The Cloakroom

The Cloakroom: McAllister on the hustings to replace Jackson Jr.

The Republican candidate to replace Jesse L. Jackson, who resigned Nov. 21 from his seat representing Illinois-2 spoke to The Cloakroom about his quest.

“When this unique opportunity seemed to become available, I ended up going into prayer, talking to people that I trusted and asking about the value of having me as a member of Congress,” said Leonard F. McAllister, a radio show host and columnist, who lives in the Hyde Park neighborhood of Chicago.

McAllister said his candidacy is an opportunity to move passed some of the lethargy and obstacles that the current political culture and climate create in communities like Illinois-2.

“We do have people on the South Side of Chicago, who are not only pleased, but excited about this candidacy,” he said. “They understand my record, they have seen me in action—they have vetted me.”

After living in North Carolina for many years, the former supermarket meat cutter, moved to Chicago, where he started hosting a radio show on WVON-AM and worked as a special projects assistant to the president of Chicago State University, he said.

“When I first arrived in Chicago in 2010, they accused me of being the Republican, who was sent by the RNC to destroy the black community,” he said. For the record: he was not sent to Chicago by the Republican National Committee to destroy the black community.

“The other thing they would say is: ‘Who is the white radio show host, who is coming on a black radio show talking about black people?’” he said. For the record: McAllister is black.

After a few months, the radio audience warmed to McAllister, he said. “They said: ‘We might not like all black Republicans, but we like you.’”

The CNN commentator said the people of the South Side also appreciate that he was willing to stick his neck out for a young black man doing the right thing, he said.

It was a controversy during the last two weeks of July 2011 that McAllister said cost his him his WVON job and his position at Chicago State University, the son of a steel mill electrician championed the cause of a McDonalds manager, who was fired after he took time off from work to be with his girlfriend after their six-day-old son died suddenly.

The young man, an ROTC cadet, was also preparing to go to Afghanistan, he said. The manager was one of McAllister’s mentees at Chicago State University.

The GOP hopeful called the black owner of the McDonalds to plead the young man’s case and when that did not work, he took it to the airwaves, he said. “I basically said: You don’t have to protest McDonalds, but these are the five McDonalds you don’t need to go to.”

“If this was a white McDonalds owner doing this to a black kid, let’s be honest, there’d be a whole lot of black folks marching down MLK Boulevard in Chicago singing ‘We Shall Overcome,’” he said he told his listeners.

“The phone lines lit up, and the callers said: ‘Lenny, you know, you are right and we need more young black men standing up for our kids when they are trying to do the right things,’” he said.

It did not please everyone, he said.

“A few days later, WVON made a phone call, and it was like: ‘Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa—whoa,’” he said. “We can’t have this, what is going on?” The radio station cancelled his show. Four weeks later, his job at the university was terminated.

The candidate announced his run Dec. 3 and said he is now in the process of organizing his campaign committee and building an organization.

The native of Pittsburgh said he expects to raise $1.5 to $2 million if by making the race a national event. The primary is Feb. 26 and the election is April 9, the same day as many municipal elections in the Land of Lincoln.

There can be no discussion of South Side politics without mentioning the Jackson name and the shadow it casts, he said.

“One cannot underestimate, or set-aside, the presence of the Jackson family to the South Side over the course of decades,” he said. “But, there are always season of new, reinvigorated and innovated leadership to take communities from where they currently are to a new place that optimizes there potential.”

The people of Illinois-2 are ready for a productive change of leadership, he said.

“I have good relationships with several members of the family,” he said.

“I think they have a positive view of me as a Republican, as an activist and as somebody who has worked on behalf of the same people that they have advocated for–for years,” he said.

“Although we are thankful for the Jackson legacy, and what they have contributed to the South Side of Chicago, we’re seeing that it is time for the constituents of that district to break the plateau, break the glass ceiling they have been dealing with,” he said. “My candidacy is a unique opportunity to get off of that plateau and elevate.”

The congressman’s brother Jonathan L. Jackson, a one-time protégé of one-time junk bond king Michael R. Milken and currently a business professor at City Colleges of Chicago, is likely to enter the race to succeed his brother.

“I’ve had an opportunity to talk with–on several occasions—and to Jonathan Jackson, both at Chicago State University, where we both worked, as well as on the air at WVON,” he said.

The brother of the former congressman has not announced his intentions.

As much as it may seem obvious now that Jackson Jr., could not remain in office, few people were prepared to replace him in a special election, McAllister said.

“Number 1, it was not something that we were anticipating,” he said.

“We have always been focused on serving the people of the 2nd Congressional District and speaking to the issues that people of the 2nd Congressional District face,” he said.

“I have a record of that over the years of taking on both political and social issues from a local, state and national stage,” he said.

McAllister said he has spoken to inner city audiences about Tea Party issues and spoken to Tea Party rallies about inner city issues, so that he can be that bridge between the two communities that often agree, but just seem to know it yet.

“I’ve been that bridge builder for a while now.”

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