Gery Chico will score a key endorsement Monday afternoon from B. Herbert Martin, pastor of the Progressive Community Church at 48th and Wabash in the city’s Bronzeville neighborhood. Martin, 68, Harold Washington’s close friend and pastor, was raised in Mound Bayou, Mississippi, and came to Chicago in 1967 to earn his master’s in divinity at Northwestern. He told me in an interview Sunday afternoon that he is going with Chico because he believes Chico can run the kind of coalition campaign that Washington assembled in 1987.

Martin added that he believes that the three African-American candidates, Danny Davis, Carol Moseley Braun, and James Meeks, will split the vote and cannot possibly win. He refers to their efforts as “fantasy campaigns” and concludes that “even if every black person in Chicago turned out to vote, we would still not have the votes to win.” 

Martin, a former chairman of the Chicago Housing Authority, executive director of the Chicago Commission on Human Relations, and executive director of the Chicago branch of the NAACP, has stayed out of politics since the death of Washington in 1987—Chico is the first person he has publicly endorsed since then. Martin explained that he has been focused on his church and the local community plagued by “untold violence and bloodshed and lawlessness.” He’s jumping in now, he says, because he is so impressed by Chico, whom he sees as a coalition builder and so the logical successor to Washington. Here are some highlights of our conversation:

CF: How did it come about that you, an African-American clergyman, who, as you say, was “raised in the movement…[who] knows the price we paid just to get the right to vote,” happen to decide to endorse Gery Chico, a Hispanic?
HM: I wouldn’t want to dishonor the sacrifices of the ancestors as well as those of us who still live by voting for an African-American candidate when I know it’s going to fail. I think the day for racial politics is passé. We need to move on to the kind of campaign that Harold Washington ran in ’83 and ’87, which was building a coalition for progressive politics. I look at the two candidates who I think are emerging, Rahm Emanuel and Gery Chico, and I think we can rebuild that broken bridge, fence, between Hispanics and blacks and other ethnic groups in the city to forge the kind of dream ticket that Harold Washington had in his last years. This campaign has intrigued me. I think there’s a possibility here once again to get progressive politics back on the agenda.

CF: Did Chico ask for your endorsement?
I let it be known that I wanted to talk to him, …based on my conversation with him, I told him he was my choice, …and I said I would endorse him.

CF: What about Chico’s positions and platforms do you like?
He has a strong advocacy for public education, that is key to me. He is charismatic, can pull people together; he is a people person, so he communicates well across cultural and interfaith lines. I’m looking at the budget issue. I don’t think anyone has a magic wand, but I think he’s an [experienced] businessman.

CF: Were you a supporter of Mayor Rich Daley?
Yes, there were a number of things that [he] did that I thought were great, although I didn’t buy into his position on public schools, nothing has worked to bring our public schools where they need to be, especially in African-American neighborhoods.

CF: You participated in the deliberations of the Coalition for Mayor. You were in the room. What went wrong? (The group of African-American leaders eventually settled on Congressman Danny Davis, after initially favoring Carol Moseley Braun and Cook County Board of Review Commissioner Larry Rogers, Jr.).  
There was never the kind of …trust or spirit of cooperation; everybody was kind of like pushing their own political agenda.

CF: Once you issue your endorsement on Monday, will you take it to you pulpit and try to persuade your parishioners to vote for Chico?
The congregation and my colleagues and friends will know squarely where I stand, but I can’t [promote Chico from the pulpit] because of the church’s charitable status and the whole separation of church and state. You have to be careful how you use a pulpit, so we can use the pulpit for voter education.

CF: Do you expect flack from African-American leaders for your decision to endorse Chico?
I think there will be pushback on it. It will be perceived as being not in favor of a Carol or a Danny or Meeks. It’s not that I’m not in favor of them; it’s just I know the political realities we face. They cannot win.

CF: Who do you think will be the top two vote-getters in the February 22nd nonpartisan primary who will go on to compete in the election on April 5th?
Rahm Emanuel and Gery Chico.