But where are the clowns?
Quick, send in the clowns.
Don't bother, they're here.
-Lyrics from "Send in the Clowns," by Stephen Sondheim
The Chicago mayoral race threatened to become a boring seminar on issues until Carol Moseley Braun showed up as the "consensus" African American candidate.
From that exact moment, veteran political observers began wondering when the first big gaff of her campaign would arrive. Maybe someone even started a pool. The winner is anyone who said that the gaff would come in only 48 hours.
In response to a question posed at her first post-coronation press conference on Monday, she said she wouldn't release her income tax returns before the Feb. 22 election. Apparently stunned, a reporter asked her why not. "Because I don't want to." That's a response you'd expect from a petulant child, not from an astute politician, and certainly not from someone seeking a public office as important as the mayor of Chicago.
Other major candidates Rahm Emanuel and Gery Chico have released theirs. (Emanuel here and Chico here.) Mysteriously, Braun indicated that she would not release hers unless she gets into the May 5 runoff. No indication if she would release them if she won the Feb. 22 election by more than 50 percent and there was no runoff.
Jesse Jackson turned himself into Clown No. 2 by trying to say that race had nothing to do with the search for a consensus African American candidate. In a WTTW interview with Carol Marin (interesting, one Chicago Sun-Times columnist interviews another), Jackson asserted that Braun was selected only because, among all the potential candidates (black, white, Hispanic or Asian, I suppose), Braun would be most attentive to the needs of the "dispossessed," who just happen to be African Americans.
Even Marin (who didn't bother to ask Jackson about Braun not disclosing her income tax returns) seemed stunned. How can you say you're not talking about race, she asked, her voice rising?
Jackson, in character, ignored her question, retreating again into his talking point about how it was determined (somehow) that Braun would best serve the dispossessed who happen to be black. Never mind that the only candidates considered were black; after all, no one but black people can adequately represent blacks, right? This man appears to believe that we have a moral obligation to believe whatever nonsense his mouth emits.
Marin also failed to ask Jackson about another one of Braun's blunders: Her pledge to legally revoke Mayor Richard M. Daley's deal to lease for 75 years the city's parking meters for $1.1 billion. (Mayoral candidate Miguel de Valle, the current city clerk, also pledged to try to cancel the deal.) Aside from the improbability of breaking the contract, Braun doesn't deal with the question of where the city will find the hundreds of millions of dollars to repay the leasing company for what the city has already spent.
Chico gets points for dealing realistically with the question of canceling the lease. His honesty about the near-impossibility of revoking the deal won't win him any points with simple minds that will fall for Braun's (and any other candidate's) claim that the lease can be revoked. He noted that such a promise makes for a nice headline. I'd add that it makes for demagoguery.
Whatever deal was made behind closed doors to crown Braun as the black unity candidate, the city's African American leadership already has to be wondering, "What have we done?"
This column first appeared in The Chicago Daily Observer