In a stunning decision, an Illinois Court of Appeals stalled Rahm Emanuel’s candidacy for mayor of Chicago, possibly for good. In a 2-to-1 vote, the appeals court ruled that because he moved to Washington, DC for two years, the former Obama chief of staff did not meet the city’s one-year residency requirement.
These days, Emanuel is looking a lot like musician-turned-politician Wyclef Jean, who was thrown off the ballot in his bid for president of his native Haiti. For Emanuel — who is known for his abrasive personality and angered many among the Democratic case during his tenure in the White House — this twist of fate is proof that karma is real.
Emanuel, who is appealing the decision to the state supreme court, was the clear frontrunner and fundraising leader, coming into January with $8.3 million on hand and a total of $11.8 raised. If he is thrown out of the game permanently, the person who stands to gain the most is the woman who had been polling second place after Rahm — former Senator Carol Moseley Braun.
A Chicago Tribune/WGN poll had Emanuel with a 44 percent to 21 percent for Braun. But with poll numbers like that, and Emanuel failing to garner over 50 percent of the vote, Braun would have been able to force him into a runoff. With $446,000 raised and $146,000 left at the end of 2010, Braun had been out-funded more than 20-to-1 by her frontrunner rival. And she failed to raise as much as little-known candidate and community activist Patricia Van Pelt-Watkins. Van Pelt-Watkins, an African-American, has raised $500,000. Former Chicago schools president Gery Chico, who polled third place at 16 percent, had $2 million. Chicago City Clerk Miguel del Valle, who came in at 9 percent and has picked up white and Latino support, had raised about $110,000 by the end of 2010. Chico and Valle each have low single-digit support among black voters, a factor which works in Braun’s favor.
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Carol Moseley Braun benefits from her status as the consensus candidate of the black community. She awkwardly achieved after a few false starts, and defections by black candidates state Senator James Meeks and U.S. Rep. Danny Davis (D-Illinois), who himself recently contributed to Braun’s campaign. Part of Braun’s strategy was to run as an anti-Emanuel candidate. She characterized Emanuel as an outsider, accused him of lying on his tax returns, and compared his candidacy to that of Richard M. Daley. Daley was expected to win in his bid for mayor in 1983, but lost to Harold Washington, the city’s first black mayor.
Braun also attacked Emanuel on immigration reform in an effort to attract the Latino vote. Braun seems to agree with some Latino community activists, and Latino lawmakers such as U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez. Gutierrez, who supports Chico, said that Emanuel voted against immigration reform as a Congressman and killed while serving in the White House, harming immigrants in the process. Braun also claimed Emanuel failed to serve President Obama well, creating a mess at the White House and cutting and running when Obama needed him.
Further, she called President Clinton’s endorsement of Emanuel a “betrayal” to the black and Latino community, a sentiment which echoed the views of Davis. If Emanuel gets the green light from the Illinois high court and reenters the race, Braun can revisit this strategy and solidify her support among anti-Rahm voters in the Democratic base.
In addition, Braun is able to capitalize on her role as the only prominent woman in the mayoral field. Women make up 51.5 percent of Chicago’s population, and Braun is well poised to capture much of that vote, with her endorsement from the National Organization of Women. She can remind women that her career is one of firsts, rising to power as assistant majority leader in the Illinois House of Representatives, the first black women in that position. She was elected Cook County Recorder of Deeds, becoming the first woman and the first African-American to assume executive office in Cook County. And in 1992, during the aftermath of the contentious nomination of Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court, Braun was the first (and so far only) black women elected to the U.S. Senate, and the first woman to serve on the Senate Finance Committee.
Braun and other women came to power as a backlash to the Thomas hearings, when an all-white-male Senate Judiciary committee treated Anita Hill badly for her sexual harassment accusations against the future justice. In addition, she sued her own party on behalf of blacks, Latinos and women over legislative reapportionment.
With the race now wide open for now, Braun has the opportunity to tout her impressive credentials not only as a Senator, but as an ambassador to New Zealand. Further, Braun is a person with humble beginnings who grew up on Chicago’s south side. She is the daughter of a medical assistant and a police officer, and she worked her way through college with jobs at the post office and the grocery store. At the same time, she may face increased scrutiny, including alleged past campaign finance violations, her career in the Senate, and alleged ties to former Nigerian dictator Sani Abacha.
No one can predict the outcome of the Chicago race for mayor. However, it is clear that the campaign has taken an interesting turn, and has proven far more exciting— and winnable — for Carol Moseley Braun.