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There's a largely unspoken reason why many experts think Bob Fioretti will unseat Second Ward alderman Madeline Haithcock in the April 17 runoff. It has to do with the dismal history of race and politics in Chicago.
Traditionally the Second was a solidly black ward. Running south from the Loop along the lake to about 35th Street, it was represented by significant figures in local political history, including Oscar DePriest, the city's first black alderman. But after two decades of gentrification, more and more whites have moved south of the Loop, changing the ward's demographics.
In part to protect her incumbency, Haithcock, who's black, had the City Council alter the ward's boundaries in the 2001 redistricting, building a west-side extension that roughly cuts between Harrison and Lake all the way to Sacramento.
Last year Haithcock tried to woo these new constituents with a proposal to rename a stretch of Monroe Street "Fred Hampton Way" in tribute to the former Black Panther leader slain in his sleep by police in 1969. In the face of fierce opposition from the Fraternal Order of Police, however, Haithcock abandoned that proposal, acknowledging she didn't have enough support to overcome opposition from white aldermen. In the end she wound up alienating some residents of both races, looking needlessly provocative to one group and cowardly to the other.
In February's aldermanic election neither Haithcock nor Fioretti did particularly well in the west-side precincts, where former 27th Ward alderman Wallace Davis took more than 35 percent of the vote. Overall, Davis finished last in the field of six candidates, pulling hardly any support from the ward's south side, where voters either weren't familiar with him or were turned off by his having served four years in federal prison for taking bribes and kickbacks during his 80s term as alderman. But he still oversees two dozen or so precinct captains on the west side.
So which candidate will the west-side vote go to this time around? If history's any clue, more blacks will vote for Fioretti than whites for Haithcock: black voters have always been more willing to vote for the opposite race than whites when it comes to aldermanic elections. In fact, I can't think of a single black aldermanic candidate in recent history who's defeated a white opponent in a ward that wasn't overwhelmingly black.
My prediction: Fioretti will win all the white South Loop precincts and Haithcock the black south-side ones, making Wallace Davis a potential if somewhat unlikely kingmaker.
Sure enough, Davis says both candidates have come calling for his endorsement. For the moment, he hasn't decided which one he (and his precinct workers) will bless.