As more and more candidates drop out of the race to be Chicago's next mayor, the spotlight becomes brighter for those remainingand the glare has been particularly bright for Carol Moseley Braun.
She is used to being the center of attention, having been a U.S. senator as well as an ambassador. However, her 2011 run has been steeped in controversy regarding everything from her tax returns to a recent LGBT event she skipped, delivering words over the telephone. (See the sidebar on page 7.) In this interview (recorded in late December), Moseley Braun talked with Windy City Times about opponent Rahm Emanuel, her reasons for running and education.
Windy City Times: I've been talking with a few people about mayoral candidates. When I brought up your name, the response I got most often was "I'm not sure why she's running." So could you articulate why you are running and talk about what unique qualifications you feel you bring to the table?
Carol Moseley Braun: Well, to begin with, I'm the most qualified of all the candidates runningin terms of credentials and my experience in government. I've served on the local, county, state, national and international levels of government. And I've been both an administrator as well as a legislator. I also have been an entrepreneur, with a start-up organic beverage company. So I've had enough experiences where I'm the best-qualified candidate to run.
I'm doing it because I love Chicago and I love the people. I've lived my entire life here (although I traveled and moved abroad briefly), but I'm a third-generation Chicagoan and I care about what happens. I want it to be a city where we can be proud of our stewardship, where we can have public safety, where our children can get a quality education in the neighborhoods where they live and there are jobs created in those same neighborhoods so people can support themselves.
To me, all of those things are quality-of-life issues that are eminently doable with proper leadership.
WCT: One of your opponents, Rahm Emanuel, is still dealing with residency issues [that might cost him a spot on the ballot]. Where do you stand on the issue?
Carol Moseley Braun: Well, the law is the law is the law, and he knows whether or not he is a resident and the board is going to decide if he is a resident. [Note: The election board backed Emanuel. A hearing was slated to start Jan. 11 in Cook County Circuit Court.] That's not for me to have an opinion on, really, because I'm not on the board. But he should do the right thing in regards to it.
WCT: I asked because your campaign manager, Mike Noonan, issued a press release about Rahm Emanuel wanting "a special deal from the Board of Elections." There's also the implication that Rahm lied on his tax form. So that's why I asked.
Carol Moseley Braun: I gave you my position on it. I wasn't aware of Mike's... I guess I should've known. I wasn't paying any attention to it, I guess.
WCT: OK. The whole "consensus Black candidate" situation is interesting. Were you surprised that Danny Davis was initially selected?
Carol Moseley Braun: Seehe wasn't. I was selected, too, for that matter. Things kept changing. The process was so flawed that I don't think it had any credibility at all.
WCT: I just thought the whole process was very curious...
Carol Moseley Braun: Very curious.
WCT: After all, there is no consensus Latino candidate...
Carol Moseley Braun: That's right.
WCT: What do you feel was your most important accomplishment as a senator?
Carol Moseley Braun: The one I'm most proud of is the "crumbling schools" initiative, which got federal money into rebuilding our nation's schools. Again, this would've been an opportunity to improve the contribution to elementary and secondary education. Right now, the federal government puts in less than 8 percent of the cost of our schools nationwide, so if we could get some help from the national governmenteven if it's just to rebuild the buildingsit would free local dollars to help improve the curriculum and help teachers. At the end of the day, we have to have a quality public-school system or we will lose the international economic competition.
If we give up on our schools, we give up on our countryand I am not prepared to stand by and watch this generation relegated to a Third World education and have that define the America that we're going to have to live in going forward. It really is a matter of our country's national security.
The second thing I'm most proud of was the fact that I became the first woman in history to serve on the Senate Finance Committee. And, in that regard, I was able to pass legislation that provided for pension fairness for women and legislation that took the co-payments off of mammograms.
I also brought home to Illinois over a billion dollars in infrastructure and other building improvementsso [I helped with] everything from the reconstruction of lower Wacker Drive to the work on the lakefront. And I did all of this, by the way, as the only African-American in the United States Senate at a time when there were Strom Thurmond and Trent Lott and Jesse Helms. It was a very difficult time.
WCT: Do you think education is the biggest problem facing the city right now?
Carol Moseley Braun: Education is the cornerstone because it relates to our ability to create businesses, jobs in our neighborhoods; you have to have an educated workforce that is capable of doing the work our businesses [need]. We have to be able to coordinate and leverage our assets so as to make Chicago once again an international center for intellectual property and real products we can sell to the rest of the world. You can't even do call centers if people aren't educated, so education is key to job creation.
Education is also key to public safety, which is the other leg of this three-legged stool, if you will. Public safety is essential to everything. If you don't have safe streets, people are not going to locate their jobs or businesses there, and children won't even be able to go to school to get a quality education. So safety, job creation and education are tied intricately togetherand those would be my priorities in terms of helping to maintain and improve the quality of life in this great city.
WCT: Now what would you say is the biggest problem facing the LGBT community?
Carol Moseley Braun: For one thing, the city has had a welcoming environment for the LGBT community, and I'm very proud of that. Chicago has been a receptive city. There are still problems with bullying and violence that law-enforcement personnel have to be sensitized to dealing with but, beyond that, I think the city has pretty much distinguished itself as to its receptivity to the LGBT community.
Let me tell a story that I feel is pertinent: I gave a speech recently to Hyde Park High School. When I finished, a little girl in the front row raised her hand and asked, "Dr. Martin Luther King: He was killed, right?" At first, I was shocked: This was a Black child in a Black school, and she was confused that Dr. Martin Luther King was assassinated. Then it dawned on me: He was killed so many years ago that, in her world view, it could've been Abraham Lincoln or Julius Caesar, for that matter. She didn't have a point of reference.
I never cease to be amazed, in terms of the LGBT community. I have been a fighter for civil rights for the LGBT community from the beginning. I've taken the hard knocks with the Defense of Marriage Act in the Senate, on the state level with hate crimes. I've been there consistently over the years. Yet, I find myself having to revisit all of that and remind people of those fights and contributions, because a lot of people just don't know.
We can all celebrate the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," but one of the candidates in this race, and I'm not trying to trash himyeah, I am trashing him publiclywas the architect of it in the Clinton administration. So the contributions as well as the betrayals, if you will, have been forgotten. As candidates, we start off redefining ourselves from scratchand that makes the challenge of doing interviews that much more important.
WCT: What are your thoughts on a school specifically for LGBT students? Do you think it would segregate a segment of the population?
Carol Moseley Braun: I was talking about something close to this today. I have some friends who founded a unionized charter school because they wanted to provide unisex education for girls at the high-school level. There was som research that showed that girls do better, particularly in math and science, when they are not intimidated by the presence of boys in the classroom.
So I guess my short answer is that, to the extent that teenagers who are questioning might need an environment where they're not ridiculed or bullied, [such a school] might be a positive thing. The objective of the school is not just about creating community; it's education. If a young person's sexuality gets in the way of education because they don't fit socially then, as educators and parents, we have a responsibility to alleviate those problems.
WCT: What do you feel is the biggest misconception about you?
Carol Moseley Braun: Oh, that I did anything other than show up at the Senate when they didn't want to have me there. [Laughs] When I got elected to the Senate, it broke open an institution that had been closed. I was one of two African Americans elected there in the entire 20th century and, instead of that being celebrated, it was met with smears, marginalization and scandalizingnone of which had any merit or truth to it. I came through those yearsand I never had a sanction or censure. It was a lot of noise and heat around the fact that I was this unusual member of the Senate.
And, quite frankly, I think members of the LGBT community can relate better than most to being singled out and treated like the other. It was a very difficult time, but when it was all over I was still able to get the nation's highest security clearance. [Laughs] Now I know how to handle being smeared; I'm a wiser person, a better personand someone who's more sophisticated in the ways of political hardball.
See www.CarolForChicago.com .