Whatever “consensus” Carol Moseley Braun has been referring to over the past week certainly doesn’t include me.
Near the end of the month, State Senator James Meeks and Congressman Danny Davis withdrew from the mayoral election and swung their support to former Senator Carol Moseley Braun as the only major African-American candidate in the field—the “consensus candidate,” in her words. But as inclusive as that sounds, Braun’s definition of “consensus” ultimately undermines her candidacy and hurts this election as a whole.
Carol Moseley Braun is the wrong choice for mayor for any number of reasons. She calls herself the experience candidate, even though she hasn’t held office since losing her U.S. Senate seat in 1998. She calls herself the business candidate even though her own businesses have lost money over the past few years.
But one candidate’s bad track record isn’t the kind of thing that will have a lasting impact on the system (that is, unless she wins). The bigger story has to be the route she has taken to becoming one of the top three candidates for mayor a month and a half before the election.
As early as September, certain leaders of the black community called for aspiring candidates to pool their support and back one African-American for mayor. At first, it looked like Meeks and Davis would forge ahead, even against each other. But in the end, Meeks pulled his name out of the running, and a week later, Davis agreed to support Braun as the “consensus candidate.”
As much as Braun has tried to channel her inner Harold Washington by bringing together “black, white, brown, one side of town to the other,” the label of “consensus candidate” ultimately isolates her as the African-American candidate, sans Washington’s coalition-building. As much as Braun wants to be the whole city’s choice, Meeks’s words reveal the real motive behind his and Davis’s withdrawal: “We need one African-American candidate for mayor.”
Braun and others behind the consolidation of African-American support continue to drop Harold Washington’s name, but in what could have been a monumental election—the first competitive race in 20 years—this is a move that’s unworthy of Washington’s legacy. It’s true that Harold Washington was the only black candidate when he became the first African-American mayor in 1983, but he didn’t win because he was the black candidate; he won because he was the best candidate.
Now, Braun has put herself in a no-win position. In asserting herself as “the black candidate,” she is defining her campaign according to her race. That means that if she wins the election, it will be hard to go back and redefine herself according to the merits that I’m sure some of her policy ideas have.
By focusing on herself as the “consensus candidate” of the African-American community, she devalues herself as a member of the policy discussions that matter most. It is her policy ideas that will make the biggest impact on the city’s future, meaning that her identification as the African-American candidate can only hurt her contribution to the campaign.
I wish I didn’t have to keep going back to Toni Preckwinkle as Chicago’s politico upon a hill (not actually true—I love writing about Preckwinkle), but her campaign for Cook County Board President again should serve as an example for Braun.
When that campaign started in mid- to late 2009, there were four black candidates—incumbent Todd Stroger, Circuit Court Clerk Dorothy Brown, Congressman Danny Davis, and Preckwinkle—all matched up against one major white candidate (Water Reclamation President Terrence O’Brien). Just like we’ve seen in this mayoral election, certain members of the African-American community clamored for three of the black candidates to drop out to clear the path for one of them. When a group of African-American ministers announced their support for Todd Stroger in October 2009, they specifically called on Preckwinkle, Brown, and Davis to end their bids for the position. Said Leonard Muhammad: “Everyone should think about what’s in the best interest of their constituent base, and we’re just simply asking everyone to do that.”
Fortunately for us, Brown and Preckwinkle stayed in the race—even though that meant three African-American candidates—and the best candidate still won easily.
In saying that the African-American community needs one unified base and that she represents that unity, Braun has demonstrated a short memory and the kind of short-sightedness that make her the wrong choice in this election. Her label is a backward strategy that makes race the main issue at a time when the city needs new policy ideas. So with multiple strong candidates in the field, the only campaign that makes any kind of sense is one without Braun’s brand of “consensus.”
Jake Grubman is a fourth-year in the College majoring in Law, Letters, and Society.