A political win for Anthony Clark

Opinion: Columns

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By Sharhonda Dawson

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In politics, sometimes when you lose, you actually win; and sometimes when you win, you actually lose. Anthony Clark garnishing 40 percent of the vote, in west suburban Cook County, to a 20-year Democratic incumbent, Congressman Danny Davis, is actually a political win.

Professional strategists look at who had the most votes and won the election. But there are other important numbers: who voted, where they voted, and how much money the candidates spent on those votes.

The power of money and name recognition in our political system is nothing new; candidates with more money, name recognition, and establishment support typically get more votes. It was expected that Cong. Davis would win this election because he had more money, more name recognition, and more support for the major political players.

A great example of Anthony Clark's political win, is the other big race, in the same area, with the same constituency. The race for Cook County Commissioner of the 1st District, Richard Boykin vs. Brandon Johnson. In many ways, Boykin mirrored Danny Davis as the political insider and incumbent while Brandon Johnson mirrored Anthony Clark as the progressive, young, energetic new candidate. Johnson, the newcomer, managed to pull off a huge upset and win with 13,637 votes (46.73%) to Boykin's 11,964 votes.

In the same area, Clark had 12,371 votes to Davis' 19,926.

I posit that the only difference between the Brandon Johnson/Richard Boykin campaign and the Anthony Clark/Danny Davis campaign is money. Brandon Johnson, while a political newcomer, was backed by PAC organizations like the Chicago Teachers Union, and according to his financial reports had about $500,000, which came from the unions: both money and knowledgeable, experienced campaign staff. Now, I believe, Johnson's win was still a huge political upset.

The Clark campaign, while it was full of love, passion and energy, was not a traditional political campaign. Intentionally. Clark made a pledge to not accept any money from PACs. His campaign was energy rich, financially poor. The Clark campaign, had a mere $70,000 total. Further, the Clark campaign sent out zero political mailers and only one commercial. He also works a full-time job as a special education teacher, and runs an amazing community organization, Suburban Unity.

Conversely, Davis, has been the congressman for the 7th District since 1996. Due to his longevity, Davis is a household name in the 7th. He had no reason to campaign, yet he still had his name on many political mailers.

Traditional political wisdom would dictate that Clark would lose big. Instead, by getting 40 percent in west suburban Cook County, he proved that Davis, is vulnerable to an adequately financed campaign and there is a large group of people unhappy with the congressman's job performance. Winning by such a small margin, Davis' electoral win, was a political loss.

Politics is not a zero-sum game. Sometimes when you lose, you actually win; and sometimes when you win, you actually lose. Political winners use their "political loss" as a lesson and re-strategize for the next election.

Case in point: President Barack Obama's political trajectory.

When President Obama started his political career, he ran his first major campaign against Congressman Bobby Rush, who was, and still is, an institution on the South Side of Chicago. Obama was young, energetic, and had broad-based appeal, especially in Hyde Park, similar to Clark's energy and support in Oak Park.

Then a community organizer, Obama decided to challenge incumbent congressman in the primary election. Rush had been a congressman for almost as long as Davis. He was popular and had all of the support of the Democratic machine. Yet the young, energized, political newcomer decided to challenge Rush anyway. Obama did not beat Congressman Rush, just like Clark did not beat Congressman Davis. To political outsiders, it looked like a complete political loss for Obama.

But after his defeat, Obama reassessed the political landscape, and ran the next election, relying heavily on the racial, ethnic coalition he built in Hyde Park during his losing campaign. Obama realized a better political strategy was going from state senator to U.S. senator and ultimately, president of the United States.

Although Clark did not win, he did something similar. He created a strong, diverse, powerful political base. He created name recognition and the political establishment is aware of his potential electability.

Anthony Clark may have lost this congressional race, but he is a political winner. Clark's loss, like Obama's, I believe, is just a starting point. I'm excited to see where he goes from here because he has as much potential as another Chicago community organizer: Barack Obama.

ShaRhonda Dawson is a resident of Broadview.

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Reader Comments

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Tom MacMillan from OAK PARK  

Posted: February 24th, 2020 4:30 PM

Clark's inflatable rats outside local churches, desire to make prostitution legal and combination of smoking weed every day while working at our High School with kids is hilarious. Will wait for the next "after his defeat" piece, coming soon for the 2020 election cycle.

Jasper Long from Oak Park  

Posted: February 24th, 2020 10:52 AM

@Kevin I don't think decriminalization of sex workers should conflict with the empowerment of women. I agree with Sean and Bill. The 7th Cong district is pretty extensive. Didn't see much outreach beyond the subs and parts of Austin.

Kevin Peppard  

Posted: February 24th, 2020 6:15 AM

Anthony Clark has called for the decriminalization of sex workers. How does that jibe with the empowerment of women? This guy is way outside the mainstream. Yet some Oak Parkers support him blindly. Danny Davis may be comatose, but Clark will find that it's not his turn to replace him, now or later.

Nick Polido  

Posted: March 30th, 2018 7:03 AM

No Sean, Brandon won with union money and the full backing of the Democratic machine that has Ill- served the very west side you speak of generation after generation after generation.

Sean Fulkerson  

Posted: March 29th, 2018 11:38 PM

I don't quite understand the premise that the votes in the west suburbs are more significant than the majority of the district that lies in Chicago's westside. What Brandon's campaign possessed was a clear political analysis, issues and a real platform. It wasn't money that won his campaign it was building a real polical organization. Building political power is about more than #hashtags. Also, Anthony Clark's attacks on public workers and their retirement didn't go over as well in working class precincts as it did in the west suburbs. That's why he didn't win a single Precinct in Chicago. I think that tells you a lot.

Liz Barnes  

Posted: March 28th, 2018 7:43 PM

I got a few mailers from Clark, I believe.

Jeff Evans from Oak Park  

Posted: March 28th, 2018 2:31 PM

Clark's comment quoted below definitely showed courage. I asked a question in the same AMA about taxing retirement income and he didn't answer in a straightforward way. Nonetheless, I voted for him last week and I'll probably vote for him again if he runs in 2020. For anyone who wants to read the full AMA: https://www.reddit.com/r/SandersForPresident/comments/6imrz6/im_anthony_clark_and_im_running_for_congress_in/

Bruce Kline  

Posted: March 27th, 2018 10:38 PM

Nick: I absolutely agree with your overall political assessment. And I am surprised that Mr. Clark actually made such a bold statement. The truth hurts. And as he found out, in fact, probably hurt him as well. That took guts. I wonder however, if Mr. Clark does enter the political fray again if he will feel the need to go on an apology tour much like Mr. Biss did.

Bill Dwyer  

Posted: March 27th, 2018 8:56 PM

Point taken Nick. Thanks.

Nick A Binotti  

Posted: March 27th, 2018 8:13 PM

Bill - No doubt Clark needs to up his game. My point was Johnson was a cog in a well-oiled political machine that Clark had no access to. I never said those associations were corrupt, just that they are special interests with...special interests. We have to get past the notion unions have altruistic motives that go beyond self-preservation. But as Joy pointed out below, Clark's comment regarding the pension crisis was the most forthright comment on that matter by any Dem candidate in Illinois. It took guts to go against the party line. So maybe there's hope.

Brian Slowiak  

Posted: March 27th, 2018 4:42 PM

,

Joy Bunton from Oak Park  

Posted: March 27th, 2018 4:36 PM

Clark made the mistake of making this statement regarding IL pensions in a Reddit AMA. Not at all pro-labor union: "Sadly, people and businesses are already being driven away. Illinois led the country last year in regards to residents leaving the state. I recognize that the state's pension crisis threatens to burden taxpayers with massive, everescalating taxes to bail out a system that is simply not sustainable. One issue that must be addressed is the unaffordable pension benefits politicians have given away to government employees and unions over the years. This action has created a burden that the people of Illinois should not and cannot carry. There is no quick fix as this issue will take years for us to dig ourselves out of, but I believe that we must investigate everything even the unpopular topics from mismanaged spending, to looking into 401(k) style plans for government workers as well as the impact of the age individuals are receiving their pensions considering life expectancy, to taxing social security with expemptions for those who make less than $50k, etc. No answer is popular, but we truly have to look at accountability and how we can all help the state. I am a union employee, and we have to be able to bring union employees to the table to discuss these issues. We cannot demonize government employees, but must identify commonalities and work together to address this ever growing issue."

Joy Bunton from Oak Park  

Posted: March 27th, 2018 4:32 PM

Davis won 60% of the vote in Cook County, which doesn't make it close at all. And Davis is more like Johnson in that they both were Chicago Teachers Union delegates and both had backing by labor unions. Much of Davis' campaign contributions are from labor unions. Davis personally talked CTU prez Karen Lewis into running against Mayor Rahm Emanuel and then backed Jesus Chuy Garcia, which is not a pro-establishment thing to do at all. He also supported getting rid of SA Anita Alvarez after the Black Lives Matter Laquan McDonald scandal. Years ago, Davis even ran against Mayor Daley, that's not a moderate or pro-establishment in my book. I'm glad Davis won 74% of the total vote.

Bill Dwyer  

Posted: March 27th, 2018 3:51 PM

You make some good points, Nick, but you also paint with a pretty broad brush. It's not that black and white. In any event, Clark needs to put down his megaphone, dispense with the aphorisms and buzz words and get down to the grinding nitty gritty door to door politics that's required. That's how most challengers- if you're not William Lipinski's son- get known to voters. I'm getting very leery of people on the left who demonize any sort of political organizing as inherently corrupt. To my mind, they're just the negative image of those on the right who bitch and moan about the "deep state."

Nick A Binotti  

Posted: March 27th, 2018 3:29 PM

Bill - Brandon Johnson got $200,000+ support from one "educational organization" (CTU/IFT/AFT are all under the same corporate umbrella) because he is employed by them as a union organizer/lobbyist. He really didn't have to go out and request support like Clark would have. Plus AFT, - along with another of Johnson's large contributors, AFSCME, are frequent contributors to Davis' campaign and probably don't have much interest in an underdog like Clark. The other major contributor to Johnson's campaign, SEIU and United Working Families (both are basically the same company), contributed $135,000+ because they intended to oust any commissioner who vetoed the soda tax, a revenue generator for the union via increased headcount/dues. They had zero interest in this congressional seat. So it was a much different dynamic for Clark to garner support from the same companies (usual suspects) that supported Johnson.

Bill Dwyer  

Posted: March 27th, 2018 11:58 AM

For the record, Clark didn't win a single Chicago precinct out of 492. And he didn't win a single Proviso Township precinct out of 66. As for Brandon Johnson having the backing of those educational organizations, he had their backing because he didn't think he was too good to go out and ask for their support. That's part of the political process, to garner support and resources for your bid. .. Danny Davis is going to retire in the next few years, and when he does, the person who replaces him will be someone who doesn't castigate others for studying the rules for how you win a political campaign.

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