(NNPA)—Remember the great Black mayors of the ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s? What happened to them? Chicago had one of the greatest in Harold Washington. Among others there were Carl Stokes, Michael White, Wellington Webb, Coleman Young, Thomas Bradley, Marion Barry and the greatest of all, the Honorable Maynard Jackson. The measuring tool to grade these mayors is the economic development created by their platforms and their ability to get through White opposition and political machines trying to fight against any progress. These leaders made Black millionaires and that created hundreds of thousands of jobs within our communities.
You can say what you want about Marion Barry but he was truly a friend of Black business. Black entrepreneurs living in D.C. made a ton of money through the leadership of Mayor Barry. One of the recipients was none other than Robert Johnson, the founder of Black Entertainment Television. Marion’s heart was in this and it was his success that alerted the FBI that he had gone off the “reservation.” They harassed and investigated him until they could find something to stick. His real “crime” was bringing economic development through entrepreneurship into Black communities. Power to the recipients is a blessing. Power to the adversaries is considered a major threat.
Like Mayors Barry and Maynard Jackson, Mayor Harold Washington revolutionized his city. He made it clear to all—unions, political machines, Wall Street, and manipulators that a new day had come to the Windy City. His staff had zero tolerance for programs, bids and proposals that were void of diversity. Chicago is a city of all colors and all colors had better be represented in everything. It shook the political machine to no end. Old man Richard Daley’s times were quickly fading away. Black entrepreneurs from all across the nation, if not the world, were setting up offices in Chicago and employing people from neighborhoods that had been overlooked in the past. Mayor Washington was so passionate about it he hired Maynard Jackson as a consultant to speed things along. It was a treat to watch all of the new offices for Black businesses going up in the Chicago Loop.
Some of his procurement offices would have huge trash bins in the bidding rooms. As they received bids and proposals they would immediately thumb through them to view the minority participation section. If it were empty the bid or proposal would go right into that trash bin as the bidder would look on in shock. Yes, Mayor Washington was for real and we should thank God that he came along in his great vision and fearlessness. Today, most Black businesses have a picture of the late Harold Washington on a wall in full view of visitors. It is the first picture you notice in Congressman Danny Davis’s office. He, like so many other current Black leaders, has been blessed to have known him and learn so much from his wisdom and courage.
When Mayor Washington suddenly passed away things started to slowly go in reverse in Chicago. They have been in reverse ever since. Today, the Windy City may give up 2 percent of its business to Blacks despite there being a 25 percent minority goal on all procurements. What we have today is wholesale fraud, lies and political deceit. Chicago Public Schools, O’Hare and Midway Airports, public works, and transportation are a playground for corruption, void of Black participation. Almost daily there are articles in the local papers about front companies and misrepresentations in the name of diversity.
Chicago is in need of a mayor that can emulate Harold Washington. It should be easy to do as it is a majority/minority city. Blacks and Hispanics alone are 54 percent of the city’s population. What is needed is a strong political campaign with the vision of empowerment for all of Chicagoans. That would be so refreshing. They must bust up the political machine that Mayor Richard Daley is leaving. A strong Black candidate must step forward and win the hearts of all Blacks, Hispanics, Asians and a good representation of Whites.
This activity must not fall into the trap of multiple Black/Hispanic candidates that will split the vote into miniscule numbers for each candidate and give the office back to the machine by default. Chicagoans, you need to get your act together. Right now your economy is in a “funk” especially from a Black perspective. It doesn’t have to be and the solution is clear. Out vote the opposition and bring a strong leader forward. A leader that knows Chicago, loves Chicago, and will serve in a way that would make Harold Washington smile down on you from his place in Heaven. Find that candidate and work for him like you did 30 years ago. Your future depends on it.
(Harry Alford is co-founder, president/CEO of the National Black Chamber of Commerce. Website: www.nationalbcc.org. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.)