Our Mayor's Race Is a Tale of Two Cities

Phew, now things are really starting to get good. What perfect timing, what with it getting cold and dark and all.

All weekend long, there was talk of Rev. James Meeks and whether he could be the consensus African-American candidate for Mayor; all weekend long there was talk of Attorney General Lisa Madigan's discussion with the Tribune editorial board about whether she might run for Mayor; and now, as of Monday night, Cook County Commissioner Bridget Gainer is circulating petitions and holding fundraisers in furtherance of her maybe-quest to be Mayor.

First, a disclosure: I count both Commissioner Gainer and Attorney General Madigan as friends. In the Attorney General's first state senate race, I organized and hosted a fundraiser for her; we've kept talking. And shortly after Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky was first elected, Commissioner Gainer and I met at a dinner the Congresswoman hosted. We, too, have kept talking. As to Ambassador Moseley-Braun, well she and I have known each other since she first ran for state representative thirty years ago. I have been an advocate for all three of these women, at one time or another.

But back to Monday: As I was starting my day, I got a phone call from a mutual friend of Ambassador Moseley-Braun's and mine. The call was to sound-me-out on the matter of the Mayor's race. Later in the day, I learned that Commissioner Gainer is circulating petitions for Mayor.

So, I sat down to think about the implications of Ambassador Moseley-Braun, Attorney General Madigan, and/or Commissioner Gainer in the race to replace Mayor Daley, along with the also-as-yet-undeclared Rev. Senator Meeks.

In a way, it's an embarrassment of riches, this mayoral candidate vetting contest. But how does it bode for the person who is most likely to be our next mayor, or for what this mayoral contest will feel like to the rest of us?

Here's what I concluded: First, there is no reason for Rev. Meeks or Commissioner Gainer to withdraw their respective names from the mulling-it-over category anytime soon, even though both have relatively short elected-official resumes. To the contrary, Rev. Meeks and Commissioner Gainer have everything to gain, and nothing to lose by floating their names -- since they're both unknown quantities to most Chicago voters. Second, waiting to decide gives both the time to demonstrate expertise and smarts, to demonstrate their viability during a time when even those who appear more viable will make mistakes. Importantly, unlike some others now in the mayoral hunt, no one is questioning their competence or their qualifications (just their odds and their political math; keep reading).

Meanwhile, of course, the Attorney General doesn't have to do anything; anyway, she really can't -- much as the media want her to -- before November 2nd. And, as luck would have it, if she does choose to run for Mayor, well she'll have even more cash and name recognition by that time, along with a useful women's voter file, since her AG-campaign staff is running a women's voter-id campaign right now.

As to Ambassador Moseley-Braun right now; well, as I understand it, she is on her listening tour. We'll need to wait to hear the outcome of that.

So, here's where it gets really interesting: I assume Tom Dart and Rahm Emanuel are in the mayoral race, and that each has a significant voter base to build on. But is that base sufficient to the need? (Note: I'm under the impression that no-one really knows how many votes, of what kind, anyone needs to win the mayoral.)

Then, assuming that, alongside mayoral candidates Tom Dart and Rahm Emanuel, we've got Rev. Meeks, and/or Attorney General Madigan, and/or Commissioner Gainer, or, maybe, just Commissioner Gainer and Rev. Meeks, I think Mr. Dart and Mr. Emanuel lose some votes they most likely really need.

Why? Well, because some white women's votes will go to the white woman candidate(s), and many, if not most, African-American voters will vote for Rev. Meeks.

But, you say, what of Ambassador Moseley-Braun? Why are you counting-her-out? Well, I think she may have a hard time staying-in, given the competition for funding, and the likely presence of at least one other woman with more recent political and electoral experience.

But, you say, what of the Latino vote? Well, the opportunity to vote for a Latino only adds to the difficulty for Tom Dart and Rahm Emanuel, since that candidacy will pull votes away, too.

So, back to my mulling: Who does get the votes of those women -- white, African-American, and Latina -- who want a woman mayor most of all? Do these women vote race, or gender, or experience, or some combination of both?

Well, we Chicago voters, don't have any "comps," as they say in the real estate industry, for this one.

Nor do we Chicago voters know whether anyone is going to present her candidacy -- and do the work necessary to demonstrate its viability -- as the candidacy of women/for women/by women. So far, this is just an idea floating out there.

But, we do know that both Attorney General Madigan and Commissioner Gainer are products of Chicago's Southwest Side Irish political juggernaut. Consequently, if running for Mayor, each will have to make the case that she can bring together all sides of this city. Of course, so would Rev. Meeks, Rahm Emanuel, or Tom Dart. [In this racially-segregated city of ours, it's just such a very long way from Roseland to Rogers Park, and an even longer way, in order to make the necessary stops in-between, stops in Lincoln Park, in Portage Park, in Marquette Park, in Brighton Park, in Garfield Park, say.]

Perhaps, in this effort, the Attorney General or the Commissioner could lead with the women, since, as I've previously pointed-out, primary issues of concern to women, e.g., getting good jobs, safe streets, and good schools, cut across racial and, thus, neighborhood lines.

Meanwhile, and happily, today, Chicago is more diverse in the workplace, and in the halls of officialdom, than it was in 1983 when another product of the Southwest Side, Mayor Daley; along with a woman (Mayor Jane Byrne); and an African-American (Mayor Harold Washington) ran against each other in a mayoral primary. Consequently, the consensus of today's pundits seems to be that we won't experience the racial vitriol we experienced then.

But, to my knowledge, no one has yet ventured a guess as to whether a woman, or a man, an African American, a white, or a Latino would have a better shot at building the multi-racial coalition of voters needed to win. So far, this year's tale of two cities doesn't even have chapter titles yet.

But, anyway, it's a wonderful thing, this wondering about any one of several women being Mayor, or any one of several African American or Latino men being Mayor. I couldn't have imagined it lo those 28 years ago when then-candidate Harold Washington told me which 16 African-American wards he needed to win -- overwhelmingly -- in order to be the next mayor of Chicago, because so few white people were likely to vote for him.