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Obviously, Ali had told this joke many times before, because he set it up really well, using a randomly selected fellow in the audience as his straight man. It went like this.
Ali: What did Abraham Lincoln say when he woke up after a five-day drinking binge?
Straight man: I don't know—what?
Ali: I freed the who?
He brought down the house when he delivered that line, and I've been shamelessly stealing that joke ever since.
I owe you, champ.
I have my own updated, localized version with black voters substituted for President Lincoln. It goes like this.
What did Chicago's black voters say after two years of Mayor Emanuel's reign?
Punch line: I voted for who?
OK, it's not as funny as Ali's joke. But it rings true.
At the very least, I'm having a hard time finding many black voters—outside of appointees, contractors, and aldermen—with nice things to say about Mayor Emanuel's administration.
Even though lots of black people voted for him.
Admittedly, there's nothing scientific about my survey. It mostly consists of me going up to anyone of any race, creed, or color and asking: (a) Did you vote for Mayor Emanuel? and (b) If so, are you happy with what you got?
And the overwhelming response from black people goes like this:
Yes. And—hell no!
Some people are too embarrassed to confess. So they'll say, "You know, I can't remember who I voted for in that last election."
Well, for all those who forgot . . .
The mayor received well over 50 percent of the vote in the city's majority-black wards, including 58 percent in the Sixth Ward, 59 in the Eighth Ward, and 59 percent in the 21st Ward.
The rock-solid black support enabled Emanuel to win more than 50 percent of the overall vote—thus avoiding a runoff with Gery Chico—and waltz into office claiming a mandate to fire city workers, close schools, shutter mental health clinics, and cuss out the president of the teachers' union.
Though, now that I think about it, I don't recall reading the cussing out part in the mayor's campaign platform.
As far as I can tell, black voters didn't vote for Emanuel because they wanted him to do this stuff.
Instead, they largely voted for him because they assumed President Obama wanted him to be our mayor. As opposed to the president couldn't take one more minute of Emanuel as his chief of staff so he cooked up a deal with the Daley brothers to dump him on us. And then choreographed a happy White House send-off so everyone could save face.
Thanks again, Mr. President.
In short, what we have here is a massive misunderstanding.
Mayor Rahm thinks he got a mandate from black voters.
And black voters think their mandate was for President Obama.
OK, Mayor Emanuel, now that I settled that one—would you please reopen a few clinics?
On the other hand . . .
Terry Peterson, David Axelrod, and other mayoral advisers maintain that the voice of opposition—black, white, or Hispanic—always gets too much media attention. And that in reality many black voters contentedly and quietly believe the mayor's doing the right thing.
Think of them as the silent majority, as President Nixon might put it.
According to the Peterson-Axelrod theory, once the CTA rebuilds the south-side Red Line, most black voters—at least those on the south side—will return to the fold.
Thus sweeping Mayor Emanuel back into office with claims of another mandate to shutter schools, close clinics and cuss out Karen Lewis.
As always, it's good to be the king.