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Can Danny Davis Stop Rahm Emanuel, Before It's Too Late?

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Can Danny Davis Stop Rahm Emanuel, Before It's Too Late?
Can Danny Davis Stop Rahm Emanuel, Before It's Too Late?

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Danny Davis looks likes Harold Washington, with that solid girth, that head of white hair, and that moustache.

He sounds like Harold Washington, with that profound voice.

He’s even tried to be Harold Washington, running against the newly-elected Mayor Daley in 1991, when the black community still thought it had a claim on the office. He lost by more than 2-1, defeated by a Chicago weary of racially polarized elections.

Now Davis is giving it another try. Like Washington was in 1983, he’s a congressman, and the consensus choice of black leaders. Washington was a reluctant candidate for mayor who only agreed to run if the black community could register 150,000 new voters who would support his campaign for mayor. Davis insisted he would only run if he was the Chicago Coalition for Mayor’s consensus choice. Now that he has their support, he told WGN this morning that he’s in the race, “will make a formal announcement before the week is over.”

Davis looks like a stronger candidate than Washington did in late 1982. He’s been in Congress longer, and he’s better known to white Chicago: Davis’s district, which stretches from the lakefront to the western suburbs, includes the Loop and the Gold Coast. Washington was strictly a South Side congressman. Washington once went to jail for not paying his taxes. The only dirt on Davis is that he once participated in a ceremony with the Moonies.

As the Coalition’s choice, and as the only West Sider running against two South Siders, Davis has an excellent chance of making the runoff. And that’s where he’s not like Harold Washington. Or rather, that’s where his Chicago is not like Harold Washington’s Chicago. Washington won the Democratic primary because he was the black community’s sole candidate against a white Chicago divided between Richard M. Daley and Jane Byrne. In the general election, he got to run against an extremely weak candidate: an obscure Hyde Park legislator named Bernie Epton. Even then, he barely won.

 But mayoral elections are no longer partisan. Under the current rules, Washington would have entered a run-off against Jane Byrne -- and lost.

This year, there are three black candidates, two Latino candidates and one white candidate -- Rahm Emanuel. If Davis makes the run-off, it will certainly be against Emanuel, a well-known, well-funded Democrat. He could still win -- one of Washington’s legacies is that white Chicago no longer thinks a black mayor means the end of the city as we know it.

In fact, if it comes down to Davis and Emanuel, this time the white guy will be the candidate who makes the city panic like the impending arrival of Godzilla. The wealthy, profane, bullying Emanuel will be the candidate voters want to stop “before it’s too late.” That’ll make Danny Davis very different from Harold Washington.

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