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Washington's ex-pastor endorses Chico

Mayoral candidate Gery Chico (right) receives key endorsement from Rev. B. Herbert Martpastor late mayor Harold WashingtProgressive Community Church 56

Mayoral candidate Gery Chico (right) receives a key endorsement from Rev. B. Herbert Martin, pastor to the late mayor Harold Washington, at the Progressive Community Church, 56 E. 48th St., on Monday. Keith Hale/Sun-Times

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Updated: April 19, 2011 5:13AM

Former Mayor Harold Washington’s controversial pastor on Monday endorsed Gery Chico for mayor of Chicago, calling Chico the candidate with the best chance to re-create the multi-racial coalition that twice elected Washington.

The endorsement from the Rev. B. Herbert Martin was a boon to Chico and a blow to the three African-American challengers: U.S. Rep. Danny Davis (D-Ill.), former U.S. Senator Carol Moseley Braun (D-Ill.) and the Rev. James Meeks.

“Harold worked hard to build a coalition between the African-American and Latino communities. Gery Chico has the skill and experience to put that coalition back together. Just watching his easy, gentle way of reaching out — he really is a coalition guy,” said Martin, 68, senior pastor at Progressive Community Church, 56 E. 48th Street.

Martin said he knows Davis, Braun and Meeks and has “a lot of respect” for all three. But he said, “We need folks who can raise some money, folks who have an organization, folks who not only talk about coalition building, but have the capacity to make it happen. I don’t see that in my esteemed colleagues who are running for mayor at this point.”

Davis said he has a “tremendous amount of respect” for Martin and counts him as a “personal friend.”

“If he thinks Gery can pull together the kind of coalition that Harold Washington was able to put together, he’s within his right to feel whatever it is that he feels,” Davis said.

“I don’t think it will bring any votes. People will be voting on the basis of where they think individuals are on issues and their own evaluation of what kind of coalition is needed to govern the city and who has the best chance of putting it together.”

Braun’s spokesman Renee Ferguson argued that Chico “embodies the insider deals and pinstripe patronage” that Chicagoans are “sick and tired of.” She cited a Chicago Sun-Times story about Chico’s law firm and its work on behalf of a “fraudulent minority contractor.”

“At its core, Harold Washington’s administration was about reform, fairness and equal opportunity for all,” Ferguson said.

“Mr. Chico’s law practices that used his influence to steer business to a chosen few is in direct conflict with Harold’s vision for our city and, in no way, reflects the Harold Washington legacy. Gery Chico is no Harold Washington.”

Chico countered, “I’ve been fighting my whole life for minority- and women-owned businesses,” and that he’s “proud of my record of advancing” their cause.

“I’m very proud to have the endorsement of Rev. Martin. He was a face of the Harold Washington coalition, which brought so many parts of our city together to work for a common cause,” he said.

“That’s what we, as candidates, should be trying to do. Candidates should try to take the high-road and work to make our city better — not tear one another down.”

The Meeks campaign declined to comment.

Martin began every day with a 6 a.m. phone call and prayer with Washington and delivered an emotional eulogy at the late mayor’s televised funeral. But he’s also had his share of controversies.

As Chicago Housing Authority chairman, he once chained himself to a railing at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in a demand for federal funds for building repairs.

Martin used the same tactic at the Chicago Defender building to protest an anti-Washington editorial.

But the biggest controversy of Martin’s career came after Washington’s death — during the furor caused by anti-Semitic and anti-Christian speeches made by Steve Cokely, an aide to then-Mayor Eugene Sawyer .

Cokely had accused Jews of plotting to establish a world government that oppressed blacks. He accused white doctors, “especially Jewish ones,” of injecting blacks with the AIDS virus.

When Sawyer hesitated to fire Cokely, Martin opposed the firing on grounds there was a “ring of truth” to Cokely’s remarks.

“Sometimes, the truth is inflammatory. … There is a growing opinion among younger blacks, grass-roots black people, that Jews are running things — that Jews are unfair, unloving,” Martin, Sawyer’s then-nominee to chair Chicago’s Commission on Human Relations, was quoted by the Chicago Tribune as saying at the time.

Martin subsequently acknowledged that his remarks about Cokely were insensitive and misunderstood. What he meant to say, he claimed, was that blacks and Jews had a “serious” communication problem.

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