Getting the nod as the black consensus candidate for next month's Chicago mayoral election worked like a charm for Carol Moseley Braun — the third time around.
The first time the coalition of the Windy City's self-appointed black power elites met to bless one of the half dozen or so African Americans vying to replace the unexpectedly retiring Richard M. Daley, Braun was not the first choice, or the second. Those honors went to the Rev. James Meeks, an Illinois state legislator who boasts ministering a mega-church with 20,000 faithful, and Larry R. Rogers Jr., a prominent personal-injury attorney and commissioner of the Cook County Board of Review (property taxes).
Nor was Braun the first choice the second time around, after Rogers opted out, and when the reality set in that many of Chicago's white and Hispanic voters might just not be that into the anti-gay, pro-school vouchers Meeks. During Round 2, Rep. Danny Davis was crowned the one-who-would-mostly-get-most-of-the-black-votes.
The second decree of the coalition of aldermen, business leaders and community activists worked just fine for Davis — but Braun, not so much. Mission unaccomplished.
Finally, after a year's-end intervention, with the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson summoning both candidates to a late-night meeting at Rainbow PUSH, Davis stood down on New Year's Eve. That left Braun, who had the support of two of Chicago's most prominent business titans — John W. Rogers Jr., chairman, CEO and chief investment officer of Ariel Investments, and real estate mogul Elzie Higginbottom — as the last viable black candidate standing.
The notion that Braun, the first and only black woman to serve as a U.S. senator and a former U.S. ambassador to New Zealand, was a viable contender, and the belief that a black consensus candidate was a viable strategy, both lasted for about 3½ days — and since then, it's been one "oops" moment after the next.
As a harbinger of missteps to come, on Dec. 29, just two days before Week 1 of her "The One" campaign began, Braun got into the first of her two pissing matches with folks who buy their ink by the barrel.
In response to a critical column by Neil Steinberg of the Chicago Sun-Times, Braun lashed out at the columnist during a news conference to outline her public-safety platform, stating that, "He is a drunk and a wife beater, and that's a matter of record. I didn't make that up. It's the truth."
Steinberg, in his column headlined, "Carol, I Miss You Already," had facetiously claimed, "part of me wishes she had a snowball's chance in hell of becoming Chicago's next mayor," because he'd have so many things to ridicule in a hypothetical Braun administration.
This miscue followed a bad answer two days earlier, when she was asked why she was refusing to release her tax returns, as the other candidates had done. Her response: "Because I don't want to."
Not 24 hours later, Braun flip-flopped, releasing some of her tax returns. It's understandable why she didn't want to.
Her tax returns and personal financial statements did not speak well for a candidate seeking to manage the $6 billion annual budget of the nation's third-largest city. In 2009, Braun claimed a net income of $15,954, all of which seems to come from her public pensions as a former U.S. senator, Cook County recorder of deeds and Illinois state legislator.
Her 2008 federal income-tax return showed that she lost more than $225,000 that year — $200,000 of it in what she called a "net operating loss" that she did not bother to identify on the form. She would, though, indicate to reporters that her financial troubles stemmed from Ambassador Organics, her spice-and-tea company.
The next day, Braun released new pages from her tax return, showing that she had a loss of $120,000 from her public-speaking business, CBM One Corp. Just days after Braun's pointing out that the Tribune is in bankruptcy, the newspaper reported that she was late in paying property taxes on her Hyde Park home — which she has on the market for $1.9 million — five of the last six times her bill was due, and that she had paid more than $3,400 in late penalties.
Unfortunately for the 63-year-old Braun, this is not the first time she has found herself mired in misdeeds and money problems. Her one term as a U.S. senator was tainted with controversies concerning campaign finances and a visit to Nigeria to meet with military dictator Gen. Sani Abacha.
And while none of Chicago's other black mayoral wannabes come close to matching Braun's résumé, it's understandable why she wasn't the coalition's first choice. In a Tribune-WGN poll conducted last month, former White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel was backed by 32 percent of voters, followed by 30 percent undecided. Gery Chico, a Hispanic who is former schools chief, and Rep. Davis each had 9 percent, while Meeks had 7 percent. Braun polled at 6 percent.
Even Braun's support among the city's black power elites mirrors her recent polling. Mellody Hobson, the president of John Rogers' Ariel Investments, has signed on as the co-chair of Emanuel's mayoral campaign. And former White House Social Secretary Desiree Rogers, John Rogers' ex-wife and the mother of his daughter, hosted a sellout fundraiser Tuesday night for Emanuel, featuring Jennifer Hudson, at Chicago's House of Blues.
With six weeks left until the nonpartisan election, it's still possible that the coalition's default candidate could become a contender. If Emanuel falls short of the 50 percent-plus-one vote threshold — as it now looks like he will — and Braun garners the second-largest number of votes, she could conceivably rack up all the "anybody but Rahm" votes during the April runoff.
But in order to do that, Emanuel, who is running a Rose Garden campaign, would have to falter big time. And Braun would have to move her campaign from stumblebum to fleet of foot — while making sure it stays out of her mouth.
Cyber columnist Monroe Anderson is a veteran Chicago journalist who has written signed op-ed page columns for both the Chicago Tribune and Chicago Sun-Times, executive-produced and hosted his own local CBS TV show, and was the editor of Savoy Magazine. Follow him at http://twitter.com/#!/MonroeAnderson.
Cybercolumnist Monroe Anderson is a veteran Chicago journalist who has written signed op-ed-page columns for both the Chicago Tribune and Chicago Sun-Times and executive-produced and hosted his own local CBS TV show. He was also the editor of Savoy Magazine. Follow him on Twitter.