--Illinois Senator Rickey Hendron, (D-Chicago)
"So whatcha doin' tonight? (Whatcha doin, whatcha doin)
"Hey, have you heard that the world's gone crazy?"
--Styx, "Rockin' The Paradise"
For years, the power in the state was concentrated among three power brokers, Democrats in Illinois. Sometimes, you'd get an R in there, but membership in the bipartisan combine was by invitation only, and they made sure you were one of them.
First, there was Mike Madigan, the head of the Illinois DNC and known behind the back (and occasionally behind the hand) as "the Velvet Hammer".
Next, you had Mayor Richard Daley. Daley was good pals with Madigan, and they grew up together. Madigan stuck to state business, Daley had the city and the ear of the White House under Clinton (getting his brother, among others, on Slick Willie's staff) and Obama.
The last member of the troop, sort of the Jessica Simpson to their Britney Spears and Christina Aguillera, was Richard Mell, a longtime Chicago alderman who Daley famously tried to sweep out of office and failed. Mell used the old Chicago Machine tactics and kept his job. He was on the outs until his son-in-law, Rob Blago, became governor when the Combine realized Paul Vallas could make it and would be serious about ethical government. Politicians avoid ethical government the way Adrian Monk would avoid Paris Hilton.
I'm reminded of Zaphod Beeblebrox in The Hitch-Hiker's Guide To The Galaxy. He was Galactic President, but the actual guy running things was a mystery. The logic was, anyone that anxious to be President couldn't be trusted with the office. This is what is going through my mind as I see the field of people anxious to take over a city leveraged up to its eyeballs.
This is a disaster waiting to happen. Chicago is famously a floating city, and it's starting to list. Why would anyone want this job when everything is coming crashing together? Simple. Political power. Chicago still has a lot of fat cat contracts and revenue. Anyone taking the post is basically looking for leftovers after Daley and his buddies have left the table.
Daley made a mistake in waiting so long to make his announcement. The results are a fast election which will benefit people who already have name recognition, strong bases, and gobs and gobs of money. This worked out great for people like Tom Dart. Dart is the Cook County Sheriff and part of Daley's inner circle. He has a lot of connections.
Unfortunately, lots of others are sensing opportunity, and they are moving in.
Among the more interesting options is state Senator James Meeks. He is the pastor of the South Side's Salem Baptist Church. He's such an outsider, no one really mentions him in the same breath as someone like Dart, but with a congregation of 20,000, he can easily get a petition and throw his hat in the ring. He is to be ignored at own risk.
Daley says he isn't going to be a kingmaker. Bullshit. He is, he's just letting Barack Obama do the dirty work for him. Obama has said he isn't endorsing Rahm Emanuel for mayor, despite saying in an interview, "I think he would be an excellent mayor. "I think right now, as long as he is in the White House, he's critically focused on making sure that we're creating jobs for families around the country and rebuilding our economy. But I think he would be a terrific mayor." Does that sound like he's not endorsing anyone? Combine that with Obama's media strategist being a guy by the name of David Axelrod (formerly Daley's mouthpiece and longtime friend of Emanuel), and you can't figure anything else.
Rahm Emanuel is a real scrapper who the insiders refer to as "Rahmbo". Legend has it that once, naked in the Capitol Hill gym shower, he threatened a congressman. He's been part of Clinton's cabinet and now is Obama's chief of staff. Obama says he doesn't expect Emanuel to make a decision until after the November 2 mid-terms. That would leave him with just a few weeks to gather the 12,500 signature necessary. Assuming, of course, he isn't already doing it on the QT.
Madigan usually lets people come to him, reminding them he's the boss by taking his time to determine what crumbs they will get from him. Emanuel has enough money and connections to build a power base without him. Emanuel likes to be the boss. So does Madigan. If Emanuel manages to build voter support and get in as mayor, Illinois will become a political warland unlike any seen in a democracy before.
The delay in the decision is so Obama can test the wind after mid-terms. If he endorses Emanuel and he loses (several candidates Obama has endorsed have been reduced to roadkill), it continues the downward spiral of the President's influence, with his re-election just two years away. Presidents don't usually sweat the first two years because voters remember the second two years. Voters suddenly have longer memories and Obama wants to see what is happening. This can also cause a problem if Terry Peterson or James Meeks make an impact. They are both black. If Obama's choice, Emanuel, gets into a runoff with a black candidate, Obama will find himself in a PR pickle.
Dart is basically trying to leverage his Daley connections against Madigan. Madigan and Dart didn't get along very well when Dart was a member of the Illinois House. Between that and anti-Madigan sentiment, it could potentially work (Dennis Ahern is running for the D nomination for the 71st District, and he's painting himself as anti-Madigan and will not vote for him to remain House speaker. That being anti-Madigan is a viable campaign option tells you all you need to know.)
Of course, no one gives a shit about the R's, even though those locked out by the Combine are trying to make their own inroads. House Republican Leader Tom Cross (Oswego) is drumming up support for an eight point plan to reform how business is done in the Leg. Madigan is not looking at the gov race, since Quinn is a liability. Brady has taken an early lead, coming out swinging with campaign ads while Quinn was still on the starting blocks. It's looking like Brady will take the gov mansion. (This disturbs me. Brady's fanaticism to use Christianity to protect his heartlessness (opposing almost all forms of abortion) or his stupidity (he wants Creationism taught as Hard Science) makes me cringe. Much as I would love to see Illinois with licensed conceal carry, I don't like what else Brady brings to the table.)
There are nine possible runners -- Tom Dart, James Meeks, Luis Gutierrez, Jesse Jackson Jr., Rahm Emanuel, Gery Chico, Terry Peterson (board chairman of the CTA. Yeah, they know ALL about making a budget), Jim Houlihan, and Bob Fioretti. They are in a statistical dead heat. The names are listed in descending order. Dart has 12% of poll numbers, Fioretti has the other end at 3%, but "Don't Know" leads with 35%. I'm seeing Dart, Meeks, and Emanuel in my crystal ball.
In other words, three candidates defying the reigning warlord of Illinois who can actually get away with it.
Buckle up and watch the valuables, this going to be a bumpy ride.