Saturday, January 1, 2011



Congressman Danny Davis surprised the Chicago political world, perhaps more by his timing than the substance of his announcement, when he dropped out of the race for Chicago mayor on the night of New Year’s Eve. His departure leaves the contest with three and a half legitimate candidates: former White House Chief of Staff and Congressman Rahm Emanuel, former School Board Chairman, City Colleges Board Chairman, and Daley chief of staff Gery Chico, former U.S. Senator and Cook County Recorder of Deeds Carol Moseley Braun, and current City Clerk Miguel del Valle. Most important, Mr. Davis’s departure leaves the mayoral race with one viable black candidate, Carol Moseley Braun.

A number of observations are merited.

First, Mr. Davis’s departure was motivated solely by race, by the desire to unify the black vote in an effort to get a black candidate beyond the February preliminary to the April runoff and, ultimately, to get a black candidate elected mayor. This morning’s Chicago Tribune reported

Davis insisted he isn’t backing Braun simply because she is African-American.

“I just want to unify behind the best candidate,” Davis said. “Everybody I know thinks Carol is the best candidate.”

I have been following Chicago politics, and life in general, for almost fifty years. Never have I heard anything as disingenuous, or as contemptuous of the intelligence of the average voter, as this statement by Mr. Davis. And yes, that statement does come from me, who has never lost money by underestimating the intelligence of the average voter, but I digress. Can Mr. Davis produce one person whose last name is not Braun who thinks Carol Moseley Braun is the best candidate to lead our fair city? Would he be backing someone with similar credentials if s/he were white? Of course not. There is nothing wrong with voting your race and/or your kind, broadly defined. Everyone does it, even those who, on the surface, are most contemptuous of such voting behavior. Witness the fervent, chest heaving support being given by the denizens of the Chicago media, self-styled lakefront independent sophisticates with roots in the Evanston to Lake Forest crescent almost to a person, are giving to Rahm Emanuel. But why deny that one is engaging in such voting behavior?

Second, why did Mr. Davis, the stronger candidate, draw the short straw? Some have argued that the west side, the wider black community, and Chicago as a whole could not afford to lose the powerful representation Mr. Davis provides in Congress. There is probably something to that; fourteen years in Congress is nothing to sniff at, and Mr. Davis has developed some very important personal relationships, with, inter alia, the President and former President Clinton, that has served his constituents well. Ms. Braun, on the other hand, is occupying herself trying to explain to creditors of her organic tea and coffee business (an organic tea and coffee business run by a lifelong politician of limited distinction in anything she has attempted? Who exactly are these creditors? Why did they lend her the money? Does anyone wonder why our financial system nearly collapsed? But I digress.) why they won’t be getting their money back.

But there probably is more to Ms. Braun’s gender in her being anointed as the consensus black candidate. The thinking has to be that she will get some votes from women who are not black based on her gender. There also may be something to that and, as I said two paragraphs ago, there would be nothing wrong with that.

Third, what impact will Mr. Davis’s exit in order to clear the black vote for Ms. Braun have on the election? This is a tough question. The black vote in Chicago under most circumstances is about 33% of the vote, give or take a percentage point or two. It can get into the high 30s and even approach 40 with expanded registration if there is an exciting black candidate on the ballot; witness Barack Obama’s and Harold Washington’s impact on the black vote. One would have to conclude that, in what will probably shape up to be a three way race, carrying the black vote virtually assures a candidate a place in the April runoff, assuming that Rahm Emanuel does not win in the February preliminary, which is a safe assumption. This would especially be the case if Miguel del Valle stays in the race and takes a chunk of the Hispanic (in this case, probably a chunk of the northwest side Puerto Rican) vote from Gery Chico, who is partially of Mexican extraction.

So one could say that Mr. Davis’s exit has assured a one-on-one, no holds barred grudge match between Rahm Emanuel and Carol Moseley Braun in April. On the other hand, Ms. Braun is a very weak candidate; her record is nearly completely bereft of achievement, and her sense of entitlement to and in office has managed to alienate even former fervent supporters. Note also, and on the other hand, that two other minor black candidate, Patricia Van Pelt (apparently no relation to Linus and Lucy) Watkins and Dock Walls remain in the race, and I think that Mr. Davis’s name will remain on the ballot since he dropped out too late to have his name removed. Surely, these candidates will siphon some black votes from Ms. Braun, and in a tight three way race, this will make a difference. So it is certainly not outside the realm of possibilities that she will not succeed in winning an overwhelming majority of the black vote, let alone substantial support from white and Hispanic women, and if she does not succeed in winning just about all the black vote, she won’t make the run-off. On the third (or maybe fourth) hand, if such a thing were possible, one has to be impressed with the way Ms. Braun has gone on the attack against Rahm Emanuel, arguing, with abundant justification, that he has parachuted into town to run for mayor and sarcastically pointing out that if he is going to parachute into town the likes of Bill Clinton, perhaps he should parachute in some of his friends from Freddie Mac and, pointedly, Representative Bart Stupak who, Ms. Braun claims, conspired with Rahm Emanuel to “eliminate choice” from the health care bill. The latter argument adds credence to the gender angle behind Ms. Braun’s candidacy. Ms. Braun may be a poor public servant, but she is a great campaigner, and most voters can’t be bothered to do the thinking and research necessary to see beyond the campaign slogans and tactics.

Consequently, the betting at this juncture would have to be that Mr. Davis’s dropping out of the race, and Ms. Braun’s (literal in one sense) “give ‘em hell, Harry” campaigning should get her into the April runoff with Mr. Emanuel. I want to reemphasize “at this juncture” and caution that betting on the politics of this town in the post-Daley era is a precarious enterprise. But if I were Rahm Emanuel, I would be salivating at the prospect of a one-on-one with Ms. Carol Braun in April? Why? Let me quote from my 12/23/10 post “…AH, MERCY, MERCY ME, AH, THINGS AREN’T WHAT THEY USED TO BE…”:

Harold Washington was elected mayor because he could unite the black vote with the “I know everything because I just moved to town from the North Shore” vote that tends to congregate along the lakefront from downtown north to the Evanston border. He also managed to attract some Hispanic votes, but far more in 1987 than 1983. The aforementioned self-styled urbanite vote this year will be in Rahm Emanuel’s pocket; after all, he is the epitome and standard-bearer of the “I know everything because I just moved to town from the North Shore” vote. Thus, it will be difficult for any black candidate to win, unless he can draw a substantial chunk of the Hispanic vote and/or persuade white voters on the city’s geographical fringes to support him, the former more likely than the latter, but neither very likely.

It seems very clear that Gery Chico would be a much tougher opponent for Rahm Emanuel in April, but it’s hard to see how Mr. Chico makes it past February, especially if Miguel del Valle stays in the race, unless Ms. Braun completely falls on her face. Mr. del Valle may be half a candidate, but, as I said above, in a three way race, a few percentage points make a big difference.

So Mr. Davis’s dropping out may ultimately have handed the election to Rahm Emanuel. Doubtless the conspiracy theorists among the Chicago political punditry will detect some dark dealings between Bill Daley, Danny Davis, and perhaps Barack Obama in this latest development. While my first reaction would be to dismiss such conjecture as the febrile rantings of those who see a Daley behind every rancid deal in this city, I might point out my long held conviction that Nicolo Machiavelli’s one regret is that Chicago did not exist during his lifetime and thus he was never able to realize his true potential.

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