UPDATED 11/15/10 8:29 a.m.
CHICAGO (CBS) – U.S. Rep. Danny Davis declared his candidacy for mayor of Chicago on Sunday, joining a growing field of candidates that includes former White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel.
Speaking to a sweltering roomful of supporters during a meeting at the Hotel Allegro downtown that felt at times like a church revival, Davis said he doesn’t pretend to “have answers to all of our financial problems” but called on “everyday people” to join his campaign and help his team find solutions.
“You don’t have to be rich, you don’t have to be wealthy, you don’t have to be high in the penthouse, all that you have to be is highly motivated and involved to make a difference,” he said after the meeting began with a prayer.
As supporters shouted “Go Danny!” and echoed his words as if he were preaching, Davis invoked a long list of working and middle-class professions, saying, “we the grassroots, everyday people, we the policemen, we the postman, we the clerks, we the electricians, we the nurses, we the hotel workers, we the cooks, we the bartenders, teachers, taxi drivers, doctors, we the people can exercise our God given rights to participate, be involved and make decisions about ourselves and our city.”
Emanuel formally announced his run Saturday to replace Mayor Richard M. Daley, who said in September he would not seek a seventh term. State Sen. James Meeks, the pastor of a megachurch on the city’s South Side, was expected to officially join the race later Sunday.
Davis, a Democrat who has been in Congress since 1997, was tapped earlier this month by a coalition of black leaders as their preferred candidate over other finalists, including Meeks and former U.S. Sen. Carol Moseley Braun.
Braun, the country’s first black woman senator, has already opened a campaign office and plans an official announcement soon.
The coalition, which included elected officials, business owners and activists, had hoped to avoid splitting the black vote by uniting behind one candidate. Members said they chose Davis, who previously served on the Cook County Board and the Chicago City Council, because of his broad government experience.
Eddie Read, one of the leaders of the coalition, said after the meeting that Sen. Meeks had promised to drop out of the race if he was not selected by the coalition, though Braun and William “Dock” Walls had not made any such commitment, Read said.
Meeks denied he promised to drop out.
“That’s not true,” Meeks said Sunday afternoon. “I always told the group that it was contingent upon who was elected. I also told the group that it was taking too long. I never said I would step out if I wasn’t elected.”
Read urged Meeks, Braun and Walls to drop out of the race for the sake of black unity and rejected criticisms that the selection process took too long, allowing Emanuel to build up an early advantage.
Chinese, Latino, Hispanic and white supporters all also spoke in support of Davis at the meeting, but only Korean-American David Chang referred directly to how a ballot with multiple black candidates could hurt Davis’s chances.
“I would like to ask the coalition for more effort [to ensure there’s only] one black candidate. If three people fight each other, there (will be) no clear winner,” Chang said.
Supporters cited Davis’s long experience in public office in his favor. He served for 11 years as a Chicago alderman and for six years as a Cook County Commissioner before winning election to the U.S. House in 1996.
Davis told them there were “no simple solutions” to the city’s “very complex” financial problems but that his campaign was preparing a set of recommendations.
He vowed to “wage all-out war against crime, guns and violence,” and to “bridge the gap between law enforcement officials and people in communities where they feel neglected or disrespected by the law.”
A former teacher, he said he’d also bridge the gap between “our best schools and those that are struggling, underachieving with marginal results at best.”
“I will be the mayor for every racial and ethnic group, reaching out to all will be the benchmark of a Danny K. Davis administration,” he said.
Davis was re-elected to Congress Nov. 2 with about 80 percent of the vote to another term representing a congressional district that spans economically and racially diverse areas from Chicago to the western suburbs.
The mayoral race also includes City Clerk Miguel del Valle and former Chicago school board president Gery Chico, who have already declared.
The Sun-Times Media Wire contributed to this report.
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