As the holiday season came to a close, the crowded field of African American candidates for the hotly contested Chicago Mayoral race seemed to evaporate overnight with New Year tidings. The always bombastic State Senator and Rev. James Meeks (D-IL) lived up to his reputation for political show when suddenly pulling out of the race following a series of controversial comments and retractions. But, in a bizarre twist, Meeks was soon approaching the other Black candidates and urging them to drop out as well – or to settle on a consensus candidate that the entire Black community, comprising 38% of the Windy City’s population, could agree on without splitting the vote.
At the time, Meeks’ proposition didn’t go over too well with the two remaining lead Black contenders, Rep. Danny Davis (D-IL) and former U.S. Senator and New Zealand Ambassador Carol Moseley-Braun (D-IL). Both indicated they were staying in the race, with Davis openly confused over whether Meeks wanted all Black candidates to drop out or only wanted the selection of a consensus candidate. As confusion ensued between the Davis and Meeks camps, Braun was unequivocal in her plans to stay focused as a contender against poll frontrunner Rahm Emanuel, the former White House chief of staff considered the likely winner of the February Democratic primary.
Davis, however, dropped a New Year’s Eve surprise by completely pulling out. Dan Rozek and Abdon M. Pallasch report in the Chicago Sun Times:
A dramatic 2010 in Chicago politics ended with one last flourish Friday night as U.S. Rep. Danny Davis dropped out of the race to succeed Mayor Daley and threw his support behind Carol Moseley Braun.
“In unity there is strength. In strength there is success,” Davis said at his downtown campaign office, flanked by Braun and state Sen. James Meeks, two of his former opponents in the Feb. 22 election.
“I just want to unify behind the best candidate. Everyone I know thinks Carol is the best candidate.”
Not only was it a dramatic end to 2010 in Chi-town politics. But it also represented a last-minute and hurried scramble by the city’s Black political establishment to rally around what it thought was the stronger African American candidate against a well-funded and strongly organized Emanuel machine. The absence of a new school, new generation candidate that broke away from the aging pack of elder statesmen and women was notable as Braun, now 63, has been in politics for a span of 40 years.
But, there is also concern that plans by former President Bill Clinton to campaign for Emanuel could further splinter the city’s Democratic base and also provide the former Congressman with an unfair publicity and fundraising advantage. Davis and Braun are both adamant that Clinton stay out of local affairs. Other observers see that as a move by Clinton to muscle Black candidates such as Braun – who was appointed as an ambassador to New Zealand by the former President in 1999 – out of the race.
Some experts on Chicago politics speculate that Clinton’s entrance into the race could be hurting Emanuel’s chances by galvanizing the African American electorate. Chicago Mag’s Carol Felsenthal writes:
The news that Bill Clinton was coming to Chicago to campaign for Rahm – first reported by Politico’s Mike Allen on Christmas day and confirmed by Rahm’s campaign spokesman the following day—produced a harshly worded, almost threatening, response from Congressman Davis. Moseley Braun was silent for a day but then she chimed in angrily, calling Clinton “an outsider parachuting in to support another outsider.”
The betrayal expressed by the two black candidates, both of whom have long and complex ties to the former president, seemed to jumpstart the negotiations between the two of them—talks presided over by the Rev. Jesse Jackson, another African-American with resonant ties to Bill Clinton. The announced visit seemed to foment an us-against-them mentality and prompt the New Year’s Eve announcement that Davis was out and Moseley Braun would have the field to herself.