Updated: 12/24/10 9:12 a.m.

CHICAGO (CBS/WBBM) – State Sen. Rev. James Meeks (D-Chicago) issued a call Thursday to his fellow African-American candidates to rally behind one black contender for mayor of Chicago, as he himself dropped out of the race.

But it appears that the two most prominent of the remaining blacks will continue their campaigns.

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Rev. Meeks said in a statement announcing the decision that Chicago’s African-Americans “need to speak with one voice.”

U.S. Rep. Danny Davis responded with a booming, “I am in the race.”

Former U.S. Sen. Carol Moseley Braun said, “There’s two Hispanics in the race,” then said it is too early to determine how many candidates will campaign actively to the end.

Both said that they hope to attract Meeks’ supporters and eventually earn his endorsement. Both have busy schedules over the holidays.

Meeks said he withdrew only after making the plea directly to Davis and Moseley Braun. But he won’t say whom he will support.

Meeks said in his statement that the issues that prompted him to run for mayor remain unresolved. He said the biggest problem “is one of vision” and said that it is “long past time” to build on the “tremendous successes” of the late Mayor Harold Washington.

“As long as our community remains divided and splintered — to the specific advantage of the front-running, status quo candidates — we will never see things improve,” Meeks said.

Both Moseley Braun and Davis were surprised by Meeks’ withdrawal.

Moseley Braun said she believes that Rev. Meeks should continue to be part of any and all discussions about the city’s priorities in a new administration.

Meeks declined to elaborate on his statement through a spokesman, who said that the senator would be spending the holiday weekend with his family.

But Meeks said the issues that prompted him to run remain unresolved, including the city’s spending, its schools and the way the city delivers services.

So why did he drop out? CBS 2 Chief Correspondent Jay Levine says the short answer is that he knew he couldn’t win.

But the fact is he began dropping hints about withdrawing from the race on the same radio show where long-shot candidacy became an impossible dream.

The outspoken Meeks generated controversy last week when he suggested in a radio interview that only blacks should be considered minorities where city minority contract set-asides are concerned.

Speaking in an interview on WVON radio, Meeks’ exact words were: “I think that the word minorities from our standpoint should mean African-Americans. I don’t think women, Asians and Hispanics should be able to use that title.”

The firestorm over that statement forced Meeks to back off and admit he misspoke, but for all practical purposes, the campaign ended there.

And led to Thursday’s statement: “Our house is divided. I have met with each of the four other African-American candidates and urged them in the strongest terms to consider withdrawing from the race in the interest of unity.”

There could also be a boost for Gery Chico as well, since Republican Party Chief Andy McKenna Jr. had been Meeks’ campaign finance co-chairman. Chico’s campaign could be attractive to McKenna and other Republicans as well.

Shortly after Meeks’ announcement, rumors started circulating that Davis, too, would back out of the race. The congressman quickly quashed the idea.

“Of course my campaign is moving ahead. We have town hall meetings scheduled for next week,” Davis said.

Some voters say the mayoral race is still too crowded.

“It would be really difficult to choose one because I want to say the market was being saturated,” Kenya Sadler, eating dinner in Bronzeville, told CBS 2’s Pamela Jones.

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