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Consensus coalition fails mission

When is a consensus a consensus, and when is a consensus a conundrum-

Former U.S. senator and ambassador Carol Moseley Braun and Cook County Board of Review Commissioner Larry Rogers were the black "consensus" candidates for mayor one day. Then suddenly it was U.S. Rep. Danny K. Davis. A Chicago Coalition for Mayor has added a new level of complexity to an already Byzantine mayoral campaign.

I'll give them an "A" for the effort, but an "F" for execution.

Black Chicagoans are sophisticated when it comes to electing a mayor. We know how to do it. The black plebiscite that elevated Harold Washington in 1983 had the formula down cold. (It didn't hurt that two white candidates haplessly split the white vote).

While Washington may be ancient history to some Chicagoans, the late mayor was Politics 101 for the black political class. His election was a textbook example of political empowerment. Recruit your best and brightest. Rev up the base, bring in the bucks, then reach out to progressives and other left-out minorities. You're in.

I applauded when the Chicago Coalition for Mayor announced it would meet, interview aspirants and coalesce around one candidate to represent black interests in the sprint for City Hall. The move by the ad-hoc group of several dozen elected officials, business leaders, community and political activists showed political maturity and intelligence.

The committee met, all right. And met. And met. And met.

It was weeks, my sources say, of tiresome closed-door sessions, replete with boorish entrances, door-slamming exits, name calling and some cussing to boot (and can we cuss!). Charges flew about put-ups, set-ups and sit-down-and-shut-ups.

On Oct. 16, the coalition hosted a sprawling public forum at a South Side church. Hundreds of black voters turned out to hear from 11 mayoral aspirants. The coalition asked attendees to fill out a survey to provide feedback. The results never saw the light of day.

Then, the group picked two "finalists." Davis and state Sen. James Meeks pushed back. The coalition changed its mind.

Now its credibility is shot, its mandate gone. Davis got the "consensus," but Braun and Meeks are not getting out.

Bless the group's chairman, 27th Ward Ald. Walter Burnett, for trying. Still, can you imagine Burnett telling the Reverend Senator Meeks he should drop out of the race and support Davis- Or suggest that Ms. Ambassador Senator Braun should fold her tent and go away-

Since Washington's death in 1987 and the diminution of the Rev. Jesse Jackson, there is no one left with that kind of clout. Besides, the president is busy.

Alas, getting egocentric politicians to put the voters' aspirations above their own may be too much to ask. Just ask Carl B. West. West, a consensus coalition member, is the man behind one of my favorite blogs, the "Truth B. Told" News Service.

Last week, he unleashed a harsh review of the highly secretive deliberations. "It was a heart-wrenching, but necessary experience," he wrote. While he admired many who participated, he blasted others as biased, disruptive and obstructionist. "There was also Negroes I would not want to be in a fox hole with me for any apparent reason," he wrote, adding, "I wouldn't trust them folks with my unborn child."

West, a co-founder of the Next Generation Leadership Council, is pushing for younger voices in Chicago's black power establishment. Its leadership is aging badly and has not built a back bench. The old boys are never ready to give it up.

Truth be told, black Chicago is holding a losing hand.