January 10, 2006

Raoul tackles race, crime in talk

Illinois State Senator Kwame Raoul heralded the University of Chicago as an “anchor of the community” in a talk at the Reynolds Club sponsored by UC Dems yesterday.

“Quite frankly, Hyde Park would not be Hyde Park if it were not for the University of Chicago,” Raoul said.

In discussing the “so-called friction” in town-gown relations, Raoul suggested that the community accept the University’s permanent role. “If we accept that [the University is not going anywhere], then we stop acting like we’re going to chase the University of Chicago away from the community,” he said.

Raoul recalled that he had attended the University’s November town hall meeting to discuss the “straight thuggin’” party, but questioned some students’ motivations in dealing with the issue. “There are real battles for us to be fighting here,” he said, adding that many students were being overly “adversarial.”

The primary battle, according to Raoul, was crime. “There’s no outrage against everyday shootings,” he said, adding that many community members had become apologists for criminals who were “just trying to feed their family.” Such an approach to crime, Raoul emphasized, is “part of our problem.”

Raoul, a Democrat, also discussed his introduction to politics and said that he often found himself at odds with his party. “That’s the nature of politics––it’s give-and-take, it’s compromise, it’s building debts that you can use later.”

As a state senator, Raoul said he has often had to confront significant anti-City of Chicago sentiment, such as a list of “Chicago goodies”—provisions in the budget that help the city—that rural legislators had compiled from the budget.

“Outside of the city of Chicago is a state called Illinois and the two are not the same,” Raoul said. “We call ourselves a blue state but I call us a purple state. We’re not as blue as we think we are.”

But despite differences on more socially controversial issues such as gay marriage, Raoul emphasized that “the problems we face in a major urban city are not that much different from the problems faced in rural Illinois,” pointing to predatory lenders, inferior healthcare, and inadequate schooling as prime examples.

A Hyde Park native and Lab Schools alumnus, Raoul was appointed to his seat in November 2004 after Barack Obama, his predecessor whom he called the “political rock star of the millennium,” was elected to the U.S. Senate.

In securing his appointment, Raoul said that he relied on old friendships. “There were a lot of threats that were leveled my way; there were offers for better-paying positions,” he said.

But Raoul added that he wanted a chance to give back to his community, and that being a well connected native gave him a “natural accountability.” His constituency, the 13th District, ranges “from the Gold Coast to the Soul Coast,” extending as far south as 98th Street.

“People seemed to enjoy the talk,” said second-year Sam Boyd, the UC Dems political director. “We’ve been trying to do a lot of these things, and as long as we can get people to come, they’ve been working out pretty well.”