Sunday, December 31, 2017

Flashback 2010: Carol, I miss you already

    On Saturday, reader Judy Liston Gross posted this on my Facebook page:
 Hi Neil. Could you please repost the column on Carol Moseley Braun? I can't find it in my "saves." It was a great column!
     I wouldn't call it "great," but it was fun, and caused Braun to go on television and denounce me as a wife-beater and a drunk, then send minions over to picket the paper demanding I be fired as a racist, hitting the trifecta of slander if ever there were. 
     The column was entirely true, borne out by subsequent events, and the only regret I have is that every single column I write isn't this sharp. I've referred to the column several times over the years, but never printed it in full, and of course the Sun-Times archive isn't available online, for reasons mysterious. 
     So here it is, a souvenir of a rough-and-tumble era in Chicago politics—is there any other kind?—and some light reading for a cold, cold Sunday morning, and as good a way as any to usher out the old year. The past is gone, but there's a value in returning our gaze to it, now and then, if only for a chuckle.

     No, even better: "quite surprised."
     See, that's why I revere Carol Moseley Braun, in an ironic but very real sense, and will miss her when she returns to the deep obscurity she popped out of to stage her quixotic quest for mayor. Because she can say things like "I was quite surprised" after state Sen. James Meeks dropped out of the mayoral race last week.
     Moseley Braun, the former senator, former ambassador, and current would-be mayor, was caught off guard when the pastor of the Salem Baptist Church took his ball and went home, while even third-rate pundits who live in the suburbs saw this coming a mile away.
     From this column exactly 11, count 'em, 11 weeks ago:
     "This is Meeks' way of dropping out of the race," I wrote, on Oct. 11, after Meeks, in the first of a series of jaw-dropping gaffes, vowed that he would keep his day job running a mega-church after he was elected mayor—a premise that might have pleased the flock "but, to non-parishioners, it seems a preacher-slick way of saying, 'I quit.'"
     Such obviousness whizzed past the brand of savvy that Moseley Braun brings to the table, and is why part of me wishes she had a snowball's chance in hell of becoming Chicago's next mayor. Never underestimate a politician's entertainment value.
     What will we get under a Rahm Emanuel administration? Ruthless efficiency punctuated by the occasional burst of colorful ire. How about Gery Chico? Complex policy initiatives seasoned with accusations of back scratching.
     It'll be a tough task, just keeping up with all that.    
     Contrast those with a hypothetical Carol Moseley Braun administration. My job would be a breeze. Imagine the lush displays of ridicule that would blossom in the loamy soil of her rule. I'm half tempted to go into denial, after Emanuel is elected, and write columns tracking, not his advent, but the lurches and stumbles of an imaginary Mayor Moseley Braun.
     I initially considered writing this column as a mock endorsement of Moseley Braun, but held back out of sincere concern that her campaign would miss the joke and issue a press release ballyhooing the fact, the way it did last month after a black weekly published a poll that had her nudging ahead of Rahm.
     "CAROL MOSELEY BRAUN BEATS ALL MAYORAL CANDIDATES IN LATEST N'DIGO POLL" her campaign trumpeted, which sounded good until you read the fine print.
     "Moseley Braun received 27.4 of the vote, Rahm Emanuel had 22.7 percent," which wouldn't be bad if the opinions being gathered were collected from a representative slice of the city of Chicago. But they weren't. The sample being polled, N'Digo cheerfully explained, was overwhelmingly African-American women, most of them friends of the publisher. In other words, Moseley Braun issued a press release bragging that she bested Rahm Emanuel, barely, among politically-active black ladies, nearly a quarter of whom were voting for Emanuel.
     See why I'll miss her? That's like me bragging that I beat Rahm Emanuel 3-2 in a poll of those sitting around my dining room table, if you take the joyous yip of the puppy as a vote for me. Would you view that as a mark of certain Steinberg victory, or a sign that two members of my own family wouldn't even vote for me?
     Alas, after February we won't have Carol Moseley Braun to kick around anymore, and I for one will feel the loss. She represents the egomaniacal muddle that Chicago black leadership has slid into, where calls for imaginary and self-destructive racial solidarity trump minor concerns like reason or history.
     Which is why Meeks, in the comment that sealed his fate, could dismiss women and Hispanics as not being worthy of the title "minority." Politics is the art of drawing people in, not shutting them out, and candidates such as Meeks fail because they don't grasp that what drives them to their feet, applauding in the pews on Sunday, lands with a thud when delivered to the city in general.
     I hope some ambitious University of Chicago sociology graduate student does her masters thesis on the search for a so-called "consensus" candidate among the marginalized black power structure in Chicago; it would make for a fascinating study in magical thinking.
     "It is long past time that we build on the tremendous successes of the great Harold Washington," Meeks said, trying to bow out with a little style and instead reflecting his lack of a grasp on historical fact. Washington was a dynamic guy, lovable and funny, but "tremendous successes"? Point to one. Point to one mild success of the Harold Washington administration, beyond making part of the population feel better about themselves. Other than that, Washington was pretty much stymied by the rebellious City Council — he could barely seat his appointees — for his entire first term, and while that wasn't his fault, it's nothing to engrave on a coin either.
     The campaign for the February nonpartisan election is like the Warner Brothers cartoon before the main feature. We get Wile E. Coyote and the Road Runner flinging anvils at each other, and it's all good fun. Then, after Feb. 22, they vanish and we move on to the real show.
                          —Originally published in the Sun-Times, Dec. 27, 2010


  1. I liked Carol Braun in her County job. But it was clear from the get-go that her ambition exceeded her ability and those who aided and abetted her in her quests for higher office were doing her no favors.

    1. I agree. Blind ambition. Treading water ain't swimming.

  2. You should have sued her for slander.

    1. Nah, not worth it. She could always offer as a defense the truth that nobody paid much attention to anything she said anyway. And I'd have to show that my reputation was hurt by it, and if anything, it helped. Maybe this afternoon I'll dig up the column I ran as a reply. No better feeling than pushing through a picket line based on a true column you're proud of. I only wish I could do that every day.

  3. Why do some people take personal critique as a slam against their race, ethnicity or gender, yet defend true criticism of the same as offered by Rev. Meeks?
    Political isolation leads to political hypocrisy, always.

  4. No, I didn't. Where is the "demonization" in that column? This paragraph:

    "I hope some ambitious University of Chicago sociology graduate student does her masters thesis on the search for a so-called "consensus" candidate among the marginalized black power structure in Chicago; it would make for a fascinating study in magical thinking."

    I didn't say that solidarity was bad. I said the black community, after Harold, had failed to do it, or done so -- I don't say this, but it's true -- behind a series of laughably, insultingly bad candidates. Including Carol. It's too easy to make up something and then react to THAT.

  5. Didn't make anything up, but may have taken your comment out of context. But i was reacting to the "self destructive racial solidarity" part. I took it as you saying attempts to achieve racial solidarity among African Americans on the part of Chicago's black politicians was a bad thing. But if you only meant that the way they attempt to go about it is the issue, then I apologize.

    1. No apology necessary. It isn't destructive in itself; it's destructive when you're backing Todd Stroger.

    2. Indeed, as a logical, white progressive, I was *delighted* with the role that "racial solidarity" played in the election and reelection of Harold Washington *and* Obama. There was nothing destructive about that, IMO. (Well, except for the maniacal, self-destructive backlash from disgruntled, "economically anxious" white voters that Obama's success was followed by, alas.)

  6. Wendy c, when did I defend reverend Meeks?? I didnt, which makes the rest of your commentary pointless.

  7. It really is a shame that no African-American leader with the ability and charisma of Harold Washington has emerged in local politics. Toni Preckwinkle comes close, but I'm afraid that ill-advised soda tax is a millstone she'll never get off her neck. Maybe the smart ones, like Obama, see city and county politics as an impossible cesspool of corruption and intractable problems, and choose the national stage instead.

  8. Don't forget that Meeks owned two houses next door to each other in South Holland, couldn't prove he was an actual Chicago resident & never could explain that away.

  9. Don't forget Rahm lived in DC . He owns property here but claimed it to be his residence and kind of pushed it through.

    As far as the idea of a consensus candidate I think that a lot of discussion around that focuses on how over the years when a popular African-American candidate was running there would be a second candidate backed by mysterious parties that was put into the race to siphon off votes from the more popular candidate to be sure that the "black vote was split". Thus robbing a potential Challenger to the machine of a legitimate chance of the nomination.
    This would happen with candidates for Alderman on a regular basis. I know that's politics but that's the powerful pushing the much less powerful to the sideline. What is a clear racial component to the effort.

    Maybe one day when a candidate of substance challenges the status quo other black candidates will refuse to run and foil the effort. This is what I would consider a consensus candidate.


Comments are vetted and posted at the discretion of the proprietor.