By Don Babwin
Former U.S. Sen. Carol Moseley Braun has become the “consensus” black candidate in Chicago’s mayoral race that some of the city’s most powerful African American leaders believe can challenge a strong field that includes former White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel.
But now that Braun is in the spotlight, the candidate whose campaign has been largely overshadowed by stories about Emanuel’s residency will now have to answer questions about her qualifications, as well as problems that led voters to boot her from the Senate after one term and why voters should hand the keys to City Hall to someone who hasn’t been elected to anything for years.
She trumpeted her own resume Saturday at a rally with U.S. Rep. Danny Davis, who announced on New Year’s Eve that he was withdrawing from the race, and state Sen. James Meeks, another African-American who gave up his own run for mayor days ago.
The loud and enthusiastic crowd included young people who weren’t even born the last time Braun won an election, her historic victory in 1992 that made her the first African American woman senator.
“I’m the most qualified candidate for the job of mayor of Chicago, make no mistake about it,” she said, citing her time in local and national politics as well as her stint as ambassador to New Zealand as evidence of her skills and “connections from all over the world.”
In a city with serious financial problems, Braun made special mention that she was the first woman to serve on the Senate’s finance committee.
The withdrawal of Davis and Meeks signals that black political leaders believe Braun has the best chance to sway voters outside the African-American community, and on Saturday she said she could do it.
“We’re going to bring black, white, brown, one side of town to the other, back together again,” she said.
Also in Braun’s favor, said the Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr., is her ability to raise money — something experts say will be crucial, particularly in a race against the well-financed Emanuel.
“They share many of the same concerns,” Jackson said of Braun and Davis. “But they couldn’t share the same base of financial support.”
Jackson suggested that with Braun’s fund-raising track record and ability to win support throughout the city, as she did when she won her Senate race and other races, the decisions by Davis and Meeks make sense. She has already convinced voters in all of the city’s 50 wards to vote for her, he said.
On Saturday, Braun did not mention Emanuel, or the other candidates, former public schools president Gery Chico or City Clerk Miguel del Valle, by name. But in recent days she has signaled that she plans to portray Emanuel as an outsider and not a Chicagoan. Emanuel beat a challenge to his residency, with an elections board decision to place his name on the ballot — a decision that is now being challenged in court — but Braun is not about to let the issue go.
After Davis groused about former President Bill Clinton’s decision to campaign for Emanuel, Braun did the same — adding her own dig at Emanuel.
“What we have is an outsider running for mayor and bringing outsiders in to help him,” she told reporters a few days ago.
Still, Braun will have to play some defense in the coming weeks. And that starts with getting as many blacks to vote for her as she can. Emanuel, who has won praise from the nation’s first black president, Barack Obama, has throughout his campaign made it clear he’s not going to simply write off blacks in the February election.
“With all the challenges we face, we must come together to work on behalf of all Chicagoans and address the need of every neighborhood,” he said in a statement after Davis announced he was dropping out of the race.
Then there is Braun’s own history and incidents that that raised questions about her judgment. Braun came under criticism when she visited with a Nigerian dictator when she was a senator, and faced never-proven accusations about misused campaign money.
Some of those questions still clearly sting. During a November interview with The Associated Press, her eyes welled up with tears when she was asked about other unproved allegations that she and her siblings divided up more than $20,000 of her mother’s money that should have been used to reimburse a nursing home.
Braun will once again have to defend her single term in the U.S. Senate. Her problem is not just that she has not held elected office for years, but that while she was there she didn’t “carve out a clear role in the Senate,” Kent Redfield, a professor emeritus of politics at the University of Illinois-Springfield, told the AP when she announced she was running for mayor.
Braun, though, can be expected to maintain that she was an effective senator, that she pushed for legislation to rebuild crumbling schools and ensure pension equity for women.
Jackson agreed that Braun was an effective senator and said her efforts will resonate with various groups of voters.
“Carol has a good box score and she’s particularly strong among women and among workers,” he said.