Chico, del Valle show ‘consensus’ not a factor in Chicago elections?

21 Feb

By Maham Khan

The discussion over Latino votes in Chicago’s mayoral race has proved one thing: either polls lie, or “consensus candidates” are becoming more of an illusion than a reality.

Maybe that’s why both Miguel del Valle and Gery Chico knew there was no point in joining forces. And even if they did, according to the polls, they still wouldn’t make a dent in Rahm Emanuel’ numbers of Latino supporters.

Earlier this January, AP writer Sophia Tareen reported on the split between Latino voters as “reflecting the fractured nature of the city’s Hispanic population.” Both del Valle and Chico, she reported, were making big pushes to appeal to their “own” people.

Walking around Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood you can see scattered signs supporting both Chico and del Valle in the windows of homes and shops. TV ads in Spanish are most prominent from Chico’s campaign. In casual verbal exchanges, some of the Latinos in this neighborhood said that they support both.

“They are both people that make Latinos proud,” said Carlos Vega, a Pilsen area voter and business owner. “But I am voting for Rahm!” He gives no reasons, just a smile and a shrug.

And the question can be asked: why? For the first time in history, a city that historically likes to flex its ethnic muscle—could produce the first Latino mayor.

In a chat with Ruben Keoseyan, editor of La Raza, Chicago’s largest Spanish newspaper, he says there are a few simple reasons as to why Latinos might be voting for Rahm:

First, Rahm has huge recognition. His marketing and brand has its affects on everyone, regardless of ethnicity. “He’s the Coca-cola of candidates,” Keoseyan said.

Second, Rahm is associated heavily with Barack Obama and Bill Clinton, both leaders the Latinos historically like and appreciate.

Third, aside from immigration reform (and Rahm’s unexplained and subtly mentioned plan for an Illinois Dream Act), Keoseyan says the issues that matter to Latinos are pretty universal.

One of La Raza’s polls indicated the most important issue for Latinos is the economy. They want jobs—like everyone else. Oh, and education too. So in this case, a candidate’s ethnic connection to the issues really is irrelevant.

Chico and del Valle: Por que No?

In his “The Best Game in Town” series, WBEZ’s Steve Edwards talks to various experts about the historical rise to Hispanic voting clout in Chicago. The report highlights the fact that the Puerto Rican American political scene used to be at odds with the Mexican American political scene because of its affiliation with the “the machine,” which was historically dominant in Mexican-American wards.

One of the experts Edwards talks to is Sylvia Puente, executive director of the Latino Policy Forum. According to Puente, the divide today is strong between independent Democrats and machine Democrats in both the Puerto Rican and Mexican communities.

So maybe it is a pure coincidence that Miguel del Valle is Puerto Rican and Gery Chico, is of partial Mexican descent. Non-coincidentally however, del Valle has taken lots of hits at Chico for being a part of the machine, while pegging himself as the independent grassroots guy.

In addition, Keoseyan reminds us to remember that the margin of error on actual Latino voters is also great—because many of them can’t actually vote, but will never admit this fact.

“Many Latinos will not tell you on record what they are really thinking. They will tell you what you want to hear,” Keoseyan explained. “This is because they don’t trust the askers.”

This little fact can be indicative of why we see so much support for del Valle and Chico in the neighborhoods, but not in the polls.

Con-Census Voting

This season’s mayoral elections clearly demonstrate what the latest census already told us: there is no longer one clear majority in Chicago.

It’s not as simple as voting in blocs anymore. More important than having a consensus candidate, for any group, is to have options. Today, communities are big enough to pick and choose who is right for them based on everything aside from ethnic backgrounds. Isn’t that what a pure democracy is all about? The Latinos, and other groups, have exercised their right to have options.

Still, there are a few truths that cannot be denied. Even with unknown voting numbers, the Latino vote is an important one, no matter the candidate.

Even Rahm—who has declined mingling opportunities with other ethnic groups including Asian Americans—knows this. This past October, he participated in the United Neighborhood Organization’s (UNO) 4th annual 5K charity race celebrating the Day of the Dead right in the heart of Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood.

The day of the dead—Rahm and race—sound like words foreshadowing Feb. 22?

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