Friday, March 8, 2019

Chicagoan Carol Moseley Braun was the first Black woman to be elected to the U.S. Senate in 1992.

Carol Moseley Braun
Carol Moseley Braun was born Carol Elizabeth Moseley on August 16, 1947, in Chicago, Illinois. A leading Black politician, Moseley Braun's career has been marked by both great successes and missteps.

After graduating from the University of Illinois in 1969 with a degree in political science, Moseley Braun attended the university's law school. She earned her law degree in 1972, and began working as an assistant U.S. attorney in Chicago the following year.

Moseley Braun held her first political post as a Democratic representative to Illinois House of Representatives, beginning in 1978. As a representative, she was known as an advocate for social change, working for reforms in education, government, and healthcare. In 1988, she took another challenge. She was elected recorder of deeds for Cook County, Illinois, overseeing hundreds of employees as well as the public agency's multimillion-dollar budget.

In 1992, Moseley Braun made the leap to the national political arena: She ran for a seat in the U.S. Senate, looking to unseat incumbent Democratic Senator Alan Dixon in the Democratic primary. Up against a seasoned politician who had spent decades in office, Moseley Braun appeared to be the underdog. But many responded to Moseley Braun as a chance for political change. She won the primary, but faced another tough opponent in Republican Richard Williamson. Williamson tried to capitalize on Moseley Braun’s mishandling of a tax situation. Although the scandal marred her campaign, she won the election, becoming the first Black woman to win election to the U.S. Senate.

Moseley Braun was the subject of a 1993 Federal Election Commission investigation over $249,000 in unaccounted-for campaign funds. The agency found some small violations, but took no action against Moseley Braun, citing a lack of resources. Moseley Braun only admitted to bookkeeping errors. The Justice Department turned down two requests for investigations from the IRS.

Women were not allowed to wear pants on the U.S. Senate floor until 1993. In 1993, Senators Moseley Braun and Barbara Mikulski wore pants onto the floor in defiance of the rule, and female support staff followed soon after, with the rule being amended later that year by Senate Sergeant-at-Arms Martha Pope to allow women to wear pants on the floor so long as they also wore a jacket.

In 1996, Moseley Braun made a private trip to Nigeria, where she met with dictator Sani Abacha. Despite U.S. sanctions against that country due to Abacha's actions, the Senator neither notified nor registered her trip with the State Department. She subsequently defended Abacha's human rights records in Congress. Her former fiancé Kgosie Matthews, who also served on her campaign staff (in violation of U.S. immigration regulations), had been a lobbyist for the Nigerian government; Matthews would later leave the country. She had paid Matthews, a native of South Africa, a salary of $15,000 a month during the campaign.

As a senator, Moseley Braun tackled many issues, including women's rights and civil rights. She served on several committees, including the powerful Senate Finance Committee. Moseley Braun continued to support educational reforms and called for more restrictive gun control laws. Her time in office, however, was affected by claims that she misused funds from her 1992 campaign, spending the money on personal expenses. While no charges were ever filed, this allegation clung to Moseley Braun as she sought re-election in 1998.

In 1998, after George Will (an American political commentator wrote regular columns for The Washington Post and provided commentary for NBC News and MSNBC) wrote a column reviewing the allegations of corruption against her, Moseley Braun responded to Will's comments, saying that "I think because he couldn't say ni%%er, he said corrupt," She also compared Will to a Ku Klux Klansman, saying: "I mean this very sincerely from the bottom of my heart: He can take his hood and put it back on again, as far as I'm concerned." Later, Moseley Braun apologized for her remarks.

Moseley Braun's re-election campaign was also hindered by her Republican opponent Peter Fitzgerald. A self-financed candidate, Fitzgerald didn’t have restrictions on how much he could spend during his campaign. He won the election by a close margin. After leaving office, Moseley Braun was appointed U.S. ambassador to New Zealand and Samoa by President Bill Clinton in 1999. She left the post at the end of the Clinton Administration. A career-long advocate for education, Moseley Braun then taught at Morris Brown College.

In 2003, she campaigned for the Democratic presidential nomination. Moseley Braun opposed the war in Iraq and spoke out about the country’s economic situation, but she dropped out of the race in early 2004 after failing to garner enough support. She asked her supporters to vote for Howard Dean.

In November 2010, Moseley Braun announced she would run in the 2011 Chicago mayoral election, after mayor Richard M. Daley announced he would not be seeking re-election. In early 2011 potentially strong African-American candidates congressman Danny Davis, and state senator James Meeks left the race and endorsed Moseley Braun, making her the so-called consensus black candidate. In a debate on January 30, 2011, she accused another candidate, Patricia Van-Pelt Watkins of "being strung out on crack" for 20 years.
Former U.S. Sen. Carol Moseley Braun shown here in Chicago as she formally announces her candidacy for Chicago mayor. Braun joins a crowded field of candidates including former White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel. November 20, 2010
Moseley Braun came in fourth in the field of six, receiving about nine percent of the vote. In her concession speech, she remarked that her young niece could become the first [Black] female mayor of Chicago.

Since then, Moseley Braun has been working as a business consultant and started an organic foods company called Good Foods Organics. She has one child: a son named Matthew from her marriage to Michael Braun, which ended in divorce.

Compiled by Neil Gale, Ph.D. 

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