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Mitchell: Despite Cardiss Collins pioneering spirit, black Illinois women are absent in the House

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Updated: March 8, 2013 7:46AM



Former Illinois Congressman Cardiss Collins, who died at age 81 on Sunday, is being remembered as a “trailblazer.”

But what good does it do to blaze trails when the door is slammed behind you?

It is shameful that Collins was the first and so far, the last, black woman elected to the House of Representatives from Illinois.

After serving 12 consecutive terms and rising through the ranks to chair powerful house committees, Collins retired in 1995.

I see her transition as a sign. This is the time to open that door.

White women in this country have made giant strides in politics. All you need to do is scroll through the official website for the 113th Congress to see that a lot more of the faces belong to white women.

Twenty years ago, when Collins was in Congress, there were only two female senators. The new Congress includes 20 female senators.

The House of Representatives also is seeing a surge.

Tammy Duckworth, the first Asian-American woman from the state in the House, boosts female representation from Illinois to three.

She joins a sisterhood that includes Jan Schakowsky (D-Chicago) and Cheri Bustos.

Bustos, a Democrat, represents the Quad Cities and East Moline area.

Unfortunately, black women have had a difficult time breaking the barriers to higher office because the brothers haven’t supported their political aspirations.

It is sad to say.

Black women have flocked to the polls to help black men make history, yet they’ve gotten miserable support in return.

For instance, when Robin Kelly ran against Republican Dan Rutherford for state treasurer, it was an opportunity for her to make history. If she had won that race, Kelly would have been the first African-American woman to hold a statewide constitutional office in Illinois government.

But noooo.

Kelly couldn’t raise money from the local Democratic Party even though the party needed a heavy turnout of black voters to help Gov. Pat Quinn defeat Bill Brady.

At the time, Kelly was chief of staff in the Illinois treasurer’s office and had served as a state representative. Moving into the role of state treasurer would have been a natural progression.

Now with a special election to fill the seat left vacant by Jesse Jackson Jr., Kelly is in position to add to the diversity in Congress.

So why have 11 men, most if not all of them black, lined up to run for Jackson’s seat?

Besides Kelly, there are three other black women running in the primary.

Toi W. Hutchinson and Joyce W. Washington have a fair number of backers and will split up the vote. Fatimah N. Muhammad is also on the ballot. It will be difficult for any one of these black women to win the Feb. 26 primary.

With so many names on the ballot, Deborah Halvorson, the lone white woman in the Democratic primary, is poised to walk away with the prize.

If Halvorson wins, God bless her.

But the door Collins opened has been closed too long, and the Illinois delegation is not diverse until a black woman is in the mix.

So I appreciate that Napoleon Harris came to his senses and dropped out of this race.

Now, can Ald. Anthony A. Beale (9th) do the same?

Obviously Beale has ambitions and I have no doubt he would make a fine a congressman.

But it isn’t his time.

If the primary goes the way I suspect it will, Beale is going to be seen as a spoiler, because to win, a candidate would need a majority of the votes cast in the city as well as those cast in the suburbs.

Beale’s candidacy would likely siphon off a large percentage of city votes.

As for Mel Reynolds, Ernest B. Fenton, Anthony Williams and the other seven men who are still in this race — are they serious?

As it stands, there are 14 men, two of whom are black, and three white women representing Illinois in the 113th Congress.

Time is running out for the elders in the community to get these male candidates to see that they are behaving like little boys.

Brothers need to stand down and give sisters room to work this out.



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