My family on both sides hails from Chicago, and my Grandpa Shay followed the city's politics with great enthusiasm. His prediction that a Black mayor would succeed Richard J. Daley was off by eight years. The first Mayor Daley died in office in 1976, and Harold Washington didn't become mayor until 1983. In the interim Chicago had its first female mayor, Jane Byrne. Carol Moseley Braun's campaign for Chicago's mayor this year brought all of this back to my mind along with more recent memories.
Ms. Braun was someone I knew of more than knew in 1992 when Illinois voters made her the first African American woman elected to the U.S. Senate. She had an impressive array of experience. Ms. Braun had served Chicago as a prosecutor, a state legislator and Cook County Recorder, when a record million votes plus made her the first woman and first African-American to hold that office. After her work in the Senate, Ms. Braun had gone on to serve as a U.S. ambassador, confirmed by her former colleagues by a vote of 98-2.
I was president of the National Organization for Women when Ms. Braun came to our nation's capitol after the "Year of the Woman" elections of 1992. She had worked with NOW from her early days in the Illinois legislature. NOW's political action committees had enthusiastically endorsed her, and chapter activists had played key roles in her elections. Still, I had not known her well.
What a breath of fresh air she was in the U.S. Senate! Ms. Braun was a powerhouse as she fought for healthcare and education reform, economic empowerment for the poor and alternative energy. She brought passion and purpose to her work along with a sharp mind and deep understanding of issues.
Ms. Braun also brought her race and gender into the picture of a body with only six women and one African American out of 100 Senators. She showed unapologetic emotion as she took the floor to talk about how racism had affected her life and that of her family as she successfully urged other Senators to undo the special protection they had voted to give the Daughters of the Confederacy insignia.
Ms. Braun paid a price for telling truth to power. She suffered non-stop attacks, reported eagerly by the mainstream media, many of which played to classic race and gender stereotypes. Some may have been more damaging, but none show the bias and blamelessness better than the shiftless-and-lazy story that claimed she had skipped out on the first-year orientation in the Senate. It was run in a paper that had also featured a photo of the new Senators at this very session with Ms. Braun pictured in it.
Ms. Braun is unique in a way that was important to me, as someone who struggles to maintain hope and idealism against cynicism. So often elected officials I had admired from afar turned out to have feet of clay when I got to know them. But Carol Moseley Braun is one of those rare public servants who lived up to every hopeful expectation; the closer I got, the better she looked.
In her long service as an elected official, Ms. Braun only caused me to question her judgment once; after serving as Ambassador to New Zealand, she chose to return to the bone-chilling winters on Lake Michigan in her hometown of Chicago.
I'm sure Chicagoans will chose wisely and vote to make Carol Moseley Braun the next Mayor of Chicago. My Grandpa Shay would have been proud.