Less than two hours before the polls closed in last month's primary, I got a call from Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr. "I am calling you because it's your vote that we need to win. Vote for Pat Quinn. I need your help," the congressman said in the last few moments of a voice mail I received at 5:24 p.m. on Feb. 2, 2010.
And the congressman was right. Quinn needed the support of black voters
to squeak out a victory over the hard-charging Dan Hynes--who'd closed the
gap fiercely in the campaign's closing weeks.
Jackson was just one of many who'd left messages for me and, I presume,
thousands of other African Americans in the days leading up to
Illinois' Democratic gubernatorial primary between Governor Quinn
and Comptroller Hynes.
I received my first two voice mails on Wednesday, Jan. 27th. The first came at 12:07 p.m. The caller didn't identify himself, but he urged my support for Hynes because he could work with the state legislature to bring high-paying jobs to Illinois.
About two hours later, I received a voice mail from Jacky Grimshaw, vice president of policy for the Center for Neighborhood Technology. Grimshaw, who once worked under late Chicago Mayor Harold Washington, said that she was "shocked and saddened" by Hynes' use of Washington in a controversial ad that challenged Quinn's competency. She called it a "desperate attempt to divide the black community" and asked for a vote for Quinn.
I got three calls on Saturday, Jan. 30th. The first came at 11:22 a.m. from the Rev. Walter Turner in support of Hynes. This time Quinn's folks were quick to respond. The next voice mail came one minute later from Congressman Danny Davis in support of Quinn.
Davis didn't need to identify himself; I'd recognize that baritone anywhere. "Dan Hynes is trying to confuse you," Davis said. "Hynes hopes you'll forget the African-American bodies left to rot in unmarked graves under his watch at Burr Oak Cemetery." In the voice mail, Davis also mentioned how Hynes attacked Barack Obama during their race for U.S. Senate in 2004 and how Hynes' family sparked racial unrest when they tried to defeat Washington, "Chicago's first black mayor."
Man, this is getting juicy, I thought.
The third call that day came at 4:53 p.m. from state Rep. LaShawn K. Ford in support of Hynes. It was like Ford had heard the call I'd received from Davis--maybe he'd gotten the same voice mail, I wondered.
"I'm asking you to reject Pat Quinn and his supporters who are trying to exploit the tragedy of Burr Oak for their own political gain," Ford said in the voice mail. He went on to say that he had loved ones buried in Burr Oak and that he was "disgusted" that Quinn would engage in "old politics" and "spread lies" about that tragedy to hold on to his political power. Ford asked me to join him in supporting Hynes, "our friend."
These guys were playing for keeps. I almost couldn't wait for the next voice mail.
It came the very next day on Jan. 31--a Sunday. I thought that calls on Sunday were considered bad etiquette. Apparently not so when the black vote--and the Illinois governor's mansion--are at stake. This time the call came from Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr.
Jackson said that Quinn was working to bring jobs to "our neighborhoods" and to improve "our schools."
"Pat Quinn fights for our community where Dan Hynes ignores us," Jackson said. He asked me to vote for Quinn "like your job depends on it."
Damn, this is really serious, I thought.
On Monday, Feb. 1, the day before the election. I got a voice mail from Quinn himself.
First the governor thanked his supporters for making calls on his behalf. He said there were calls from Rev. Jesse Jackson, Congressman Bobby Rush, Grimshaw, Congressman Luis Gutierrez, Congressman Davis, and Congressman Jackson. "But I wanted to call you and ask you personally for your vote. Make no mistake, I need your vote tomorrow to continue fighting for you as your governor."
I kind of felt cheated because I didn't recall getting voice mails from Rev. Jackson, Rush or Gutierrez. I'm sure those calls would've been just as entertaining as the ones I'd already received.
I truly enjoyed the political theater, but with each voice mail it became harder to take any of the rhetoric seriously--and I wondered if any of the thousands of black voters who received these voice mails could take them seriously, too.
How committed to my community can these candidates really be, if my community doesn't hear from them until the closing days of the campaign and they rely on others to speak for them? You can't get any more impersonal than a voice mail from another human being. And how much of a friend can they really be, if they're inundating me with these annoying voice mails? Including the second call from Congressman Jackson, I'd received eight of these political voice mails in the final seven days of the campaign; that sounds a lot like harassment. I don't get that many calls from bill collectors when I'm three months past due.
Click on any of the following links to hear one of the voice mails I received during the last few days of the campaign.
Filed under: Government and Politics