Rep. Danny Davis (D-Ill.), who is running for mayor of Chicago, has a message for former President Bill Clinton (coming to the city next month to stump for Davis rival Rahm Emanuel) and President Obama (who helped launch Emanuel's campaign): Stay out.
As long-ago Speaker of the House Tip O'Neill (D-Mass.) once said, "All politics is local," and in this case, Davis doesn't want the current and former presidents to bolster the candidacy of Emanuel, the front-runner.
Emanuel has strong ties to both men. He was a fundraiser in Clinton's 1992 presidential campaign and went on to be a senior adviser in the Clinton White House. And he was Obama's chief of staff, who got quite a boost from the president when Obama hosted a White House departure ceremony for Emanuel the day he quit the administration to return to Chicago to run for mayor.
Emanuel is vacationing in Thailand and his spokesman, Ben LaBolt, declined to comment about Davis' remarks.
Davis told me in an interview, "There are lots of people who supported the Clintons here as well as the president. I think it would be great if they both took a neutral position." The Clinton plural reference is to wife Hillary, now the secretary of state.
But Davis' words were stronger in a statement he issued, which warned Bill Clinton to stay out of Chicago politics and which waded into the racial politics that are part of the city's fabric.
"The African American community has enjoyed a long and fruitful relationship with the Clintons, however it appears as though some of that relationship may be fractured and perhaps even broken should former President Clinton come to town and participate overtly in efforts to thwart the legitimate political aspirations of Chicago's Black community," Davis said in the statement.
Davis has his own ties to Clinton: In 1992, when Clinton needed to win the Illinois primary to clinch the presidential nomination, the Arkansas-born Davis was one of the influential political leaders who backed his bid.
A Clinton spokesman did not respond to requests for comment.
In 1983, racial politics played a role in electing the late Harold Washington the first black mayor of the city with a unified black vote and a white vote that split between then-Mayor Jane Byrne and then-Cook County State's Attorney Richard M. Daley.
But the Feb. 22 non-partisan election is run under a different voting system than was used in 1983. If no candidate gets more than 50 percent of the vote that day, the top two finishers face off on April 5. (The new mayor will take office on May 16.) Also, there are two Hispanics running -- attorney Gery Chico and City Clerk Miguel Del Valle -- which further complicates the politics. With Emanuel a strong front-runner, the contest now is for second place.
Davis told me in an interview he is not playing a race card. And he told WGN-TV that he wasn't against Obama and Clinton interfering in the mayoral race -- if they wanted to endorse him.