How Newly Elected Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner Won Over the Black Church

Rauner attended service at New Beginnings Church after Pastor Corey Brooks allegedly received death threats following his endorsement of Rauner. MICHAEL TERCHA/CHICAGO TRIBUNE
Rauner attended service at New Beginnings Church after Pastor Corey Brooks allegedly received death threats following his endorsement of Rauner. MICHAEL TERCHA/CHICAGO TRIBUNE

A Chicago Sun-Times “Early & Often” poll released yesterday caught my eye because, while it showed Pat Quinn and Bruce Rauner in a dead heat, it also showed Rauner “with strong numbers in Chicago at 20 percent, and among African Americans, with 15 percent of those statewide.” A Chicago Tribune poll from September showed Rauner with 12 percent of Chicago voters, so he’s headed in the right direction. 

In 2010, in Pat Quinn’s squeaker win—some 32,000 votes against Bill Brady—the incumbent governor won more than 90 percent of the black vote, and, analysts believe, it was that solid support that gave Quinn his unexpected win.

Assuming the polls are accurate—a big assumption, I agree—that 20 percent number bodes well for Rauner. “A Republican who gets 20 percent of the votes in Chicago is in great shape,” wrote the Reader’s Mick Dumke, in a post titled “Why the candidates for governor are suddenly interested in black voters,” published the day before the “Early & Often” poll hit.

In fact, the Reader headline has it wrong. There’s nothing “sudden” about Rauner’s attention to the city’s African Americans.

While writing a profile of Rauner, I interviewed several prominent African American Rauner supporters. I needed to understand his strategy of getting just enough of the black vote to win; his seemingly quixotic attempt to gain a foothold in a community that dependably, reflexively votes for Democrats.

Bruce Rauner, who seems to grow skinnier by the day, works as hard as any politician I’ve ever covered—and I’ve been writing about politics since Jimmy Carter was president, Richard J. Daley was mayor, and Dan Walker was governor. Since announcing in June 2013, Rauner has spent his Sundays at African American churches, barber shops, beauty salons, businesses, social events, parades, here and in similar venues in Rockford and downstate. His dedication to talking to African Americans is not the usual post-Labor Day deal.

And he targeted influential African Americans, mostly pastors and business people, years before he launched his campaign. Phyllis Lockett grew up in West Englewood, where she attended CPS’s Lindblom High. She got to know Rauner because he served on her board, New Schools for Chicago (a venture capital organization that invested in charter schools). She described Rauner as “a very active board member and I must say almost overly active, passion and generosity for education bar none…He was a change agent, rolled up his sleeves, not just sitting on the sidelines.” Lockett, now CEO of LEAP Innovations, has become a Rauner backer. “He’s the first Republican in my life I’m supporting.”

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Source: Chicago Magazine | Carol Felsenthal

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