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April 27, 2014 / jeffnward

Why I still believe Elgin needs an Hispanic councilman

Since Sundays tend to be a little more philosophical at The First Ward, and those airborne allergens driven by the prevailing 30 mph east wind are making me reconsider running, perhaps it’s time to answer two excellent commenter questions.

Cary J. Collins’ almost unassailable rebuttal of my need for an Hispanic city councilman theory was, “It seems to me if the Hispanics wanted representation on the City council that 44 percent of the residents in Elgin could elect a Hispanic.”

I was wondering when someone would note that we seem to have no trouble electing Hispanic county board members – four to be exact.  Elgin-01

Then Gail Borden Library Board Trustee and replacement city council candidate, Herbert Gross, posed this cogent query, “Why is it that you feel only a minority member can represent a minority. There are good and bad politicos of every race and creed.”

Not only will I tip my hat to these two gentlemen for continuing the conversation, but I also applaud the civil manner in which they applied their logic.

We’ll start with Mr. Collins.

Please let me first point out that, for reasons I cannot fathom, virtually no one participates in the Elgin electoral process. When I toiled for the Courier-News I repeatedly chided Elginians for their fondness for the couch on election day. But that doesn’t really answer the question.

To me it boils down to a which came first question – the representative or the representation?

Democracy functions best when everyone participates. The perfect example of it heading right off the rails is the Tea Party’s co-opting the GOP and driving them them to almost unelectable distraction. It’s not that conservative folks shouldn’t be represented, but when 20 percent of the party holds implicit veto power and Rand Paul warns of Texas turning blue, we have a problem.

But here we have a rare opportunity to invite that kind of participation from an underrepresented group. Just one Hispanic city councilperson would likely have a kind of Nichelle Nichols effect by encouraging others to follow in their footsteps.

Please note that, were it not for this appointment opportunity, as Mr. Collins suggests, I’d keep my mouth shut and leave it up the 5 percent of Elgin who actually vote in consolidated elections. But since the possibility has presented itself, perhaps it’s time to restore balance to the force by blatantly encouraging Hispanic participation.

Now, on to Mr. Gross.

And he’s dead on. There are folks like Jesse Jackson (the elder) who abuse their position as a minority spokesperson in order to maintain the reins of power. There are also folks like former Cook County Clerk Chief of Staff and State Rep Clem Balanoff. Though he’s every bit as white as I am, former Sun-Times columnist Vernon Jarrett once referred to him as “the only real black candidate in the race.”

Some folks called Bill Clinton the first black president.

That said, the underlying point I’ve been attempting to convey (see last week’s Left, Right and You) is that, if you’ve never been a minority, then you really don’t know what it’s like to be a minority. And if you don’t know what it’s like to be a minority, then can you truly represent them?

The example I used on last week’s show was the time my wife and I visited the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. Though none of the Native Americans said anything the least bit suspect, it was abundantly clear that we weren’t welcome.

Before that day, I had no idea what it meant to be summarily dismissed because you weren’t like the others. It was an experience I will never forget! And I got to go right back to that eminently comfortable Caucasian world!

White folks don’t understand what it’s like to be pulled over for driving in the “wrong neighborhood.” We don’t know what it’s like to have someone follow you around a store, to have the economic deck stacked against you, to be stopped and frisked, to consistently have to prove you’re legal, and to have to endure “compliments” like, “you’re so well-spoken,” and smile.

Therefore, though this may get me in even more trouble (if that’s possible), since only an Hispanic citizen can truly understand what it means to be Hispanic in Elgin, only they can accurately represent that experience.

Please also allow me to reiterate my second radio show contention which was that I do not believe in restoring balance by creating another imbalance. You will recall that I insisted upon using the term “all things being equal” in the sense that, out of the eight to ten exemplary city council appointment candidates, none of us possess the Solomon-esque wisdom required to choose the best one.

So armed with an opportunity to give some generally voiceless folks that important voice, the choice suddenly becomes a lot more clear.

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