African-American political leaders rallied around former U.S. Sen. Carol Moseley Braun on Saturday as a unity candidate best qualified to be Chicago mayor, capping a holiday week of private negotiations that left her the only major black politician in the campaign.
Flanked by prominent black elected officials who dropped out and endorsed her bid, Braun told a crowd at the weekly Rainbow/PUSH Coalition meeting on the South Side that she has “the most credentials and the most qualifications and experience of all of the candidates running” to replace retiring Mayor Richard Daley.
Braun was lauded by state Sen. James Meeks and U.S. Rep. Danny Davis, both of whom dropped out of the race, as well as the Rev. Jesse Jackson, who held private meetings aimed at getting the major black contenders to unite to improve the chances of an African-American candidate winning the mayoral election.
“The realities are that when our community comes together, as the song says, ain’t no stopping us now,” said Davis, who quit the race on New Year’s Eve, just days after saying he was in it to win.
In a city where race and ethnicity still play major roles in local politics, the contest now features former Chicago Board of Education President Gery Chico and City Clerk Miguel del Valle as the only major Latino candidates facing off against Braun and former White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel.
With four major candidates in the contest and a slew of unknowns who could still siphon votes, getting to the 50 percent plus one vote needed to win the Feb. 22 election outright could prove elusive for anyone. So the goal is to finish in the top two and force an April 5 runoff election.
“Dr. King has got to be smiling on this day because we’re getting the coalition together again,” Braun said, referring to Martin Luther King Jr. “We’re going to bring black, white, brown, one side of town to the other, back together again to create jobs.”
Jackson (Jesse Jackson), who was given credit for behind-the-scenes brokering that propelled Braun, said she “best addresses the coalition of conscience of a multiracial, multicultural coalition.”
Braun’s task is to consolidate support among voters who favored Davis and Meeks and get into her column many of the 30 percent of black voters who were undecided at the time of the poll. She also hopes to continue scooping up the financial support of black business leaders who began to move more in her direction after Meeks dropped out.
The strategy is similar to the one African-American leaders pursued in 1983, when Washington became mayor. Washington was the consensus candidate from the black community, and he won the Democratic primary with 37 percent of the vote after two white candidates split support. He then dispatched a Republican in the general election. Washington, however, had the support of lakefront liberal voters, and it is questionable whether those voters remain enchanted with Braun.
Washington built a multiracial coalition that carried him to re-election, but it fractured after his death. Daley was elected mayor in 1989 on the strength of white and Latino votes, but like Washington before him, he was able to reach beyond his core supporters by showing he cared about issues around the city while also sharing the power of contracts, jobs and infrastructure improvements with other ethnic groups.
Many of the problems that fueled racial strife still persist, including troubled schools, crime, a poor job market, mostly segregated housing and neighborhoods, bleak city finances and a scramble for scarce resources.
The candidates seeking to replace Daley are expected to play down talk of racial politics yet still try to encourage their bases of support to come out in force.