CHICAGO (CBS) — U.S. Rep. Danny Davis (D-Ill.) is dropping out of the race for mayor of Chicago, citing the need for African Americans to rally around one major black candidate.

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Davis’ departure clears the way for Carol Moseley Braun to run as that so-called “unity” candidate for black voters in the Feb. 22 election.

“Unity can be more than a concept. It’s more than just an ideology,” Davis said at a news conference, where he was joined by Moseley Braun. “The purpose of the whole is far more important than any individual’s desire.”

Moseley Braun had been pressing her fund-raising advantage with Davis, releasing a list of black business leaders who have pledged to support her Friday. Braun’s campaign was apparently able to persuade Davis that she would be better able to compete financially with Rahm Emanuel.

U.S. Rep. Danny Davis (left) leaves a Friday news conference with Carol Moseley Braun, the mayoral candidate he is supporting. (CBS)

Davis sidestepped questions about political strategy Friday night.

“I don’t view myself as dropping out of the race, I’m dropping into victory — victory for Carol Moseley Braun to become the next mayor,” Davis said.

Braun said she was grateful for the support and would turn her attention to issues facing Chicago residents, including public schools and affordable housing.

“We have a challenge before us to achieve unity, that starts here tonight, but also achieve unity for the whole city,” she said.

The idea of a “unity” candidate for African-American voters has been a constant theme in the Chicago mayoral race. When fellow candidate state Sen. Rev. James Meeks (D-Ill.) dropped out of the race last week, he urged at least one of the other African-American candidates to do the same and rally around a single consensus candidate. Otherwise, he argued, Chicago’s potentially decisive black vote would be splintered.

“People thought we would be divided and this would be a bitter campaign among African Americans,” said Meeks, who also was on hand for Friday’s announcement by Davis. “We have a lot of problems in our community . . . and the last thing we wanted was this division to continue.”

Davis was endorsed as the consensus candidate early on by a coalition of African-American political, religious and business leaders. But at the time, neither Braun nor Meeks expressed any interest in withdrawing.

Emanuel, Miguel Del Valle, Gery Chico are among the other candidates in the race. Emanuel, a former congressman and top aide to President Obama, is widely seen as the frontrunner.

Earlier this week, Davis criticized former President Bill Clinton for his plans to come to Chicago to stump for Emanuel, saying it would damage Clinton’s relationship with African-Americans. Emanuel served in the Clinton administration.

Meanwhile, Braun has made headlines this week for a public spat with Chicago Sun-Times columnist Neil Steinberg, whom she called “a drunk and a wife-beater” in response to a column Steinberg wrote that mocked the idea of a Braun administration.

Davis served as alderman of Chicago’s 29th Ward from 1979 to 1990 and as a Cook County commissioner from 1990 to 1997, before going to Congress.

He has also run for mayor previously. He mounted a candidacy in 1989 Democratic primary, in a special election to finish the unexpired term of the late Mayor Harold Washington. Mayor Richard M. Daley ultimately won the election.

In 1991, he also lost to Mayor Daley for the Democratic mayoral nomination.

In response to the Davis announcement, Chico’ s campaign issued a statement that avoided the issue of race. The former chief of staff to retiring Mayor Richard Daley said he is the most qualified candidate.

“Regardless of who gets in or out of this race, I am the only candidate with a Chicago resume that is built for mayor,” Chico said. “I have the best story to tell and the resources to tell it.”

“Congressman Davis’ work on behalf of the people of Chicago goes back many years, and it certainly won’t stop today — his views will be needed in the dialogue about the city’s future,” Emanuel said in his own written statement. “With all of the challenges we face, we must come together to work on behalf of all Chicagoans and address the needs of every neighborhood.”

Del Valle likewise praised Davis.

“I am proud to have had the honor of running along side him in this historic election,” he said in a statement.

Contributing: Sun-Times Media Wire, Associated Press