On the hot and humid evening of Thursday, August 1, several dozen people gathered in a union hall near the corner of Jackson and Homan to oust Mayor Daley from office. The room was sweltering, but for the most part the rhetoric stayed cool. Convened by the Accountability Committee (TAC), a newly formed activist coalition, the meeting was more tactical planning session than pep rally. The overwhelmingly African-American audience appeared to take neglect of and hostility toward the black community--as evidenced by the shortage of affordable housing and the low number of blacks in top city jobs--as a fact of the Daley administration. The question wasn't why the mayor should go. The question was how.
As people fanned themselves with TAC literature, voting rights activist Bruce Crosby explained the group's mission: to avoid yet another mayoral election characterized by a powerful incumbent steamrollering a late-arriving and underfunded challenger, like Bobby Rush, or Roland Burris before him.
Crosby cofounded the committee with veteran Chicago police officer Patricia Hill, the former president of the African American Patrolmen's League. Over the last year, he said, members had hashed out a list of ten names including Burris, Barack Obama, Jesse Jackson Jr., and Carol Moseley-Braun. The potential candidates--most of whom, Crosby candidly acknowledged, have never said anything publicly about running for mayor--are listed on a plebiscite poll that'll be widely circulated at the Chicago Defender's annual Bud Billiken parade. If willing, the candidate who wins the poll will be backed by the group in the February 2003 mayoral election. TAC is planning a citywide conference for early September in order to build campaign momentum and identify organizers to help compile the 25,000 signatures needed to get on the ballot.
Crosby told the audience that the early favorite--in the current tally and in the esteem of the committee's leaders--is funeral home director Spencer Leak Sr. Why? Partly because other candidates have shown no interest. Burris, said Crosby, declined on grounds that he'd be a "laughingstock" if he ran for mayor so soon after his defeat in the gubernatorial primary. But Leak, he said, "feels more like running now than ever before." Crosby listed Leak's qualifications: He's president of Leak and Sons Funeral Home, which has been in business since the 1930s. He's a commissioner for the Illinois Department of Human Rights. He's been the director of the Cook County Jail and a deputy director of the Illinois Department of Corrections. And, most important, Leak "thinks Daley is doing a terrible job."
Leak, who wasn't at this meeting, later said he has no intention of running for mayor. Yes, he believes revolutionary changes are needed--Chicagoans need to "free ourselves from this violence that's tearing our city apart"--but he doesn't think those changes are best made by a politician. "This city doesn't need a mayor," he said. "It needs a prophet."
Confronted with the news that his leading candidate didn't intend to be a candidate at all, Crosby expressed surprise and disappointment before suggesting, hopefully, "Maybe he portrayed a more cautious view with you than he did with us."
The one unabashedly enthusiastic candidate is Robert Floid Plump, CEO of Plump Music Productions, who showed up toward the end of the meeting in an orange knit skullcap with a "Dump Daley" button on the front and began an ebullient if disjointed stump speech. The crowd, obviously familiar with Plump, let out a collective groan as he waved his flyers in the air and proclaimed himself "Harold's choice." When he went on to say that he could win "with or without you," a table in the back of the room erupted. "Don't you insult us," one of the men yelled. "Don't you dare insult the next mayor of the city of Chicago," Plump shot back.
The meeting was over anyway, and the shouting match was all the prompting people needed to make for the door. They streamed out into the night.
Later, Crosby said that if Plump got the most votes in the plebiscite, the committee would back him. "We would respect the process," he said.
The Bud Billiken parade steps off this Saturday, August 10, at 10 AM at Martin Luther King Drive and 39th Street, and runs south to 51st Street. For more information on the Accountability Committee contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photos/Bruce Powell.