Thursday, August 6, 2009



Illinois State Comptroller Dan Hynes, while not yet formally announcing a gubernatorial bid, sent a letter to supporters today confirming that he is indeed running for governor. Such tap dancing (or, in the case of Mr. Hynes, step dancing, one guesses) around bids for public office has become all the rage; for example, note Chris Kennedy’s as yet unannounced and unofficial, but very real, bid for President Obama’s old U.S. senate seat. But I digress.

Dan Hynes is an impressive and serious young man (See my 6/24/09 post, “THE KID IS ALRIGHT”) who would make a good governor, but his challenge to Governor Quinn (no relation) puzzles me. While Governor Quinn is antagonizing plenty of voters with his far from dead plan for a brobdingnagian increase in the state income tax and Illinoisans are growing tired of Mr. Quinn’s penchant for gratuitous, even for a politician, grandstanding, it is very difficult to challenge an incumbent of one’s own party in a primary for any political office. (See my already seminal 7/9/09 post, “THE STATE REMAINS HER OYSTER,” for background on Mike Howlett and Carol Moseley Braun, the only Illinois two pols in recent memory who successfully challenged incumbents for statewide office. Both achieved their victories, over Governor Dan Walker and Senator Alan Dixon, respectively, under unusual, to say the least, circumstances.) This will be especially true in the case of Governor Quinn, who, by the time he runs for reelection in 2010, will have held office less than two years after ascending to that high post in the wake of the defenestration of the abominable Rod Blagojevich. The “man on the white horse” veneer, while well worn, will not have completely worn off by then. Further, Quinn should continue to get press like this, from today’s Chicago Sun-Times:

Quinn, 60, has spent decades building a reputation as an advocate for taxpayers, a reformer, and an outsider—the man who founded the Citizens Utility Board and cut the state legislature by a third.

Advocate for taxpayers? How does raising our taxes by up to 66% amount to being an “advocate” for us? Cutting the legislature by a third, history has shown, has been the single most debilitating act in the history of Illinois government. CUB has served primarily, some would say only, as a vehicle for Mr. Quinn’s political and personal aggrandizement. Yet, Mr. Quinn remains St. Patrick to the media; it’s hard to see how that will change between now and November, 2010.

Further, given the way things work in this state, one has to think someone gave young Mr. Hynes permission to challenge Governor Quinn. That someone would have to be one, some combination of, or all of the following:

-Mayor Daley
-Tom Hynes, who is Dan Hynes’ father and former committeeman of the 19th Ward, from which both I and Mr. Hynes hail, who remains a political powerhouse in the Ward and in the city
-Jerry Joyce, former alderman and State Senator from the 19th Ward who remains a, if not THE, major political power in the Ward
-Mike Sheahan, former 19th Ward alderman and Cook County Sheriff, ally of Jerry Joyce, and huge power in the 19th
-Jim “Skinny” Sheahan, political operative from the 19th, to whom some attribute the political success of his brother, Mike, Jerry Joyce, and possibly Rich Daley
-maybe Tom Dart, Cook County sheriff, protégé of Mike Sheahan, and rising political power city and county wide
-a cabal of southwest side ward committeemen, including Matt O’Shea, committeeman of the 19th ward, with perhaps a few North Side committeemen and southwest suburban Township Committeemen thrown in for good measure.

All of the above are very smart politicians and doubtless are aware of the difficulty Dan Hynes would have unseating the governor and the advantages of keeping young Mr. Hynes in the Comptroller’s office, which he would have to forego in a run for governor. Further, while none of the above can work up much of a sweat over Governor Quinn, the Governor has been around a long time and knows how to play ball. The Organization guys have learned how to, depending on whom one believes, live with or emasculate Pat Quinn. They also know that, with the state in such poor fiscal shape, it’s better to have an outsider, on whom one can pin the blame, in office when those financial problems are being addressed, almost surely in politically painful ways.

Perhaps more important, one of that cabal of southwest side committeemen from whom Mr. Hynes would need approval would be none other than primus inter pares Mike Madigan, Illinois House Speaker, 13th Ward Committeeman, and the best in the business. Since Mr. Madigan’s daughter Lisa is probably planning a run for governor in 2014 (See my already seminal 7/9/09 post, “THE STATE REMAINS HER OYSTER.”) and would like to run against a by then weakened Pat Quinn, it is hard to see Mike Madigan supporting a challenge to Mr. Quinn by a talented and likeable young man, and hence tougher opponent for Lisa, like Dan Hynes.

Similarly puzzling is the scuttlebutt I am hearing about Kevin Joyce’s, state representative and Jerry Joyce’s son, challenging Congressman Dan Lipinski in the 2010 Democratic primary in the 3rd Congressional district. (This may be more than scuttlebutt; it might be common knowledge, but I haven’t seen it in the papers.) While many in the 3rd district do not feel warm and fuzzy about Dan Lipinski both because they feel, with plenty of justification, that he is a carpetbagger and because they find him too conservative, or at least too willing to work with Republicans, for the tastes of most mainstream Democrats (though one would think that, in the lunch pail Democrat 3rd district, his relative conservatism would be a big plus for Congressman Lipinski), a Joyce challenge not only would be a case of challenging an incumbent of one’s own party in the primary, but also would represent a battle of the 19th ward, and Jerry Joyce’s kid, against the 23rd Ward, and Bill Lipinski’s kid. It would also fracture the Polish/Irish alliance that has been so successful both in the 3rd district and in the city in general. If young Mr. Joyce does go through with a challenge to young Mr. Lipinski (and, implicitly, old(er) Mr. Joyce goes through with a challenge to old(er) Mr. Lipinski), this would be all out war. While, even in the case of such a thermonuclear conflict, the GOP has no chance in this district, it would not be at all good for the Democratic Party in Illinois and one would think that the powers that be would put the kibosh on the ambitions of young Mr. Joyce and young Mr. Hynes.

There could be two possible reasons that the challenges, actual and possible, of Messrs. Hynes and Joyce might make sense. First, they could be part of the same deal, a deal that neighboring committeemen have made with the increasing powerful, and hence scary, to them, 19th Ward. The deal would run along the line of “We’ll back your boy for governor if you keep your other boy away from our Congressman. Deal?” Such a deal would contain a deliciously Machiavellian twist for Mike Madigan. It would not only keep his friend and neighbor Bill Lipinski’s kid in office, but it also might throw an at least temporary monkey wrench into the career of Dan Hynes, an obvious challenger to any ambition Lisa Madigan may have. Mike Madigan knows how tough a Hynes challenge to Quinn would be and thus that such a challenge is likely to fail. Not only would Hynes be humiliated politically, but he would lose the Comptroller’s office, his platform for moving up the political ladder, and the 19th Ward would be taken down a notch. Mr. Madigan, being the pragmatic politician he is, has worked well with the 19th over the years and he certainly feels a cultural affinity for his fellow South Side Irish who dominate that ward. However, he can’t be happy to see the 19th accumulating so much power. As an ambitious and smart politician, he can’t help but think such concentration of power has been coming at the expense of his 13th, and possibly John Daley’s 11th, wards. Even allies can get uneasy about each other.

Perhaps this is all nonsense. Perhaps the Organization is dead. We all know that the Cook County Regular Democratic Organization, as a formal entity, is moribund. (Even I, something of a student of these things, had forgotten that Joe Berrios is now the head of the Cook County Regular Democratic Organization; I had to look it up on the internet. There was never any doubt who was in charge when, say, Tony Cermak, Pat Nash, Jake Arvey, Richard J. Daley, George Dunne, or Ed Vrdolyak ran the County political machinery. Even Tom Lyons was recognizable in that post.) Maybe the Mayor is telling the truth when he says he does not get involved in Democratic primary politics. Perhaps he and his political braintrust, Tim Degnan and Jerry Joyce, never get together and plot political strategy but only get together in the interest of good and effective governance. Maybe committeemen like Mike Madigan, John Daley, Joe Berrios, and Matt O’Shea don’t spend time, inside or outside the formal machinery of the County Regular Democratic Organization, discussing which horses to back in the various primaries and really can’t deliver, as the media sometimes like to tell us, even if they did. Perhaps the Mayor never sends representatives to such meeting, which may or may not take place. If this is the case, Mr. Hynes is freelancing, figuring that his $3mm campaign war chest, can help him in the, as Al Neri would put it, “difficult, not impossible” task of unseating a new incumbent governor who sports a media installed halo, and Mr. Joyce is counting on the district’s discontent with Dan Lipinski, and Jerry Joyce’s prodigious fundraising ability, to topple an incumbent Congressman of his own party.

Maybe all that is true, and there is no “Organization,” no “they,” to bring order to the chaos that would result from a Hynes challenge to Quinn and a Joyce challenge to Lipinski. But I still like the former explanation (a deal between the 19th Ward and the rest of the 3rd congressional district’s wards involving Dan Lipinski, Dan Hynes, and Kevin Joyce, a deal that could work out very well for the Madigans) more. Or maybe there is a third possibility: Mr. Hynes moved too fast without the proper authorization, and someone, perhaps Dan Hynes’ own dad, will take him out to the woodshed and tell him to stay where he is for the good of the Organization that has been so good to all these families.

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