Five months from now, Chicago voters will go to the polls to choose whether to send Mayor Rahm Emanuel back to City Hall for another term. It’s no secret that Emanuel is not popular right now among Chicagoans. But whether or not another candidate can ride the wave of discontent into the mayor’s office is still a question mark. His highest-profile challengers are Cook County Commissioner Jesus “Chuy” Garcia and 2nd Ward Ald. Bob Fioretti, who both garnered ample signatures to have their names placed on the ballot.Emanuel has cited the country’s lagging economy as a major factor in his dismal poll numbers. And nowhere is the economic outlook as bleak as in Chicago’s black neighborhoods, where he faces his toughest sell for a second term. Black Chicago turned out in droves for Emanuel, giving him nearly six out of every 10 votes cast in predominantly black wards. That support is now turned on its head: Nearly six in 10 black Chicagoans, according to the Tribune poll, disapprove of Emanuel’s job performance.

It’s not hard to see why the mayor has lost African-American support. I see the signs in my own Woodlawn neighborhood, where a community mental health clinic shut down, the jobless hang out at 63rd and Cottage Grove, virtually every street has abandoned homes marked with a red “X” and awaiting demolition, and two schools were among dozens shuttered last year. Yes, there are other hopeful signs. A school that took in displaced children is now a specialty STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) school, the Grove Parc apartments on Cottage Grove are being revitalized, small businesses have popped up—a coffee shop here, a clothing store there—and pothole-riddled streets have been repaved. But perceptions die hard.

Consider the citywide statistics below, compiled with the help of The Chicago Reporter from city, Chicago Public Schools and federal data:

Chicago has the highest black unemployment rate among the nation’s five largest cities—25 percent, compared to 19 percent in Philadelphia, 18 percent in Los Angeles, 15 percent in Houston and 14 percent in New York City—based on 2013 figures.

Public sector jobs, traditionally a route to middle-class success for African-Americans, have been vanishing in recent years. But city workers from black ZIP codes account for 40 percent of the 5,000 city jobs lost since 2009 (two years before Emanuel took office).

Those layoffs don’t include the 1,691 school system employees from black ZIP codes who lost their jobs since 2011.

White households with an income of $100,000 a year now outnumber black households by a 6-to-1 ratio.

Responding to these and other numbers, the mayor’s office points to success stories such as Chicago Neighborhoods Now, projected to target $2.9 billion altogether to projects in seven communities that include predominantly black Bronzeville, Pullman and Englewood.

Whatever the statistics, one thing is clear: There is plenty yet to be done to ensure that all Chicagoans have an equitable share of economic and educational opportunity.

The mayor’s popularity in the black community took a major hit with last year’s closings of 50 schools. Then there’s the rest of Emanuel’s education policies: Charters and other privately run schools have mostly opened in black neighborhoods, often in the face of local opposition; black teachers have been hardest hit by layoffs; and the achievement gap remains widest for black students.

In this joint issue of Catalyst In Depth and The Chicago Reporter, Deputy Editor Sarah Karp examines the potential effect on the mayor’s policies on his re-election bid. Associate Editor Melissa Sanchez explains how the Chicago Teachers Union and its progressive allies are seeking to make inroads in City Hall. Sanchez also talked with former mayoral candidate Miguel del Valle about the upcoming election and the state of Latino political power in the city.  And the Reporter’s Ade Emmanuel explores the reasons behind the city’s high black unemployment rate.

Also, Stay tuned for details about “Education: Then, Now, Next. Celebrating 25 years of Catalyst Chicago.” We’ll have a range of activities, from forums around town to an online almanac featuring education highlights. We look forward to your participation in the celebration.

Lorraine Forte

Lorraine is the executive editor of The Chicago Reporter. Email her at

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