commissioner Richard Boykin (1st) and Rep. Ford.
“When I saw that there was a Clinton campaign office coming to the West Side, I got excited,” said Mitts, who was also an Obama delegate in 2012. “I worked for a lot of presidents’ campaigns and they never thought about us here. So, we’re ecstatic. The only problem is getting us to the polls to vote.”
“[It’s good to have] another campaign office for another Illinoisan,” said Lilly. “Hillary set the stage long before today … So, we’ve got to make this home for the next seven days. We need to have access to information [around the clock].”
Many in attendance touted what they considered to be Clinton’s superior experience as a former First Lady, U.S. Senator and U.S. Secretary of State. They also said that Clinton’s campaign platform was superior to Sen. Sanders’s when it came to addressing the country’s many racial injustices.
“Hillary is not blind to the racial issues of America,” said Acree. “Sanders needs to know that all black people are not poor and all white people are not wealthy,” he said, referencing Sanders’s comments during last Sunday’s Democratic debate.
When asked by CNN’s Don Lemon to explain any racial blind spots he may have, Sanders said, “When you’re white, you don’t know what it’s like to be living in a ghetto, you don’t know what it’s like to be poor.”
One handout available to attendees read that Clinton would “end the era of mass incarceration,” “end the epidemic of gun violence in our communities” and “dismantle the school-to-prison pipeline.”
“We want to make sure that she follows through on these promises,” Acree said, before noting that Clinton would also be best positioned to build on some of Obama’s successes — in addition to implementing some of her own.
“With Obama, we never moved from celebration to legislation,” the pastor noted. “Everybody else was making their case for their community [while] blacks couldn’t get his ear.”
Acree said Clinton wouldn’t be boxed in, and blacks will not feel the need to protect her from racially hostile opposing forces, as was the case with Obama.
“I believe [black] issues have been addressed, but people didn’t often get to see them implemented [and] the whole communication piece has always been a challenge,” said Lilly. “But he’s helped our community. He just didn’t have time to tell us about [what he did]. So, our president has made an impact. He only had eight years, though. Hillary will continue his legacy.”
Mark Bland, 50, a longtime poll worker and campaign volunteer for Obama and former Mayor Richard J. Daley, among other politicians, said he supports Clinton because of her “experience, strength and knowledge.”
“It’s not just an issue of color,” he said. “It’s important we know this is a time for a woman to win who is the smartest, most qualified candidate.”