She arrived on the national scene riding a wave of popularity during the “Year of the Woman” elections in 1992 and made history as the first black female member of the Senate. But her popularity was clouded by issues ranging from campaign finance mismanagement to an ill-advised trip to Nigeria, and political foes were able to marshal a campaign to keep her from a second term in office.
Moseley-Braun’s troubles overshadowed the initiatives she pursued during her six-year tenure. Among legislation she authored were bills that assisted state and local governments’ efforts in repairing crumbling public schools, a bill that expanded opportunities for welfare recipients to obtain vocational education and a bill that created a 5% set aside in federal contracts for women- and minority-owned businesses.
“The Senate has not traditionally had working class members,” said Moseley-Braun. “Most have been of wealth—either inherited or self-made. I was female, working class and black. I joked it was a triple-dose of diversity.” The Senator says that her unique perspective helped make policy-making better. “I was able to speak up for women when the issue was retirement security, and could advocate the interest of African Americans when the issues were about social and economic integration,” she says, still sounding somewhat hurt just days after her defeat.
Despite her accomplishments, David Bositis, a political analyst with the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, says Moseley-Braun’s defeat wasn’t unexpected. “She had been looking vulnerable for a long time,” he says. In addition to her internal struggles, Moseley-Braun was also a victim of political bad timing, says Bositis. “She was elected in 1992. Two years later, the Republicans took over the Senate and suddenly she was a black female junior member of the Senate whose party was in the minority. It’s a recipe for being ineffective.”
Not surprisingly, money was also an issue in the campaign. Moseley-Braun, who says she spent upwards of $8 million on her reelection bid, estimates her opponent, Republican Peter Fitzgerald, spent twice as much to get elected. “The one thing she could have done that might have helped was to raise a lot of money to counter his attacks, but she didn’t,” says Bositis.
Moseley-Braun agrees. “The money was not there and that had a double impact,” she says. “Not only wasn’t I able to spend as much on media as my opponent, but the time I could have spent campaigning in other parts of the state I had to devote to fund-raising.”
Even more important than Moseley-Braun’s defeat is the fact that there’s now no African American presence in the U.S. Senate, says Ron Walters, a political scientist at the University of Maryland. “If one body of our political institution now has no blacks participating what does that say? There’s no substitute for the blacks being able to represent themselves as part of our mosaic. And our absence continues to say we’re not yet whole,” says Walters. “She was a point person for issues having to deal with the black agenda and she carried