The cajoling, nagging or backroom dealing necessary to driveDanny Davis out of the Chicago mayoral race, leaving Carol Moseley Braun as the last major black candidate, signals the arrival -- we're told -- of "political maturity" by African-American leaders.
That's what Chicago Sun-Times columnist and political analyst Laura Washington told The Associated Press shortly after black leaders on Saturday announced that Davis, a West Side congressman, had folded his campaign for mayor and endorsed Braun.
Washington praised Davis' capitulation because it demonstrated "a sense of political maturity that's welcome." She had concluded that Davis could not match Braun's experience and fundraising.
Allow me to disagree. Washington is an astute observer, but "maturity" is hardly the word that I'd use for the process that coughed up Braun as the "unity" candidate. The selection of any candidate based on race is more like an unwelcome retrogress to the days of "Council Wars" and when Chicago infamously became known as " Beirut on the Lake."
For those ignorant of history (and thereby find themselves repeating it), the Beirut metaphor describes the bloody civil war between Christians and Muslims that tore apart the once-beautiful city described as the "Paris of the East." A bit of hyperbole, no doubt, but in no way can a candidate chosen because of her race be considered symbolic of the wisdom that supposedly accompanies the arrival of adulthood.
Can Chicago's black leadership appreciate the embarrassing irony of picking a candidate based on race when that candidate's campaign theme is "bringing everyone together?" To borrow from my liberal friends: "It's divisive." To borrow from conservative friends, "It's stupid."
The Rev. Jesse Jackson, along with the black business leaders and politicians who brokered this deal, undoubtedly had to do some heavy lifting to pare down the field of major black candidates to one. Who knows what deals were cut? (Never mind that two remaining black candidates, Patricia Van Pelt Watkins and William "Dock" Walls, presumably were considered too minor to get a slice of the pie.)
The Hispanic community has two major candidates, Gery Chico and Miguel del Valle. Will one now be pressured to drop out so that Latinos don't split their vote? That's all that it would take for Chicago to happily travel backward to ever more clearly defined cleavages: three candidates — one black, one Hispanic and one white ( Rahm Emanuel).
Cannot black leadership understand that picking candidates based on race or ethnicity (or religion, for that matter) is wrong? That this needs to be explained in the 21st century could indicate that we haven't come as far as we thought or hoped. That the Irish, Polish and other ethnic groups did it in the past does not excuse the continuing practice. Maybe it's too utopian to hope that the truly post-racial society of President Barack Obamawill sometime arrive in his hometown.
We're supposed to believe the spirit suddenly and simultaneously descended on the closeted leaders with the revelation that Braun was the most qualified. Certainly, Braun has a pile of credentials, including being the first African-American woman elected to the U.S. Senate. She also was the Cook County recorder of deeds and ambassador to New Zealand. But let's not forget that her record as senator was so dismal that she lost her re-election bid to perhaps the most conservative Republican to hold that seat in decades — Peter Fitzgerald. (Maybe Democrats should be happy that Braun lost: If she had been re-elected, then-state Sen. Barack Obama might never have aimed for the seat and used it as a launching pad to the White House.)
I'll let Braun's opponents detail her failures that ended her Senate career, as they surely will do. I'll also leave to prescient political observers to make book on her chances of winning the election. But the fact that black leadership couldn't do better than this suggests that it is not all that politically mature after all.
This column also appeared in the Chicago Tribune where more comments can be found.