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Rebecca Sive Headshot

Our City Is Rich in White Women Who Deserve City Contracts

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I never thought Rev. Meeks wanted to be Mayor, really.

First, he dilly-dallied. Then, he claimed that the only way he could or would do it would be to remain as pastor of his church, clearly an untenable idea to anyone with a serious understanding of the voting electorate in Chicago. Third, he picked Andy McKenna to be a spokesperson and advocate. Andy McKenna, the guy who might almost singlehandedly be responsible for Pat Quinn's reelection, due to his failure to support Kirk Dillard in the Republican gubernatorial primary. Now, we have Rev. Meeks decrying the right of white women, the white voters key to Harold Washington's mayoral win, to be eligible for city contracts: "The word 'minority' from our standpoint should mean African American. I don't think (white) women, Asians and Hispanics should be able to use that title."

It takes my breath away. Honest. Though I'm far from a Pollyanna or a naïf on Chicago politics, I didn't believe this story when I first heard it.

But after I recovered my breath, I sat down to think, think about what could possibly explain, or explain away, this latest sermon from Rev. Meeks.

It seems like these are the choices. First: Rev. Meeks isn't that smart. Nope, all the evidence has indicated otherwise. Second, Rev. Meeks is a racist. Again, a lot of evidence indicates otherwise; just look at his good work for the students in Chicago's public schools. Third: Rev. Meeks doesn't really want to run for Mayor, much less be mayor, but damned if he's going to go down easy. He wants something for his troubles. (Maybe the kingmaker role repairing the Chicago Public Schools.)

This last hypothesis was the most interesting to me. It's the one I've subscribed to for a while.

For if there is one thing we know about Carol Moseley-Braun and Danny Davis, the two people who most need to drop out if Rev. Meeks is to have a shot at winning the race for Mayor, it's that they are politicians to the core: Both are individuals who know how to run, how to stay the political course, and, even if the campaign is a losing one, how to emerge intact enough to mount another campaign that looks viable, too.

Here are my proof points for this contention.

The first is one that has stuck with me since Moseley-Braun last won a political race, her U.S. Senate race 18 years ago.

When U.S. Senator Alan Dixon flamed out that year, telling women they had to wait their turn to run for U.S. Senate, three Illinois women's names were on everyone's lips as viable possibilities to run against Dixon: Judge Susan Getzandanner, Ambassador Marjorie Benton and then-Recorder of Deeds Carol Moseley-Braun. The solution to this conundrum: Call a meeting to hash it out.

In our offices, Marilyn Katz and I gathered about ten women together, each woman there "representing" the candidacy of Getzandanner, Benton or Moseley-Braun. Bottom line by the end of the meeting: Zenobia Black made it clear that it didn't really matter what Getzandanner and Benton decided; Moseley-Braun was in. And in she was, as it turned out -- for the voters, as well as for those of us in that room that day.

As to Danny Davis's street-cred on this matter, just look at the record of his fits and starts and fits and starts again, running or expressing interest in running, for all kinds of political jobs. Yet, even so, when losing, he maintains a credible case for having run and for running, again.

This bottom line: These are two really good, hang-tough politicians, having successfully made their case over decades. No ministering to others here.

Knowing this, I had to believe that Rev. Meeks, or if not him his advisors, knew this, too.

Apparently, not.

For what did Rev. Meeks say on Cliff Kelly's WVON show the other day? That he'd be willing to deal to get to a consensus African-American candidate that he was willing to make a deal with Carol Moseley-Braun and Danny Davis that would require either one of them, or both of them, to drop-out of the mayor's race.

Well, what did Moseley-Braun say? Well, just like Zenobia said for her 18 years ago, she said, basically: I'm in, and I'm staying in. What did Davis say: Pretty much the same thing.

So, I'm going back to first premises. I'm thinking Rev. Meeks just wants something for his troubles.

But that was only until he started talking about contracts and set-asides. Then, he blew any chance at that premise as the operative one.

For Rev. Meeks has now way overplayed his hand.

(By the by, though, Rev. Meeks has apparently now shared with voters his true feelings about the way in which African Americans should be able to participate in the municipal contracting process. This is good for our next mayor to know, regardless.)

If Rev. Meeks was looking for "a taste," for leaving the race, I don't see him getting one now.

For his honest confusion on this topic, or his true sentiments, as were maybe now revealed, have created way too much volatility for him to go, quietly and successfully, into that good Christmas night and re-emerge, past February or April, as the quiet and shining knight at the new mayor's Easter roundtable.

Harold Washington said, repeating an old Chicago saying: "Politics ain't beanbag." Well, that's way, way for sure. However, what Harold Washington also said, and even more often, was that, to win, you had to lead with your numbers--not with the numbers of your contracts, but with the numbers of your voters.

Though Harold Washington was a "race man," to the core, he knew his (white) numbers, cold, too. So, he knew he needed at least some white people to vote for him for Mayor. Second, he knew that the most likely white voters would be women (Harold Washington was pro-choice, as well as pro-affirmative action for all women).

Rev. Meeks has failed to learn Harold Washington's numbers' lesson, either in general or in its mayoral-race specifics, not to mention the these-days' lesson about an age in which all news is everywhere, right away.

Even so, I'm sad for Rev. Meeks, who I have admired, though not always agreed with.

But, girl, am I angry, too. Some of us white women have worked for decades to build meaningful political alliances across the chasm that is the race divide in Chicago.

Rev. Meeks, in a hot minute, you've just made that work all that much harder. When you you've got a minute, and I think that shortly you're going to have lots of freed-up minutes, I hope that you will turn your attention to this cause. Join us, for, anyway, this cause is probably more important than who is elected our next mayor.

You could even run this campaign: It can always use someone who is good at ministering to others, if not to himself.