Carol Felsenthal
On politics

Danny Davis: Ministers want a single black candidate; Rev. Jesse Jackson brokering?

Congressman Danny Davis says that, at the behest of various black ministers, he and Carol Moseley Braun will meet again later today to discuss whether one of them should drop out of the race for Chicago mayor.  The two longtime friends—the leading African American candidates in the contest—met on Christmas Eve to talk shop about the campaign …

Congressman Danny Davis says that, at the behest of various black ministers, he and Carol Moseley Braun will meet again later today to discuss whether one of them should drop out of the race for Chicago mayor.  The two longtime friends—the leading African American candidates in the contest—met on Christmas Eve to talk shop about the campaign. 

Since my conversation with Davis late last night, I have learned that the Rev. Jesse Jackson is brokering a meeting between the two tonight.  Reached by telephone, Jackson said, “I’m not verifying, not denying a meeting is happening tonight.”  He refused comment on which of the two he thinks should drop out.

With five top-tier candidates left in the race—two blacks, two Latinos, and one white—Davis told me that the ministers (he did not mention Jackson) are worried that Davis and Moseley Braun will split the black vote and ruin any chance of a black candidate winning the February 22nd primary or, at the very least, forcing a runoff in April.

Davis wouldn’t name any of the ministers or say how many were involved—“I won’t breach the confidences at the moment.” When I asked Davis if the ministers have a preference between him and Moseley Braun, Davis answered: “That I don’t know. What they’re saying is that they are not for anybody; they’re for the community; they’re for the people.” 

Davis said he’s committed to continuing his campaign. Are there any circumstances under which he’d withdraw? “I don’t know if there are nor not,” he said. 

With Rahm Emanuel holding a wide lead in most polls, the ministers’ goal, presumably, is for either Davis or Moseley Braun to come in second behind Emanuel—assuming he survives his residency challenge now in the courts.  The result would be a clear-cut—black/white, anyone?—contest in the April 5 runoff. (The runoff will be necessary unless one candidate garners 50 percent plus one vote in the primary.)

Davis described the ministers as an “ad hoc” effort by “individuals” as opposed to “any kind of ongoing organized group.  “That’s a big problem in making decisions in the African American community from the beginning,” he said. “We don’t have those sorts of groups….And so whenever something comes [up], it almost has to be ad hoc.”

Davis would not offer any details about today’s meeting, including where or when. He described their meeting on Christmas Eve in the offices of Moseley Braun’s company, Ambassador Organics. “We met to talk about the campaign. Can we have one candidate and is there a way to do that?….How do we protect the interests, especially of the African American community?”  While  neither agreed to drop out, they did agree to continue talking, and hence today’s meeting.   

When we spoke late last night, Davis sounded tired—he was returning from an endorsement session before the Asian Action Council, but  he had spent most of the day doing media interviews—“about 10 news outlets”—after he issued a strong warning to former President Bill Clinton not to come to Chicago to campaign for his friend and former staffer Rahm Emanuel.

I asked Davis what happens if Clinton ignores his warnings and heads to Chicago for an Emanuel rally or fundraiser.  “I don’t know what happens if he does.” Davis added, “My position [is] very simple: `Mr. President, don’t do it.’”

Davis told me that he was unhappy to hear of the former president’s involvement because “He and I are friends and homeboys” [both native Arkansans],  and that while Emanuel worked for Clinton, Davis also worked for Clinton, as  cochair of the Clinton/Gore/Moseley Braun campaign in Illinois in 1992 .  “We’ve been together lots of times in lots of places and you just wouldn’t like for your friends to come in and campaign against you.”

Davis said he has not heard from Clinton—“Bill Clinton didn’t call me and say, `Hey, I’m coming to Chicago to support Rahm Emanuel’”— and he also said that he has no plan to retract his warning. 

One topic that Davis returned to repeatedly is the huge advantage Emanuel has in fundraising.  “ I don’t have as much money as Rahm Emanuel,” he lamented.

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