Alderman Emma Mitts worked hard in the days before the presidential election to ensure that citizens in her West Side ward would take advantage of the opportunity to vote for the country's first black president.
She encouraged constituents to participate in early voting, and pushed a ride-sharing program to make sure transportation difficulties didn't keep people from casting their ballot.
Even so, turnout in her majority black ward was lower than the city average, and less than during the 2004 presidential election. Her ward is not unique.
Despite the popular perception that Sen. Barack Obama won the presidency on a tidal wave of enthusiasm in the African-American community, turnout in Chicago's majority black wards was lower than in other wards, according to a Daily News analysis of voting data.
In majority black wards, 72 percent of registered voters turned out. In other wards, 74 percent voted.
"I want to know who didn't go out and vote," she says. "That's going to be my mission if it takes me until the next election," she says.
Voter turnout is typically lower in black and Latino wards. But people involved in voter mobilization for this year's election say they're surprised Obama's candidacy wasn't enough to change that pattern.
Particularly stunning was the trend in three majority black wards that saw fewer overall votes cast this year than in the 2004 presidential election.
In 12 others, the percentage of voters casting ballots in this year's election was lower than in 2004.
Mitts' ward, the 37th, which encompasses part of Austin, is 88 percent black. Just over 70 percent of the registered voters cast ballots in this month's election. In 2004, turnout was 72 percent.
The 20th Ward, which includes parts of Woodlawn, is 96 percent black. Just over 68 percent of registered voters cast ballots in this month's election. In 2004, turnout was 74 percent.
Englewood's 17th Ward, which is 98 percent black, saw 72 percent of voters turn out in 2004. That number fell by three percent this year. Despite registering over 1,000 new voters in the past four years, 45 fewer voters cast ballots this year than in 2004.
For Mitts, her ward's low turnout is a frustrating situation, and a missed opportunity for members of her community to participate in a watershed moment in American history.
"I want to know how they could miss out, and why they missed out," she says.
Rev. Marshall Hatch, pastor of New Mount Pilgrim Missionary Baptist Church in West Garfield Park, says he's not surprised turnout in some West Side wards was lower than in other parts of the city.
"We always have lower voter totals and the people feel somewhat disconnected," Hatch says.
Hatch says he is hopeful that the downtrodden might be inspired by Obama's historic victory.
"We need to bring some of this political change to the West side," Hatch says. "It would be interesting to imagine a new energized political class emerging on the West Side in the next couple of years with the Obama administration and all of that. "
Alton Miller, a veteran of Chicago politics who served as former Mayor Harold Washington's press secretary, also believes disenfranchisement plays a role.
"It's like pulling teeth to get younger people or people who don't feel they have a stake in public decisions that are made, to get them voting and interested in politics," he says. "They still have a very cynical attitude. People feel like there isn't any point in participating in politics."
Miller, now an associate dean at Columbia College, says he noticed evidence of that trend as he watched the crowd in Grant Park on election night celebrate Obama's victory.
"I thought: This is a crowd my Republican brothers in Ohio would be proud to have on the field," he says. "They were young white kids with great teeth."
Miller also says voting can be more difficult for people with less financial stability.
"You're thinking: I'll be late for work, I'll be late at daycare, or I'll have to leave the kids, and I don't know who leave them with," he says.
But Mitts says workers in her ward made sure to remove as many obstacles as possible to voting.
Alderman Willie Cochran, who represents the 20th Ward, says the low turnout stunned him.
"I'm mystified by this," he says. "Obviously some people stood on the sideline."
Cochran suspects many of the voting no-shows in his ward simply realized Obama was going to win the presidency, with or without their ballot.
"I don't know if there was the same urgency that we felt in the community in 2004 to go out and unseat [Bush], as opposed to a comfort level with Obama," he says. "There was a really big push to try and change the presidency back then."
Because of Obama's commanding lead in the polls, and his stalwart support in Illinois, Cochran says, the campaign paid little attention to the neighborhoods of the 20th Ward, even though they're a short walk from the president-elect's Hyde Park home.
"Not much advertising was done in our communities. No signs were distributed. No mailings were done," he says. "That personal touch in the communities, in the yards, on the lamp posts... In Chicago, it was not there. The campaign chose to spend money in other places, and it just took Chicago for granted."
While Cochran says that can send the wrong message to black voters in Chicago, he doesn't fault the Obama camp.
"The results prove what the strategists had in mind. They won, and they won by pretty big margin," he says.
The Obama campaign could not be reached for comment.
The Daily News analysis is based on preliminary numbers; City election officials will have final data available on Nov. 25, and voting patterns could change based on those numbers.
This month's low turnout was particularly surprising to some, given the amount of effort organizers put forward to ensure likely Democratic voters were registered prior to the election.
The Daily News analysis indicates those efforts paid off. In Chicago's majority black wards, 59 percent of residents registered to vote. In other wards, the number was 47 percent.
At Leon's on 63rd, a barbecue restaurant in the 20th Ward, general manager Gwen Gooden says she fed free chicken and waffles to volunteers every Saturday this fall before they went out in the community to register voters.
"We had 2,000 to 3,000 people going out on buses," she says. "We fed them here religiously. I don't ever want to see another chicken and waffles."
She says volunteers pushed people to vote earlier this month.
"We stayed on people, told them this is something special, something that has never happened before," Gooden says.
Gooden says she doesn't know anyone who failed to vote in the election.
That sentiment was shared by a group of half a dozen men chatting in front of the Aldi store at 63rd and South Lowe Friday afternoon.
"Everybody I know voted, because they knew they would get their ass whupped," if they didn't, says Jerome Harvey, 37.
Harvey took a Metra train to the county building in the Loop and cast his ballot during early voting.
"I would have walked there if I had to," he says. "It's crazy not to vote."
Some of the wards with low turnout have lost large numbers of public housing residents. If those residents were registered to vote and remained on the rolls even after they moved away, that could impact turnout numbers.
The low turnout in Mitts' ward has encouraged her to up her efforts for the next election. She says she's hoping the election of the country's first black president will prove to residents that they do, in fact, have a voice in politics, and that it's their duty to use it.
Obama "changed the momentum," she says. "It's up to us to continue sending that message. I want to see the people hanging out on the corners start voting."
Cochran also says he'll focus on encouraging better turnout.
"At every community meeting and every engagement that I'm going to be at, we'll talk about this very subject," he says. "We've just got to put more work into it."
~ Daily News correspondent Peter Sachs contributed to this report