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Minorities key to Democratic victories. (2002 in Review).

On Nov. 5, Rod R. Blagojevich, a big fan of Elvis Presley, declared that he was "all shook up." As Blagojevich made history by becoming the first Democrat in 30 years to be elected governor of Illinois, he declared his "hunka, hunka burning love for each and every one" of the roughly 3,000 supporters gathered on election night to congratulate him.

To the state's Republicans, the crisp chill inside the North Side's A. Finkl & Sons Co. distribution center, where Blagojevich addressed the crowd, may as well have been hell freezing over, which many thought would happen before Illinois elected a Democratic governor.

"Democrats will probably need maps to the state's mansion because they haven't been there in so long," joked Paul Green, director of the School of Policy Studies at Chicago's Roosevelt University.

Blagojevich expressed gratitude that night to many who helped him along the campaign trail. But it's unlikely he could have predicted the tremendous backing he got from Cook and collar county voters--especially minority voters.

"The African American community delivered far better for Blagojevich than they have done for any of the previous Democratic [gubernatorial] candidates ... back to Adlai Stevenson [III] in 1982," Green said. "The numbers were overwhelming, almost Harold Washington-like."

Independent political consultant Don Rose agreed. "If there was one single key ingredient to this election, it was the black voters."

Blagojevich defeated the Republican Party nominee, Illinois Attorney General Jim Ryan, by 252,080 votes, but in Cook County his margin of victory approached a half million votes--with 50 percent of them coming from Chicago's 15 wards that are at least 70 percent black and eight wards at least 60 percent Latino. In the black wards, Blagojevich won 96 percent of the total votes.

The black community rallied behind Blagojevich, said Billy Weinberg, press secretary for the governor-elect, "because our campaign was based so much on giving people who had not felt empowered, who had not felt a part of the system, so to speak, a new role in state government."

"This was the first time in almost 20 years or so that we've had a united Democratic Party--which means blacks and whites were voting the same way," Rose said.

And, while Cook County has traditionally provided the most Democratic support in the state, urban sprawl is also helping Democrats in the five collar counties.

The GOP has traditionally dominated DuPage, Kane, Lake, McHenry and Will. But The Chicago Reporter found in its October story "Campaigns Vie for Suburban Latinos" that the number of Latinos in the collar counties has risen more than 300 percent since 1980, helping Democrats and keeping Republicans on their toes.

Blagojevich lost to Ryan in the collar counties, but he did much better--with nearly 40 percent of the votes--than any Democrat since Daniel Walker won 42 percent there in 1972. Walker was the last Democrat elected governor in Illinois.

In suburban Cook County, a 49 percent increase in African Americans and a 114 percent increase in Latinos in the last 10 years have changed the political climate. Blagojevich earned 54 percent of the votes there.

Blagojevich's election, along with the Democrats' retention of the House and takeover of the Senate, could mean a big change in Illinois policy.

"It's nice to have a Democratic governor," said Emil Jones Jr., the Senate's Democratic leader, who is black. "But it always makes the difference when you have a Democratic-controlled Senate as well."

"Issue by issue, the [Republican-controlled] Senate has blocked more beneficial legislation ... that even a Republican governor would have signed," Rose said. With Democrats in control of the governor's mansion, the House and the Senate, "whatever measures Blagojevich wants to get done, he will be able to get done."

He shouldn't forget to thank the African Americans who helped him get there, said U.S. Rep. Jesse L. Jackson Jr.

"The black electorate should expect a fair economic return on their political investment," he said. Jackson added that he noticed high interest in this year's election among black voters while he campaigned for the Rev. James T. Meeks, who beat incumbent William Shaw for the state's 15th Senate District.

But Green said dealing with the state's budget crisis--a $2 billion deficit, by some estimates--"will be jobs one through 10" for Blagojevich.

"If you go to the cupboard and the cupboard is bare, it's going to be very difficult to satisfy new demands," said Green. "I think this may be the toughest economic situation this state has faced since the Great Depression."
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Author:Lewis, Pamela A.
Publication:The Chicago Reporter
Date:Jan 1, 2003
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