CHICAGO — U.S. Rep. Danny Davis withdrew from the Chicago mayor's race Friday, leaving former U.S. Sen. Carol Moseley Braun as the only remaining prominent black candidate in the campaign.
Davis, who announced his decision alongside Braun at a New Year's Eve news conference, said the decision was an act of unity for blacks in the city. The two Democrats had been under pressure from African-American leaders in the city for weeks to agree on a so-called consensus candidate to unify black votes.
"I come to help prove that unity can be more than a concept," he said. "It is more than just an ideology. The community is coming together."
Some black leaders believe it is necessary for a unity black candidate to compete against former White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, former school board president Gery Chico and others in the campaign to replace retiring Mayor Richard Daley.
The idea is that too many black candidates will split black votes and decrease the chance for representation. More than one-third of the city's 3 million people are black.
Braun, 63, who Illinois residents elected in 1992 to be the first black woman in the U.S. Senate, faces questions about some miscues during her time in Washington. But in recent days she had emphasized her better support in Chicago's business community, and her possible fund-raising advantage over Davis.
Laura Washington, a political analyst and newspaper columnist, said Davis' decision demonstrated "a sense of political maturity that's welcome." She said Davis could not match Braun's track record and greater fundraising potential.
"The realization is that Braun has broader appeal. She can bring in women as well as people of color," Washington said. "She has a national and even international resume she can draw on, and with that comes money."
Davis and Braun appeared together along with Democratic state Sen. James Meeks, who withdrew his candidacy last week with a statement that blacks in Chicago were divided and the other black candidates should drop out. Both Davis and Braun had said they were in the race to the end.
"People thought we would be divided and this would be a bitter campaign among African-Americans," Meeks said. "We have a lot of problems in our community . . . and the last thing we wanted was this division to continue."
Davis declined to elaborate on why he dropped out rather than Braun, simply calling her the best candidate among the three of them. He touted her experience in public office. She has served as an assistant U.S. attorney and state lawmaker, and was ambassador to New Zealand.
"Chicago has never had a more qualified, a more pedigreed, a more experienced person to go into City Hall and sit on the fifth floor," Davis said.
Braun said she was grateful for the support and endorsements from Meeks and Davis and would turn her attention to issues facing Chicago residents including public schools and affordable housing.
"We have a challenge before us to achieve unity, that starts here tonight, but also achieve unity for the whole city," she said.
All three said their decision came after meeting for hours Friday and other meetings this week. On Wednesday, the candidates and their supporters held a four-hour meeting brokered by the Rev. Jesse Jackson. Immediately afterward, however, neither candidate said they were budging from their determination to stay in the race.
A Chicago Tribune/WGN poll released earlier this month showed Davis had been the leading black candidate in the crowded field, with support from 9 percent of registered likely voters. Meeks followed with 7 percent, and Braun had 6 percent.
The Tribune/WGN poll showed Davis leading Emanuel among black voters, but just barely. Davis was backed by 21 percent of black voters, Emanuel was backed by 19 percent, but 30 percent were undecided.
The overall poll showed Emanuel leading with 30 percent among all voters surveyed, but another 30 percent undecided.
Davis, who represents a Chicago-area district and won his eighth term in November, said he looked forward to returning to Congress.
He made headlines earlier this week when he warned former President Bill Clinton against taking sides in the mayor's race.
Davis, a longtime friend of Clinton, warned the ex-president that he could jeopardize his "long and fruitful relationship" with the black community if he campaigns, as planned, for Emanuel instead of one of the black candidates.