Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Dirty tricks on campaign not unusual, but candidates telling drug tales are odd

MOSELEY-BRAUN: Telling stories
Every campaign cycle includes tales of dirty tricks meant to screw up a campaign’s momentum. Invariably, somebody even goes and tells an ugly story about one of the candidates, meant to muddy them up to the benefit of the opposition.

Yet I can’t help but think there is something unusual going on with the way that former Sen. Carol Moseley-Braun in recent days has made mention of the fact that one of her five opponents, Patricia Van Pelt-Watkins, once used certain drugs that – had she been caught – would have gotten her a criminal record.

SPECIFICALLY, WE’RE TALKING about cocaine, although on at least one occasion, Moseley-Braun made a comment saying that Watkins used the stronger (and more deadly) version known as “crack” cocaine.

Watkins admits that in her late teens, she used certain drugs, but says she gave them up decades ago. The Chicago Tribune on Tuesday reported that Watkins said she hasn’t touched any such illegal narcotic in 32 years (she’s now 53).

I think this reaches a new high (or should I say, low) point for campaign activity in Chicago.

Because when these stories usually come out, what happens is that some murky and anonymous source is the one who spews the tale. Or in cases where we do find out who it is that is resorting to telling drug or sex stories about a candidate, it turns out to be some fringe character whose credibility is questionable.

THAT THEN ALLOWS the candidate to put some distance between themselves and the story. In some cases, the candidate issues a non-apology, saying they wish the election cycle had not sunk to such a sordid level. Of course, they allow the story to remain out there – because on a certain level they enjoy the fact that their opposition has to squirm in addressing a story that is ugly and ultimately cannot be absolutely denied.

Somebody is always going to fail to hear the denial or the apology and will take the details into account when casting a ballot on Election Day. The damage is done.
WATKINS: She's clean

Yet that is not what has happened here.

We have the candidate herself, Carol Moseley-Braun, the former U.S. senator from Illinois who also has been an ambassador, the county’s recorder of deeds and one of our city’s legislators at the Statehouse in Springfield, spreading the rhetoric for which she felt compelled Tuesday to issue a formal apology.

THE PART OF this that I find particularly odd (and based on what I’m reading at various places around the Internet, I’m not alone) is why Moseley-Braun would feel the need at all to take a ding at Watkins – who has never held electoral office in her life. She is a political neophyte, albeit one with some original ideas. Moseley-Braun says she feared looking like a "wimp" if she didn't attack Watkins. Instead, she looks like a bully whose "I'm sorry" feels forced.

Various polls that show Moseley-Braun having a serious chance at finishing second on Feb. 22 (thereby qualifying for a potential runoff election to be held April 5) also usually show that Watkins is stumbling about at about 1 or 2 percent of the vote, usually just barely ahead of perennial candidate William “Dock” Walls.

Now I realize Watkins, in an attempt to gain some attention for her campaign, took a cheap shot at the former senator, saying she had been so low-profile in recent years that Watkins didn’t even realize Moseley-Braun still lived in Chicago.

But this overkill, and bringing crack cocaine into the mix, is a gross over-reaction. All it does is ensure that Watkins’ campaign gets elevated to the level of Moseley-Braun. Or perhaps it means her campaign that is supposed to be the “consensus candidate” of Chicago’s African-American population took a dive.

BECAUSE MOSELEY-BRAUN IS now tied in to the dirt; there’s no separating her from it. She’s going to be smeared by it just as much as Watkins will be. It may well be a first for Chicago politics.

The “Machine hacks” of old always had that skill of deniability when it came to the dirty tricks they would pull to discourage people from casting votes for the opposition.

I guess this means Carol Moseley-Braun is NOT a “Chicago Machine” political hack. She’s not competent enough to be one.

But on a certain level, Rahm Emanuel is showing himself capable of being part of the political breed.
EMANUEL: I didn't call nobody

IN RECENT DAYS, mayoral hopeful Gery Chico held a press conference at a neighborhood gym, which he wanted to be the background setting for an event where he would attack the “Rahm Tax.” His campaign rhetoric claims that tax increases Emanuel says he wants the General Assembly to consider would harm small businesses – including those neighborhood gyms.

It seems that Chico had to search long and hard for a willing gym. Because at least one gym changed its mind about letting him have an event there, after receiving telephone calls from people who are supportive of the Emanuel campaign. Those calls let the gym owner know of the potential problems his business could incur in the future, if a “Mayor Emanuel” chooses to remember the people who wanted Chico instead.

Such a tactic, which Emanuel can now officially claim he NEVER would have approved of (wink, wink, nudge, nudge), is classic Chicago campaign strategy when it comes to dirty tricks. If anything, such an attitude is also evidence of the classic “Rahm-bo,” that political operative who isn’t afraid to use some muscle and tough talk to accomplish things, rearing its head.

So for all those people who have been getting all worked up in recent months, claiming that Emanuel isn’t a real Chicagoan and doesn’t comprehend the feel of the city and its politics, I’d respond by saying he may comprehend it all too well.


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