For election junkies, there are candidates who are roaming gifts that just keep on giving. Former Senator Carol Moseley-Braun (D-IL), now hard-knuckle Chicago Mayoral candidate attempting a political combat, fits that profile as observers can’t seem to get enough of, week after week, the once celebrated embodiment of Black political power in the 1990s suddenly relegated to a water cooler joke that starts with the question: “Did she say that?”
Recently, Braun was at it again, unable to restrain what has now become an infamous verbal warehouse of campaign insults that are described as either tasteless, abrupt or downright bizarre. At a campaign rally accompanied by Princeton University professor and renowned Black intellectual Cornel West, Braun attempted to joke that former White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel was like the Mel Brooks comedy The Producers. Emanuel now stands double-digits ahead of Braun in recent polls before the February 22 race to replace outgoing Mayor Richard Daley.
The problem started when the joke fell flat, crashing and burning in what some observers claimed was a veiled attempt at comparing Emanuel, who is Jewish, to Adolf Hitler.
“The joke in it was this guy who was still in love with the Fuhrer, with Adolf Hitler,” offered Braun in her loose analysis of the movie. “And he said, ‘The Fuhrer, he was a kind man, he was a gentle man.’”
To Braun, that dynamic perfectly described Emanuel in her continuing use of cinematic metaphor at the rally. Legendary for his abrasive political Muy-Thai style on Capitol Hill and in the White House, the Emanuel on the campaign trail for Chicago’s top post is much more tame. But, while the Hitler comparison to a prominent Jewish politician seemed funny to Braun, there were no reports of laughter the crowd.
“You don’t get the joke,’’ Braun began to chide. “OK. We get the kind man, the gentle man on television and not the person who voted against $5 million for food aid to Africa.’’
Later on, Braun was defending her comments and lighting up on the local press. “I was not comparing him to Adolf Hitler; print that,” argued Braun. “I was trying to say… the kind, gentle concern for the public that is being portrayed in these ads does not square with the record.”
“You’ve got a candidate that sent somebody a dead fish,” she explained, referring to Emanuel’s reputation. “Talk about that. You’ve got a candidate who stabbed a steak saying people were dead. Talk about that. You’ve got a candidate who has consistently insulted, talked about tampons, talk about that.”
The immediate analysis shows Braun attempting to pull energy from her glory days as the first African American woman in the Senate from Illinois. Back then, she successfully rode a backlash wave of angry female voters stunned by the treatment of whistle blower Anita Hill, the Black woman who accused then Supreme Court Justice nominee Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment during the most contentious Senate nomination hearings in American political history. Today, Braun’s strategy is an attempt at tapping into both the raw disillusionment of the Windy City’s Black community while shedding light on Emanuel as an uncaring pol engaged in a love affair with profanity.
It’s not working.
According to polls, the strategy of unbridled and passionate anger is not working. With each passing day, Braun’s rash series of rhetorical assaults on opponents is putting more of a spotlight on her. The Emanuel comment comes weeks after she accused opponent Patricia Van Pelt-Watkins of being “strung out on crack” during a public debate. Before then, Braun also insisted she wouldn’t release her taxes to the media. And despite the backing of numerous establishment African American politicos in Chicago, Braun is not only consistently behind in polls at either 2nd or 3rd place, but a recent WLS-Channel 7 survey showed 53% of likely Black voters were voting for Emanuel. A Chicago Tribune/WGN-Channel 9 poll had Emanuel at 48% of the Black vote.
Her own internal poll shows Emanuel at 45% overall while she struggles to maintain 2nd place at 22% – according to a poll.
“Emanuel is closing in on the winning formula: A third, a third, and a third. The city’s population is about one-third white, a third African American and nearly as much Latino,” writes Chicago Sun-Times columnist Laura Washington.
“After Daley’s announcement, I wrote that Chicago’s next mayor must have a foot in each ’hood. Emanuel is hangin’ — from Chatham to Pilsen to Uptown.”