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Thursday, Oct. 1, 2009 07:37 am

Look who’s Pat Quinn’s new best friend

Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley

Gov. Pat Quinn brought out one of the biggest Democratic Party guns possible last week in his latest fight with Comptroller Dan Hynes.

As you already know, Hynes is running against Gov. Quinn for the Democratic nomination. Hynes recently refused to process several million dollars worth of state payments for tourism programs and various consulting contracts. Hynes said he’ll pay them only if Gov. Quinn insists that they are vital to the state’s interests.

So, Quinn held a press conference with Mayor Daley last week. Daley and Quinn were preparing to leave for Denmark for the final push to bring the Olympic games to Chicago.

The event was billed as a basic “rah rah” for Illinois tourism and the Olympics.

“This press conference is on that alone,” Daley warned reporters during his prepared remarks. “Just more tourists and more conventions into the city.”

But, as with just about everything in this state, no gubernatorial press conference is ever purely about government. And with Hynes’ recent action, the governor’s media event took on a decidedly campaign feel — with Quinn having all the clout on his side.  

What about Hynes’ refusal to pay those tourism bills, the governor was asked. “Well, y’know, that’s politics,” Quinn said with no little irritation.

“This is serious, this is all about jobs. I work with Mayor Daley every day, and I have since I was sworn in.” Quinn then turned the gush spigot on full blast about his new bestest buddy. “I want to thank the mayor publicly. The day I got sworn in, he called and he was there to help me in a tough time for our whole state of Illinois.”

Daley himself chimed in about the controversy without prompting. “You just can’t sit back and say, ‘They’re gonna come to the City of Chicago.’ It doesn’t work that way.” Daley then returned the governor’s favor by praising the event’s host. “I think that Gov. Quinn has realized that, that you... really have to work to try to get the conventions here,” Daley said.

Hynes didn’t back down. He demanded again that Quinn resubmit the bills for processing.

Quinn didn’t back away, either. The governor said he won’t resubmit the bills to the comptroller’s office, adding that Hynes ought to just do the job he was elected to.

Unfortunately for Hynes, the politics of the event is far more important than the actual issue.

Anyone who has watched Mayor Daley knows he rarely makes these sorts of public appearances. He almost never overtly endorses anyone in primaries, particularly statewide primaries. But, Daley’s presence at an event which was ostensibly governmental but overtly political had the impact of all but endorsing Quinn against Hynes. The fact that Daley spoke up and denounced an attempt to hurt tourism should send chills through the Hynes campaign.

One doesn’t mess with two things in Chicago if one hopes to thrive. Up until recently, the only off-limits topic was the patronage-rich O’Hare Airport. But, the city’s Olympics bid was added several months ago to Daley’s “Do Not Touch” short-list. To mix my metaphors, Hynes has stepped on a third rail. He should’ve known better.

And that brings us to the inherent irony in this primary battle.

On the one hand we have Dan Hynes, who was brought up in, and brought to the political dance by one of the most influential Machine households in Chicago. That same guy has asked that he not be endorsed by the Cook County Democratic Party and has quickly found himself on the wrong side of Mayor Daley.

On the other hand, we have Pat Quinn, who railed against the Machine for years and was, in turn, despised by that very Machine. He just won the Cook County Democratic endorsement and then held hands with Mayor Daley at a very public love fest.

Right now, anyway, Quinn actually looks more believable in this bizarre role-reversal than Hynes, mainly because he has all the advantages of incumbency. At the moment, Hynes just looks like somebody who is making excuses for why he can’t win, and is picking fights that, for the moment, are making him more enemies than friends.

Rich Miller publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter, and thecapitolfaxblog.com.
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