Race in The Good Wife, Harold Washington and Rahm Emanuel

Dunreith and I spend most Wednesday evenings watching CBS’ hit drama, The Good Wife.

Julianna Margulies, who rose to stardom in the early years of ER, where she played George Clooney’s paramour and later appeared often in The Sopranos, is the protagonist  Alicia Florrick, a Georgetown-educated lawyer who is married to Peter, played by Chris Noth, Carrie Bradshaw’s Mr. Big on television and the big screen.

In a plot line that closely resembled Elliot Spitzer’s downfall, the show opens with Noth, the Cook County State’s Attorney, being stripped of his office and going to prison after being caught sleeping with prostitutes.

One of the major strands of the second is Noth’s quest for political redemption as he seeks to regain the office he once held.

The campaign is coming down to its final weeks, and Florrick, after trailing for most of the race, finds himself neck and neck with a black woman for the lead.

The Democratic Council leader urges him to get the suburban soccer moms and blue collar workers-enter here white people-to get him over the top.

Florrick’s campaign manager Eli Gold-maybe it’s just me, and a number of these conniving characters seem to be Jewish-agrees with the strategy, and has the black faces removed from Florrick’s campaign web site, inserted language about bringing back the old Chicago, and cancelled  his spiritual counseling sessions with Paster Isaiah, played by one of several alums from MacArthur Award Winner David Simon’s The Wire.

If this sounds familiar, it’s because it’s happened before.

It’s been close to 30 years since Republican Bernard Epton nearly won one of the most bitterly contested mayoral races in one of the nation’s most Democratic cities against then U.S. Rep. Harold Washington.

Overt racial animosity permeated the race, which saw Washington, whose campaign was spearheaded by a young David Axelrod, narrowly defeat the Republican opponent and usher in the era comedian Aaron Freeman called “The Council Wars.”

Of all the books that I’ve read about Washington, Gary Rivlin’s Fire on the Prairie captures in most compelling fashion the energy and excitement triggered by Washington’s campaign and ultimate victory.

One of the people Washington defeated was a far younger Richard M. Daley, who, as anyone living within 2,000 miles of Chicago knows, will be leaving his post in May after having served a record 22 years-a figure that surpassed his father’s tenure last year.

Rahm Emanuel is Daley’s successor, and, despite predictions to the contrary, he trounced the other candidates not only in predominantly white wards, but in black ones as well.

Friend and ace blogger Megan Cottrell wrote about trend for The Chicago Reporter, as did a number of other writers around town.

Some heralded it as an example of Chicago’s moving past its old racial divisions, while others were less swift to proclaim the end of race mattering in the city, chalking Emanuel’s margins in black communities up in large part to the poor quality of his black opponents.

As a candidate seeking a second act, Peter Florrick’s future is less certain, though it’s hard to imagine the show ending differently.  In the meantime, people of all racial backgrounds continue to grapple with what W.E.B. DuBois called the problem of the 20th century that still has some legs in this one, too.


2 responses to “Race in The Good Wife, Harold Washington and Rahm Emanuel

  1. tiny correction – it was Bernie Epton who ran against Washington.

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