Chicago's Democratic political class hitched its wagon to the Jackie Robinson West All-Star team's popularity today, turning out in force for some television time and election-year retail campaigning during a rally for the national Little League champions at a far South Side park.
The team of 11- to 13-year-old boys gained widespread praise for their talent, sportsmanship and poise as they made it all the way to the Little League World Series final game in Williamsport, Pa., before losing to a team from Seoul, South Korea. So it was no surprise elected officials tried to associate themselves with a team Chicago residents have fallen in love with this summer.
The morning parade kick-off at Jackie Robinson Park in Washington Heights provided a perfect opportunity.
Gov. Pat Quinn, locked in a tough re-election campaign with Republican Bruce Rauner and needing strong support from Chicago's African-American voters at the polls this November, commandeered a JRW flag before running along the outfield fence at the baseball diamond in the park. Quinn wore a bright yellow Jackie Robinson West championship T-shirt as he shook hands with the crowd lining up for the festivities.
Later, the governor jogged out to the pitcher's mound to proclaim today Jackie Robinson West championship day in Illinois.
Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle's office tweeted out photos of her posing with people at the park. Preckwinkle then addressed the crowd, telling them the team members are "not only a credit to our race, a credit to us as African-Americans, they are a credit to our city and to our country."
Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan thanked the Little Leaguers for giving her a baseball team worth rooting for this summer as the Cubs and White Sox founder. "I've been a baseball fan my whole life, and it is really hard to be a professional baseball fan in Chicago some years," she said.
U.S. Rep. Robin Kelly addressed the crowd, as did State Sen. Emil Jones III. Ald. Carrie Austin, 34th, read off a list of her colleagues in attendance.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who turned up for several Jackie Robinson West viewing parties on the South Side during the tournament, dismissed a question this week about whether he was using the team's success to try to appeal to African-American voters who are dissatisfied with his job performance.
"Separate the Jackie Robinson, because that's about our children, what they're doing. It's not about politics," he said at a Tuesday news conference. "It's about what they've achieved and what they've shown the city it's capable of achieving."
Emanuel was on hand this morning at the rally. Perhaps mindful of the possibility he could get booed by the large crowd, he grabbed the mic without waiting for an introduction like other politicians got from the radio DJ who emceed the event. "Let's remember, JRW brought Chicago to its feet, tears to our eyes and pride to our heart," Emanuel said during brief remarks.
Emanuel used a similar technique to dodge a potential negative crowd reaction when he stepped to the podium without an introduction at the 2013 Grant Park Blackhawks championship rally shortly after the throng there booed Quinn.