By Cynthia Dizikes
March 20, 2015
"Ask any African-American leaders about that. They will tell you he had a role in keeping African-Americans out of the White House. All of the sudden, he sails into town, into African-American communities with all of this great stuff he's going to do for us," Meeks said during a talk show on WVON-AM 1690 at the time. "Your proof is in your track record. If he's never done anything for African-Americans, wake up people. What would make us think he's going to sail into town and start doing things for us now?"
But on Friday, Meeks stood side by side with Emanuel, endorsing him and saying he's made a difference in black communities.
"You cannot turn a city like Chicago around in four years, it takes longer," Meeks said in a resounding speech. "We appreciate the job that the mayor has been doing and we believe that he deserves four more years to continue his work."
Emanuel, pressing hard to appeal to black voters, a demographic that could make the difference in his April 7 election against challenger Jesus "Chuy" Garcia, accepted Meeks' backing.
"I am honored by your support. I'm humbled by it," Emanuel told a gathering of religious leaders. "But as I said earlier, while this is about the election, I want us to keep our eye on the prize, which is the day after the election and working together building the city of Chicago."
It was an about-face for Meeks, who was highly critical of Emanuel as the former state senator and South Side pastor mulled his own run for mayor at the end of 2010. Meeks pulled the plug, then backed former U.S. Sen.Carol Moseley Braun for mayor, arguing that a vote for Emanuel was a vote for the status quo.
"That's why this election is the ins versus the outs. Those who are in, those who are in power, those who are in control of City Hall, they have surrounded the presumptive front-runner and they are giving him money, hand over fist, to make sure that he continues to keep business as usual," Meeks said in the WVON interview. "Those of you who are listening, who want business as usual, that's your candidate."
By accepting Meeks' endorsement, Emanuel could run the risk of alienating gay voters, who have been a consistent base of support. Meeks long has been opposed to same-sex marriage, drawing protest from gay rights activists.
Meeks was appointed by Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner to be chairman of the Illinois State Board of Education. Though the pastor was confirmed by the state Senate this week, gay rights supporters criticized Rauner's appointment of Meeks, citing the pastor's same-sex marriage stance.
"We had hoped and expected Rev. Meeks to use the more than two months since his appointment to reflect on and make amends with the LGBT community and other groups for his hurtful and destructive actions," said Bernard Cherkasov, CEO of Equality Illinois. "Instead, we've seen nothing tangible from him."
During the legislature's debate over Illinois' same-sex marriage law two years ago, Meeks recorded automated phone calls to African- American households warning that marriage between a man and a woman was in jeopardy. During his brief mayoral candidacy in late 2010, Meeks faced criticism over previous comments that homosexuality was an "evil sickness."
Meeks also is a strong supporter of charter schools, a concept opposed by the Chicago Teachers Union, a leading advocate for Garcia's candidacy. Garcia, a former state senator and alderman, favors a moratorium on new charter schools and is a supporter of same-sex marriage.
Much has been made of Emanuel's friendship with Rauner that started over a business deal and eventually led to the two taking vacation trips together. That hasn't stopped Emanuel from slamming Rauner's proposed budget cuts in recent days as being wrong for Chicago.
The mayor reiterated that stance Friday, and Meeks was asked to reconcile his role as a top Rauner lieutenant with his endorsement of Emanuel.
"The mayor and the governor will have their own relationship, and that has absolutely nothing to do with me," Meeks said. "I expect both gentlemen to work together for the betterment of the state of Illinois and the city of Chicago."
Meeks' endorsement came at a Pullman community center in which Emanuel touted the support of a dozen black ministers. Meeks is head of one of the city's largest African-American churches, Salem Baptist Church on the Far South Side.
It isn't the first time Emanuel has embraced the support of a foe who had harsh words four years ago.
International Operating Engineers Local 150 President James Sweeney has been a key union backer in Emanuel's bid for a second term. But in 2011, Sweeney lined up behind Gery Chico for mayor, worried that labor couldn't trust Emanuel after he helped former President Bill Clinton pass the North American Free Trade Agreementtwo decades earlier. Sweeney even called Emanuel a "Wall Street Judas," which Emanuel allies decried as anti-Semitic.
Also Friday, Garcia touted the endorsement of freshman state Rep. Will Guzzardi, whose election win last year has made him a darling of some liberals.
Garcia's event took place near McCormick Place, site of a planned new hotel that liberals have decried because the project is financed in part by tens of millions of dollars in special tax district funds they say should be going to schools and other neighborhood projects.
On hand for the Guzzardi endorsement were representatives of Reclaim Chicago, a group of labor unions and other grass-roots organizations that has claimed credit for helping liberal aldermanic candidates score wins and push incumbents into runoffs.
"These are the people who work day in and day out in some of Chicago's most challenging neighborhoods," Garcia said. "They understand what the real priorities of the city need to be, if fairness and equity are going to become the order of the day."
While he's trying to fire up his base, Garcia is also attempting to close his steep funding deficit against the well-financed Emanuel. The Guzzardi endorsement came a day after Garcia traveled to Los Angeles for two fundraisers.
"Over the past two weeks, I've received endorsements from a host of spiritual leaders, community leaders, and the most important networks of organizers are all standing with me," Garcia said.
Guzzardi criticized the hotel construction site backdrop as a failure of so-called trickle-down economics.
"We deserve more than just a trickle. We need justice flowing like water, righteousness like a mighty stream," Guzzardi shouted. "We are living in food deserts and mental health deserts and school deserts. We need more than a trickle, we need a flood of investment and resources. Rahm Emanuel doesn't understand that, Chuy Garcia does. That's what's at stake in this election, that's why I'm supporting Chuy Garcia."
Tribune reporters Juan Perez, Jr. and John Byrne contributed