There has been a lot of talk this past week about the prospect of a woman Mayor of Chicago. I've participated in some of it. It's been exciting, if challenging, to figure out what needs doing to make this dream come true. But what a dream it is.
And now we know there may be three women in the hunt: Ambassador Carol Moseley-Braun (late Monday she said that she will, odds are, announce next Monday), Cook County Commissioner Bridget Gainer (taking a hard look), and Cook County Treasurer Maria Pappas.
As I've mulled over the prospect, I've concluded that there's just no reason to think that a woman can't replace Mayor Daley. A woman could. Here is my take on how it could happen.
First: To win, anyone has to build a multi-racial coalition. A woman is as likely as a man to be able to do this. Fact is, the issues facing women in Chicago today strongly cut across racial and ethnic lines. Keep in-mind that Mayor Daley needed, and got, a substantial portion of African-American votes in his later campaigns for Mayor.
A case can be made that a woman could walk up the middle between, on the one hand, Rahm Emanuel and/or Tom Dart, and, on the other hand, an African-American man, who, because he hasn't been able to build a multi-racial coalition, doesn't get the white and Hispanic votes he needs to win.
Odds are, women would be sympathetic to the woman walking this path to victory. For, at this point on the path, she'd be strong and credible; indeed, she'd be a force to be reckoned with, by the time it's clear that this is the new math.
Any credible woman could win, if the two other leading candidates, come February, are Rahm Emanuel and Tom Dart. This assumes that this woman has built a multi-neighborhood, multi-racial coalition; that she has a rainbow coalition of campaign leaders who have organized a powerful field operation; that she has a message that motivates and turns out women voters who see tweedle dum and tweedle dee in the male candidates.
Remember? This is more or less how Ambassador Moseley-Braun was successful in her first U.S. Senate race. Maybe she could do it again.
And Commissioner Gainer knows how to do this, too: She built messages, coalitions and field operations working in Mayor Daley's campaigns. Don't know about Treasurer Pappas, but I bet she could figure this one out.
I think about this scenario this way: Come February, what reason does the average Chicago woman have -- the average Chicago woman, struggling to make it -- for thinking that Rahm Emanuel, or Tom Dart, or Rev. Meeks, or Terry Peterson, say, would be any better for her than a woman who, just like these men, has proven experience -- if, in fact, "experience" is even what this woman is worried about.
Odds are, instead, what this woman really wants is someone who hears her; someone who "feels her pain;" someone who will, as her first priority, act on what she has heard, and relieve this pain.
So, back, to the current state of play: That we may have more than one woman in the mayoral race.
No problem, as I see it. Just as it's true that weaker male candidates will drop out along the way, weaker women candidates will, too: Can't raise the money; can't build the field organization; can't build a multi-racial message; can't get influential Chicago women to back the candidacy; can't get some downtown male CEOs to back you; oops, she's gone.
And, again, just like the men: If more than one woman is in, well, they'll just have to fight it out. Not to worry. These three women are experienced politicians. They know how to do that.
But, my guess is that, anyway, the fight won't last long. Why? Well, because, in the near term, it's going to be all about having the money to get going in a meaningful way. Maybe the fight will last into November. Anyway, they'll finish fighting sooner rather than later, leaving the winner plenty of time to build her campaign to victory in the February primary. (See above.)
In the course of the week's discussions, it was pointed out to me that the mysteries of the City's budget are mysteries big enough to overwhelm many; maybe, even most who would be mayor: A cautionary tale, for sure.
But, I ask you: Is the City budget any bigger a mystery for a woman candidate than it is for a male candidate? Is it likely any bigger a mystery for Ambassador Moseley-Braun, or Commissioner Gainer or Treasurer Pappas than it is likely to be for Rahm Emanuel, or Tom Dart, or Reverend Meeks, or Terry Peterson? I think not. Fact is, no one really knows that budget except Mayor Daley. As the pundits have declared, whoever becomes mayor will have a time bomb to defuse.
But once that time bomb is defused, the primary problems our next Mayor will need to address are problems Chicago's women have responsibility for, for women head the majority of the Chicago families needing the help City Hall can give. Think: Help with crime in the streets; think: help for children in low-performing schools; think: jobs for the heads of households, heads of the households everyday.
The messaging here is amazingly powerful. "A woman's touch" was what one of my correspondents wished for. A couple others wrote, wishing for "a (women's) movement." These images are powerful, too.
So, for the sake of the city's discussions about this circus coming to town, as well as for the sake of posterity, I give you some (other) names: Names of women not presently thinking about the mayor's race, (to my knowledge), but, by my lights, at least as "qualified" as any man now getting his fifteen minutes of fame: Barbara Currie, Anita Alvarez, Anne Burke, Toni Preckwinkle. And, then, as I noted at the outset, there are those who may actually run: the Ambassador, the Treasurer, and the Commissioner.
Feel real enough for you? Fact is, our city is rich, rich, rich, and rich again, in women who could be mayor.
Yes we can: Yes, a woman could be the next mayor of Chicago. We just have to pick her.
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