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Rich Miller: Trying to get back in race, Kennedy sets off explosion

 
 
updated: 1/12/2018 10:24 AM

Just days before the 2010 general election, then-Sen. Rickey Hendon (D-Chicago) introduced then-Gov. Pat Quinn at a Chicago rally by calling Quinn's Republican opponent a "racist".

The resulting uproar was quite something to behold. Hendon refused to apologize to Sen. Bill Brady and so did Quinn. Everyone, including me, thought Hendon may have hurt Quinn in a close campaign.

Hendon told me later he believed he actually won that race for Quinn, by piercing the noise of the campaign and speaking directly to black voters.

Hendon says a lot of things, and it's difficult to nail down one deciding factor in a close campaign. But there is no doubt that Hendon electrified a community that wasn't enthusiastic about voting for Quinn.

Which brings us to last week's comments by Chris Kennedy. The Democratic gubernatorial candidate shocked just about everyone by claiming that a deliberate "strategic gentrification plan" exists to push black people out of Chicago and make the city "whiter."

Kennedy's remarks prompted howls of protest. Tellingly, however, none of Kennedy's Democratic primary opponents have so far uttered a peep. One campaign quietly pointed out that Kennedy had contributed $5,000 to Emanuel's campaign fund and another shared some statistics that showed that African-American enrollment at the University of Illinois fell while Kennedy was chairman of the board of trustees.

Their aim was to make Kennedy look like a hypocrite because attacking what he said would likely backfire with African-American voters.

Why would it backfire? The conspiracy theory Kennedy wove has been circulating for years in the black community, and it has more than a little basis in fact.

Mayor Richard M. Daley tore down much of the city's public housing projects and sent many of those residents packing to the suburbs, partly by making it difficult to obtain subsidized housing vouchers in the city. A couple of hundred thousand blacks left Chicago from 2000-2010. The population loss led to school closures, which may have caused more people to leave. And, of course, the South and West Sides are enduring one of the worst violent crime waves since the crack epidemic, prompting even more flight.

Kennedy has pulled it all together into a grand conspiracy, in which Chicago is "using a strategy of selective containment, where we're allowing violence to continue as long as it only continues in certain neighborhoods."

He even said the plot had a name, the "80-8 Rule," which he said means that "80 percent of the violence occurs in just 8 percent of our city."

Kennedy then closed the circle by claiming this is all being done to clear the way for economic development. Kennedy pointed to the closing of 18 public schools in Chicago's Bronzeville neighborhood.

"That neighborhood," Kennedy said, "just south of the Loop, there along the beaches of Lake Michigan, is the next great development play."

Again, this is nothing new. Lots of folks firmly believe this sort of thing, including black people in power.

The tale Kennedy told was undoubtedly divisive. But without much campaign cash on hand, and with his prospects dimming, Kennedy had to do something to get back in the game.

This hard slap to the face of the city's white establishment will definitely resonate with a large group of people who Kennedy desperately needs to win.

• Rich Miller publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter, and CapitolFax.com.