SPRINGFIELD — Bill Daley jabbed at Gov. Pat Quinn, Quinn vowed he would win a another term, and state Democratic Party chairman Michael Madigan was a no-show, seemingly indifferent to the fact Wednesday was supposed to be a Democratic rally day at the Illinois State Fair heading into the 2014 elections.
Governor’s Day was a mostly low-voltage affair spread between a hotel brunch and an afternoon picnic, except for a few one-liners and Daley’s insistence that Democrats couldn’t hold onto the Executive Mansion next year if Quinn is their gubernatorial nominee.
“I respect Pat Quinn. He’s a decent guy, and as has been stated before, he’s a heck of a White Sox fan,” Daley told about 1,300 party loyalists at a brunch of Democratic Party County Chairmen’s Association brunch. “But just like the White Sox, we will not win if we do not make change.”
Later, Quinn let Daley’s comments roll off his back, blithely telling reporters, “I think they were nice remarks.”
That was in keeping with Quinn’s apparent strategy to deprive his 2014 primary challenger or any other potential rivals of a platform beyond the morning brunch to go on the attack against the governor’s record after nearly one-and-a-half terms in office.
Last year marked one of the more theatric Governor’s Days in recent memory, with angry union protestors flooding the fairgrounds and showering boos and heckles upon Quinn for withholding promised raises, wanting to reel in their pension benefits and closing state facilities.
But this year, Quinn retooled the traditional afternoon fairground rally so no one gave speeches but the governor himself, and admission was closely monitored to keep a lid on any potential protestors. A few hundred Quinn supporters showed up at his picnic to hear live rock and rhythm-and-blues music, but virtually no Democratic lawmakers and no statewide officeholders attended.
“Anything but last year,” one Quinn aide confided. “You can’t rain on this parade.”
The governor has been on a political rebound, of sorts, since Attorney General Lisa Madigan withdrew from a 2014 run against him last month, emboldening him Wednesday to predict he could defeat Daley or possible challenger state Sen. Kwame Raoul (D-Chicago) in a primary.
“I can win any election,” Quinn said.
“I was given a 9-percent chance of winning in the general election, and I won,” the governor said, harkening back to his 2010 race against state Sen. Bill Brady (R-Bloomington), “and Brady is still looking for his gym shoes. I think that’s the way we’re going to do it again.”
Raoul has quietly been positioning himself the past several weeks for a potential run against Quinn, drawing counsel from Senate President John Cullerton (D-Chicago), who has sued the governor over his move to strip lawmakers of their salaries because of legislative inertia on pension reform.
Raoul, a Hyde Park/Kenwood Democrat, didn’t have a formal speaking role at the county chairmen’s brunch but presided over a gaggle of reporters later to verify his interest in the race but stress he hasn’t made up his mind about it.
Raoul said he personally likes Quinn but poked at Quinn’s leadership skills.
“The job of governor entails more than just using a pen to sign bills. It involves leadership, and rolling up your sleeves and engaging the Legislature, not just throwing arrows and rocks at the Legislature,” Raoul said.
“It’s a different style of leadership than I’m accustomed to,” he said.
In his own speech at the Wednesday brunch, Cullerton made a passing reference to Quinn only once during his remarks and told attendees there is “nothing wrong” with having a primary in 2014.
“We’re not dysfunctional because we have primaries,” Cullerton said.
Nonetheless, there was a hint or two of dysfunction along the way Wednesday, including from state Sen. Andy Manar (D-Bunker Hill), who delivered one of day’s more memorable lines by telling brunch attendees they apparently missed “getting the memo” from the governor’s office.
“You’re not allowed to eat until there’s pension reform,” Manar quipped, setting off a few groans in the audience as they ate. “Just kidding.”
Missing all day was the state party leader, House Speaker Michael Madigan (D-Chicago), who seemed to disappear into a political Bermuda Triangle. No one was really clear on where the chairman of the Democratic Party of Illinois was or why he chose not to show up.
Alan Pirtle, the president of the Democratic County Chairman’s Association, offered no explanation, other than to tell brunch attendees that Madigan “sends his regards and his regrets.”
A Madigan spokesman ignored an email from the Chicago Sun-Times seeking clarification on the speaker’s missing-in-action status.
“I don’t know why he isn’t here,” Quinn said, when asked about the state party chairman’s unexplained absence. “But I talked to him this week, and I think he’s fired up and ready to go for 2014.”
Had he shown, Madigan likely would have been peppered with questions about the patronage scandal at Metra in which he plays a key role and on the interactions he had with his daughter, the attorney general, before she pulled the plug on a 2014 gubernatorial bid.
For her part, the attorney general dodged reporters, declining to answer questions as she arrived at a Springfield hotel where the brunch took place and leaving before the event had finished. She delivered a short speech that made no reference to her decision not to run for governor.