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Grassroots group announces it has registered 25,000 new voters

A coalition of community organizations fighting for a higher minimum wage and better schools said Tuesday it registered more than 25,000 new voters, mostly in African-American and Latino communities.

Although the group says the effort is focused on issues and not political parties or candidates, it could benefit Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn in the November statewide election and potentially foes of Mayor Rahm Emanuel in the February city election.

Quinn is championing an advisory referendum on a higher minimum wage to drive supporters to the polls this fall in his contest against Republican challenger Bruce Rauner, who has sent mixed signals on the issue.

In the city, potential mayoral challengers, including Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis and 2nd Ward Ald. Robert Fioretti, have been highly critical of mass school closings under Emanuel — another issue the group’s workers are using to get people registered and out to the polls.

“Chicago’s public education system is in a crisis, with school closings, turnarounds, neighborhood school disinvestment and privatization,” said Jaribu Lee, assistant education organizer with the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization who helped with the voter registration effort.

Lee pointed to school closings that occurred mostly in “black and brown communities, leaving destabilization in our communities, a rise in violence, hopelessness and despair, but yet education has not improved in our communities. . . People are standing up and will no longer accept politicians that don’t listen to them and vote against their interests.”

Lewis, who is touring the city’s neighborhoods while mulling a challenge to Emanuel, has harshly criticized last year’s closing of nearly 50 schools, mostly in African-American communities on the South and West Sides.

The CTU, which is part of the Grassroots Collaborative that is coordinating the voter registration drive, also is registering voters, although those numbers are not counted in the total announced Tuesday.

Lewis has talked about the need to register more voters to take on Emanuel, hearkening back to a tactic used by former Mayor Harold Washington before he got into the 1983 mayoral race that ended with him becoming the city’s first black mayor.

In all, 13 community groups are involved in the voter registration effort, which aims hit a mark of 50,000 new voters by the Oct. 7 registration deadline. One of them is Action Now, which has registered 10,000 new voters while focusing on the minimum wage issue.

“Once people hear about a chance to increase the minimum wage, they start to become more interested in what I have to say,” said Daphne Bracey, a voter registration counselor for Action Now who has done her work on the South Side. “When I talk to people, I ask them so sign a card pledging to vote to raise the minimum wage in the next election.”

Of the 25,000 new registrants, about 18,750 live in the city, with the rest in Cook County suburbs. Both Cook County Clerk David Orr, and Jim Allen, a spokesman for the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners, said it looks like registration numbers will be higher this November than four years ago.

The bulk of the folks registered in the city live in minority communities on the South and West Sides, as well as Latino neighborhoods on the Northwest Side and the Uptown community on the North Side, said Amisha Patel, executive director of the Grassroots Collaborative.

The groups plan to continue their registration efforts after the November election, in the hopes of pushing their issues in city races, Patel said.

“We certainly will continue once the November election is over to try to put as much energy and effort into continuing to organize voters,” Patel said. “The issues will continue to be relevant and sort of at the forefront of people’s lives.”

Copyright © 2015, RedEye
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