Mounting an unexpected political comeback, former U.S. Sen. Carol Moseley Braun of Illinois filed nominating petitions bearing 91,180 signatures for a place on the February 22 primary ballot in her bid for mayor of Chicago. Only 12,500 valid signatures are required.
Collected over a two-month period and filed with the city’s board of elections on Monday, the signatures are believed to be the largest number ever gathered by any candidate in such a short period. Monday was the first day to submit nominating petitions.
Moseley Braun, the first and only African-American woman ever elected to the U.S. Senate, is one of a half-dozen candidates seeking the Democratic nomination for mayor.
She is expected to formally declare her candidacy on Saturday.
The 63-year-old former U.S. Ambassador to New Zealand said that she hopes to raise $2 million for her mayoral campaign. She recently hired Mike Noonan, a former political aide to powerful Illinois Speaker of the House Michael Madigan (D-Chicago), as her campaign manager and appointed Victor Reyes, a co-founder of the city’s Hispanic Democratic organization and close ally of Mayor Richard Daley, as a senior adviser.
The former senator has also enlisted the support of longtime African-American political veterans Louanner Peters, a deputy governor in the Blagojevich administration, and 78-year-old Howard B. Brookins, Sr., a former state senator who reportedly took charge of her campaign’s recent petition drive.
Following her stinging defeat in her bid for re-election to the U.S. Senate in 1998 — a bitter and contentious contest she lost narrowly to wealthy businessman Peter Fitzgerald, who spent nearly $12 million of his personal fortune on negative television ads mercilessly hammering the incumbent for meeting with the Nigerian dictator — Moseley Braun, who was recovering from the effects of pneumonia, indicated that she had had enough of politics and had no plans to run for public office again.
Reminiscent of the late Eugene McCarthy, who had once campaigned for her, she told the press that she wanted to take some time off and plant some tulips.
She later had a change of heart and briefly sought the Democratic presidential nomination in 2004, the same year that little-known State Senator Barack Obama captured the U.S. Senate seat she once held.
By then, Moseley Braun had her sights on bigger and better things.
The country’s first female African-American senator boldly tried to do what no other person in American history had ever accomplished, becoming not only the first African-American president, but also the first woman to occupy the White House.
As a former ambassador and U.S. senator, she calmly stated that she was the most qualified Democrat in the race. She ran as a fiscal conservative opposed to the war in Iraq. “I believe we should not go to war unilaterally and I’m very clear that we shouldn’t have budget deficits,” she said.
Unlike some of her Democratic rivals that year, she wasn’t afraid to criticize George W. Bush and intrepidly savaged his administration for playing on people’s fears. “Duct tape is not a substitute for diplomacy,” she asserted.
“If the American people respond to my message and to my candidacy, then it will be a viable one,” she said in announcing her exploratory committee in early 2003. Unfortunately, they didn’t respond. Struggling to raise money, the former diplomat dropped out of the race in January 2004 and threw her support to Howard Dean.
Moseley Braun clearly faces a daunting, uphill battle against former White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, regarded by many as the prohibitive favorite in the mayoral race. But she’s been in difficult races before, not the least of which was her successful 1992 primary challenge to a sitting U.S. Senator of her own party.
Emanuel, who had already amassed a considerable campaign war chest — much of it from Chicago’s business community — before jumping into the race, officially announced his candidacy on Saturday during a speech at a North Side elementary school gymnasium.
A recent poll commissioned by the local Chicago Teamsters affiliate shows Emanuel as the early frontrunner in the contest to succeed outgoing Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley. Emanuel leads the field of six likely mayoral contenders with 36 percent of the vote, followed by U.S. Rep. Danny Davis, an aging, eight-term member of Congress, with 14 percent and former Sen. Moseley Braun with 13 percent.
According to the poll, Moseley Braun has the highest name recognition in the field, but at 48 percent her favorability numbers lag behind most of the other contenders.
Former Chicago Board of Education President Gery Chico, who lost a bid for the Democratic U.S. Senate nomination to Barack Obama in 2004 — garnering a dismal four percent of the vote despite spending nearly $4 million — and has dubbed himself the “Anybody but Rahm” candidate, polled 10 percent in the poll.
Chico, who once served as Mayor Daley’s chief of staff, has called Emanuel a child of privilege with little in common with Chicago‘s working class. He has reportedly raised $950,000 — a drop in the bucket compared to Emanuel’s overflowing campaign coffers.
State Sen. James Meeks and City Clerk Miguel del Valle brought up the rear, garnering seven and four percent, respectively, in the poll.
This is a race worth keeping an eye on. One gets the feeling that we haven’t heard the last of Carol Moseley Braun.