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The Last Time a Celebrity Backed a Mayoral Candidate, They Won

Saul Bellow hit the campaign trail with Richard M. Daley in 1989. But it was a whole lot different than the Chance/Amara Enyia partnership.

Bellow, left, endorsed Daley for mayor in 1989.  

Three decades before Chance the Rapper endorsed Amara Enyia, another world-famous Chicagoan jumped on a mayoral bandwagon — and it was a much odder pairing.

In 1988, Saul Bellow, the Nobel Prize winner in Literature who was teaching at the University of Chicago, was concerned about what he saw as anti-Semitism in the administration of Mayor Eugene Sawyer. One of Sawyer’s aides, Steve Cokely, had accused Jewish doctors of injecting the AIDS virus into African-Americans.

State’s Attorney Richard M. Daley, who was preparing for his second mayoral run, denounced Cokely vigorously. Bellow, who was Jewish, was grateful. He didn’t just endorse Daley, he campaigned with the candidate in Jewish neighborhoods. Daley responded by stating that he had always enjoyed Bellow’s poetry. (Bellow was a novelist.)

Bellow, a Hyde Parker and an academic, had never been the Bridgeport Daleys’ cup of tea. In 1965, the author visited Richard J.’s office when the mayor signed a proclamation honoring the Society of Midland Authors.

Daley was asked whether he had read Herzog, Bellow’s most recent novel. “I’ve looked into it,” the Old Man replied.

More of a reader than his father, Richard M. tried to get up to speed on Bellow. The Tribune reported that “en route to a campaign stop avec author Bellow, Daley’s advance team radioed other campaign aides for a list of books Mr. Bellow has authored.”

After winning the election, the younger Daley became Bellow’s biggest fan, delighted to be associated with a literary lion. He gave Bellow a personal tour of City Hall, and invited him to speak at the inauguration. Bellow declared Daley “a class act” and “a balanced person who may, by his example, his common sense, restore balance to a city at this moment having a bad time.” The next year, Daley threw Bellow a 75th birthday party at the Art Institute, where he announced the commissioning of the bust that now resides outside the Chicago Authors Room at Harold Washington Library. When Bellow moved to Boston, Daley was at an event to wish him farewell, and express a hope that he kept a voting address in Chicago.

Chance the Rapper is in a position to do more for Amara Enyia than Bellow did for Daley. For one thing, Daley — the state’s attorney and the son of a titanic mayor — was better known to the average Chicagoan than was Bellow.

When Chance endorsed Enyia in a press conference on the second floor of City Hall, dozens of reporters covered the event — more than Enyia, an onscure community organizer, had seen at ay of her former campaign appearances. The following week, the rapper and the candidate held a “pull up” at 63rd and Cottage Grove that attracted hundreds of curious neighbors. Chance and Amara talked about the need for a Community Benefits Agreement at the soon-to-be-built Obama Center.

Enyia’s campaign is trying to attract young people who have never voted in a municipal election, or never voted period. Chance is well fit for that effort. While reporting on the rapper’s endorsement for Politico, I attended a $20-a-head fundraiser for Enyia at Emporium, a tavern/pinball arcade in Logan Square. I met a lot of twentysomethings with out-of-town area codes — newcomers to Chicago and its politics. One told me he’d first heard of Enyia when Chance endorsed her. “It’s drawing a younger crowd,” another said. “It does bring a lot of credibility to the campaign. Northwestern students who live in Chicago have heard of her platform through him. I could name drop Amara to them, but I can’t name drop Paul Vallas.”

Nonetheless, in the most recent mayoral poll, Enyia registered only 7 percent. 

“Generally speaking, endorsements don’t much matter,” WGN political analyst Paul Lisnek told me. “Will Chance’s money be used in a way to get her message out? That’s the difference.”

Indeed, Chance recently gave Enyia $400,000. That’s probably less than he earned earlier this month for appearing in a Doritos Super Bowl commercial with the Backstreet Boys, and a lot more than Saul Bellow could have given Daley. Literary authors and professors don’t earn as much as rappers. Enyia used the money to produce and air her first television ad, titled “All of Us.”

Even with Chance’s money and a $200,000 contribution from Kanye West, Enyia isn’t in the top 10 in fundraising in the 14-candidate field. Saul Bellow’s celebrity added luster to a candidate who would have won even without his help. Chance the Rapper is attracting money and attention to a candidate who had no hope of winning without him — and probably still doesn’t.

If Enyia does somehow come out on top, though, you can bet Chance will perform at her inauguration.

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