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Thursday, March 3, 2016 12:18 am

Can Gonzales defeat Madigan?

PHOTO BY ALAN SOLOMON/TNS
A name from the past has been leading the charge for Jason Gonzales’ Democratic primary campaign against Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan.

Blair Hull, the hugely wealthy but unsuccessful 2004 Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate, directly accounts for $100,000 of the $300,000 which the Illinois United for Change PAC has raised since late January (maybe double that, because it’s unclear who controls a company responsible for another $100K). The independent expenditure committee has so far reported spending money only on Gonzales.

I was able to reach Hull through an intermediary to ask him why he decided to get involved against his fellow Democrat Madigan in the primary. He would only communicate by e-mail, and didn’t respond to a follow-up question.

Hull said he believes Gonzales gives the state “an opportunity for a fresh start,” and predicted his candidate, an entrepreneur who received an MBA from MIT, would be a “true statesmen” in the General Assembly.

Speaker Madigan, Hull said, “is not a team player.” Madigan “does not cooperate well with others,” and gave as an example Madigan’s lone refusal out of all 50 state party chairmen to work with the national party on sharing voter information. Madigan, Hull said, “wanted to control the voter file because he wanted to control who was elected in the state of Illinois.” He said his view was “amplified” when he discovered that Madigan opposed same-day voter registration (although that is now state law with Madigan’s backing).

“This lack of cooperation and team work has led to the dismal condition of our state today,” Hull claimed. “I believe the state of Illinois and the legislature would be improved significantly without Michael Madigan.”

And with that, he politely signed off, saying he hoped what he said was helpful and looked forward to “speaking with you after March 16.” So, that’s that until after the March 15 primary, I suppose.

So far, Illinois United for Change has sent three mailers which have all said positive stuff about Gonzales. It’s widely expected that the group will go negative on Madigan soon, perhaps even by the time you read this.

Is it possible that Madigan could actually lose? Well, the Speaker appears to be working his district like that very thing could happen, which means he’s leaving no stone unturned. His own polling reportedly shows him ahead by a 6-1 margin but everybody is operating under the assumption that respondents may not be telling the truth.

Madigan has unleashed the hounds on Gonzales, dredging up some long ago arrests and a felony conviction, and even finding a letter from Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez that strongly argued against a gubernatorial pardon, which Gonzales eventually received. Gonzales’ campaign originally claimed Madigan had “lied” and the Alvarez quote was “faked,” but relented when I showed them the actual letter.

Four years ago, Madigan was challenged by another Latino candidate who was trumpeted by some in the media as a possible winner because his district is dominated by Latino-Americans. Madigan ended up winning that race by a huge margin. Gonzales is different, though, because the Latino candidate has far more money than anybody has ever had against Madigan.

Madigan received 9,860 votes in his contested 2012 Democratic primary out of 13,021 votes cast. His own 13th Ward accounted for 6,464 of those Madigan votes, out of 7,870 cast.

Madigan’s massive political organization backed Mayor Rahm Emanuel last year, and in the runoff Emanuel received 56 percent in Madigan’s 13th Ward to Cook County Commissioner Chuy Garcia’s 44 percent, which clearly shows that the ward’s Latino voters can be convinced to vote for a white incumbent against a credible Latino opponent. And the liberal Garcia is now supporting Madigan, which should help.

Much of Gonzales’ money is coming from folks who backed Gov. Bruce Rauner’s campaign, including Hull, who told the Chicago Sun-Times in 2014 that he contributed to Rauner because “I admire wealthy people who want to serve… People who are wealthy can really do what they believe; they can push for the right reforms.”

Gov. Rauner is horribly unpopular in Chicago and among suburban Democrats, so it’s difficult to see how Gonzales can pull this off if Madigan continues the attack by tying Gonzales to the Republican governor. It’s not a huge stretch to suggest, for some Democrats, that’s almost as bad as a felony conviction – and maybe worse in some households.

I suppose stranger things have happened, though, which is what is pushing Madigan so hard.

Contact Bruce Rushton at brushton@illinoistimes.com.

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