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Thursday, Sept. 16, 2010 03:31 pm

Contest for Chicago mayor a historic opportunity

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Richard M. Daley’s decision not to seek reelection means Chicago will see its first open seat race for mayor since 1947.
PHOTO BY CHRIS WALKER/MCT


Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley’s stunning decision to step down at the end of this term has at least temporarily sucked almost all the oxygen out of Illinois politics and focused just about everyone’s attention on an extremely rare open seat contest. 

There hasn’t been an open seat race for mayor since 1947, when Ed Kelly stepped aside so the Machine could endorse reformer Martin Kennelly. Richard J. Daley defeated Kennelly in the 1955 primary, and the rest is history. This upcoming open seat race is just about the rarest Illinois political event most of us have seen in our lifetimes. 

Since this race is so unique, one of the big worries of state Democrats is that groups allied with them could decide to husband their resources in anticipation of an all-out Chicago war next February. The mayor’s race will cost a fortune, and several aldermanic seats look to be in contention. Most of the same big groups who play statewide will also be extremely interested in holding sway over Chicago. 

Some top union officials consulted last week said they had no plans at all to alter their November budgets, with one even saying that his union would borrow money if it needed the cash to compete in the mayor’s race. 

However, if Gov. Pat Quinn can’t get his act together and make this battle with Republican Bill Brady a reasonably close contest, then there may be no reason to toss money down the drain with him. Better to save the cash for the city contest.

White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel was perhaps the most prominently featured potential candidate in last week’s speculation. The former congressman and Clinton White House official has long been a Daley favorite. 

Emanuel reportedly won’t announce a decision until after the Nov. 2 election. That means he and the rest of the White House could be hugely damaged by the national (and Illinois) election results, so we’ll have to see how this plays out. 

An Emanuel run might mean more White House focus on his home state. That could be helpful to Illinois Democrats, particularly Gov. Quinn and U.S. Senate nominee Alexi Giannoulias. If those two do poorly in Chicago and the White House wasn’t perceived as being “all in,” Emanuel will start out with a significant local handicap. Add to that any blame he gets for the party’s national losses and he’ll be seriously damaged goods – and his opponents will undoubtedly use that against him. 

Attorney General Lisa Madigan has long been thought of as a potential mayoral contender, but she seems satisfied right where she is, at least for now. Madigan passed on an opportunity for U.S. Senate and governor last year, saying she thoroughly enjoyed her job. Madigan is the most popular politician in Illinois and would enjoy union support that might not coalesce behind Emanuel, who is not known for being a pro-union member of President Barack Obama’s administration. 

Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart, a former state legislator, signaled his openness to a run last week. Dart is a popular, capable politician who enjoys a strong base of support. He’s greatly expanded that base by protecting homeowners facing foreclosure, crusading against online prostitution advertising and being featured in a national cable series about Cook County Jail. 

Comptroller Dan Hynes was reportedly approached by unions months ago about preparing for a run, but many don’t expect Hynes to jump in after losing his second statewide primary race. State Sen. James Meeks has talked about higher office for years, but has never pulled the trigger. 

There are just too many more names to delve into right now. Keep in mind that this is a nonpartisan primary with a runoff if no candidate receives at least 50 percent plus one. The contest will be who can get into that runoff, which means that a whole host of folks could think they might make it. 

The business community will undoubtedly be more than a bit freaked out about losing the stability and friendship of Daley, so expect them to back a candidate. The runoff calculation and the current national mood means that even some Republicans are musing about their chances at making the final cut. Millionaire Ron Gidwitz was just one of the names mentioned last week. Gidwitz is chairing Bill Brady’s gubernatorial campaign. 

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