Sunday, March 31, 2019

African-American Women Embrace Historic Moment of Chicago's Mayoral Race
Alayne Pierce, shown with her 4-year-old son, Durante Stokes III, said she is “super excited” that a black woman will be taking charge at City Hall regardless of the election’s outcome. (Armando L. Sanchez/Chicago Tribune)

Javonte Anderson
Chicago Tribune

A new era in Chicago politics will be ushered in when an African-American woman is elected mayor for the first time in city history. The magnitude of the moment has not escaped black female voters, who have mixed emotions heading into Tuesday’s election.

For many black women, Tuesday’s election will be a remarkable shift in Chicago’s history that signifies a progressive step forward for the city. Other black women say, however, that they are unfazed or even unimpressed by the focus on the race and gender of the candidates.

But come Tuesday, Lori Lightfoot or Toni Preckwinkle will be thrust into a unique position: responsible for managing the nation’s third-largest city while also becoming a symbol of hope for many African-American women.

“I’m super excited because something like this never happens and for it to be black women is even more empowering,” said Alayne Pierce, 30, of the Bronzeville neighborhood.

Pierce could hardly contain her smile while discussing the upcoming election one recent evening in Hyde Park.

“It’s a blessing to have a black woman running the city,” she said, struggling to hide her teeth.

Pierce, who voted early, said she was torn between the two candidates and she’ll be happy Tuesday no matter the outcome.

“I know that my next mayor is going to have a great Afro regardless,” she said, laughing.

Barbara Lumpkin, interim president and CEO of the Chicago Urban League and former city treasurer, said having two African-American women emerge from a historically crowded campaign is public validation that black women are prepared to lead in all environments.

“This is a wonderful milestone for the city and the nation because everyone is watching,” Lumpkin said.

Angela Washington, 46, of the Woodlawn neighborhood, said she has reservations about both candidates but was reluctant to voice her frustrations.

She wasn’t upset, just skeptical of their ability to create change.

It was deflating watching the runoff spiral into a campaign rife with controversy as professional critiques quickly escalated to name-calling and personal attacks, Washington said as she sat in a chair in her West Woodlawn hair salon.

“All the bickering back and forth during the campaign is the same old thing,” Washington said. “Why tear each other down like that?”

Washington acknowledged she was somewhat pleased that two women were vying to be Chicago’s mayor but said what a person looks like should not be a factor when casting a vote.

“I don’t care about the looks,” Washington said. “Looks won’t get you anywhere in life. It’s about the change that needs to be made.”

Phyllis Ragsdale, 71, of the Hyde Park neighborhood, agreed with Washington, saying it doesn’t matter who leads the city as long as that person brings about change.

There was a point in Ragsdale’s life when the cultural significance of having a black woman running the city would have resonated with her. But that time has passed, she said.

“There was a time when I would have been thrilled, thrilled to death, about having a black woman for mayor. But now it’s about change.”

Lara Stache, assistant professor of communication and program coordinator for the gender and sexuality studies program at Governors State University, said the historic runoff indicates a public shift in perspective, a shift that will allow all voters to not only conceptualize but physically see a woman in power.

“If we continue to see the same type of people in terms of gender, race and sexuality in positions of power, then people start to think that’s the archetype for leadership,” she said.

This is a moment in time at which enough people have determined not only can they see an African-American woman as mayor, they’ve recognized both women are capable of doing the job, Stache said.

Khalidah Medlock, 28, of the South Shore neighborhood, said she’s proud that Chicago is on the cusp of having its first African-American female mayor, but she said she would temper her excitement with patience.

“It’s a beautiful time for me as a black woman,” she said. “But some things need to be done to help the city. So, from that perspective, I’ll take a wait-and-see approach.”

Katie Lowe, 68, of the West Side, said the gravity of this election transcends politics.

“I think it would almost do the same thing for Chicago that Obama did for the United States, showing that we’re all equal, and we’re all capable,” she said.

Tamar Manasseh, 41, of the Englewood neighborhood, cautioned people against expecting Lightfoot or Preckwinkle to change the fortunes of African-Americans.

“I’m not confident any one of them will be better for the black community than a white man would,” she said.

But Lowe said having an African-American female mayor is symbolic.

“I think it’s time for change. I think Chicago needs a new breath of life in politics. Can a woman do it? Of course she can.”

Twitter @javontea

No comments: