Bankole: Chicago mayor’s race puts Detroit on notice
Machine politics died in Chicago this week as the Windy City placed its future into the hands of Lori Lightfoot, who has never held elected office, but is set become the first black female and openly gay mayor of this major American city. In a crowded field of politicos and seasoned veterans of the Chicago political machine, Lightfoot, was able to emerge victorious. Her election dealt a severe blow to establishment politics, which has governed Chicago for decades.
In a Tuesday night victory speech, Lightfoot, an attorney who pushed for police reforms, saw the election as something bigger than herself.
“Today, you did more than make history. You created a movement for change,” Lightfoot said. “Together we can and will finally put the interests of our people, all of our people, ahead of the interests of a powerful few. Together we can and we will remake Chicago thriving, prosperous, better, stronger, fairer for everyone.”
There are many takeaways for Detroit in what just happened in Chicago. Prominent among them is the fact that the vast Democratic machine, which tends to hand-pick leaders for electoral office through the creation of black caucus groups that dutifully and obediently carry out the interest of the white liberal establishment, can be rendered politically impotent by masses of people who are tired of the same messages.
The so-called gatekeepers, whether in the black civic community or in the powerful white liberal establishment, can be defeated by those who have not seen their lives positively changed for as long as these leaders have been in power.
Detroit politics in many ways resembles Chicago’s way of doing business until Lightfoot’s surprising win. You have to be politically connected to mount a campaign for any serious office. Both cities thrive heavily on machine politics, where your relevance is determined by your longevity in politics as well as who you know in the political world.
In that world, nothing happens out of the extraordinary because for the most part things are choreographed and designed a certain way to produce a planned outcome.
That is why in the past, it has been difficult to win elections in Detroit without name recognition. It is tough for qualified candidates without a long political resume to win elected office.
What Chicago has done is offer Detroit a ray of hope for its next round of elections. Your name and who you know should not be the determinants for seeking office. It should be based on your passion and commitment to ensure that there is fairness in the system of governance.
Your standing for elected office should be predicated on your ability to deliver not how long you’ve been around a certain class of political elites. That kind of “who you know” politics hasn't helped Detroit.
I’ve watched over the years how Detroit politics continues to mirror a caste system, where only those who belong to certain affiliations and socially acceptable groups are elevated by political slates and endorsed by political heavyweights. Even organizations that were powerful in city politics decades ago, but have since lost their influence and street credibility, still flex their muscles during elections to demonstrate that the road to city hall begins and ends with them.
This kind of rigid political order denies progress and limits innovative ideas to address the socioeconomic challenges facing Detroit, because it operates under the false assumption that elected office belongs only to those with ties to civic institutions.
A political wind of change is sweeping the nation. Detroit has an opportunity not to be left behind and must forcefully counter the notion that holding any elected office in the city including mayor is simply based on socioeconomic status or what a candidate’s name sounds like.
What we all should look for in candidates seeking the highest office is a sense of fairness and justice to ensure good governance. It should be about a demonstrated commitment to address the needs of the majority of people who are left behind economically, which Chicago’s mayor-elect Lightfoot echoed in her victory remarks. That should be the yardstick.
Detroit should be taking notes about changes taking place in other cities because the writing on the wall is becoming more clear.
Catch “Redline with Bankole Thompson,” which is broadcast at noon weekdays on Superstation 910AM.