If you were running as a progressive candidate for governor, there would be many people you could try to woo to your side.
Larry Dominick — the Republican president of the Town of Cicero — probably wouldn’t be too high on the list. Assuming you’d want to be seen with him at all.
Tell that to J.B. Pritzker, the billionaire Hyatt hotels heir seeking the Democratic nomination for Illinois governor by promoting his “progressive record.”
A week after joining the race, Pritzker pitched his candidacy to Dominick and a group of other suburban elected officials and other power players on Thursday. They met at the offices of Michael Del Galdo, the attorney for Cicero and many other suburbs.
Reporters weren’t notified. The campaign didn’t tweet about it. But there was quite the cast of local political establishment characters waiting for Pritzker there.
Let’s start with Dominick. If you define “progressive” as having anything to do with good government, you might not consider this history to be very progressive:
• Dominick placed more than 20 family members on the town payroll, including his mother, his sister, his brother-in-law, his wife and the mother of his son’s child.
• The feds sent subpoenas last year for documents regarding Cicero contracts with Dominick campaign contributors.
• Cicero paid big to settle sexual harassment accusations against Dominick, shelling out $500,000 in a 2011 case and $675,000 another time, in 2013.
“Is this fake news?” Dominick asked me as he left the Pritzker event, after the host had ejected me. “I’m real.”
I asked what he really thought of Pritzker.
“Seems like a great man,” Dominick said, quickly shutting the door of an SUV owned by the Town of Cicero.
Many of the others at the meeting with Pritzker have close ties to Illinois House Speaker and Democratic Party boss Mike Madigan, another name you can hardly equate with progressivism. The state’s Republicans have sought to link Pritzker to Madigan.
Cook County Commissioner Ed Moody — for decades a famously effective precinct captain in Madigan’s Southwest Side ward organization — left the meeting Thursday with a “J.B.” sticker on the lapel of his suit coat. Moody said he’s “100 percent” with Pritzker because “we’ve got to get rid of this Rauner.”
Also meeting with Pritzker was Madigan ally Steve Landek, the Bridgeview mayor and state senator.
In a statement sent later Thursday, a Pritzker spokeswoman said “of course J.B. has had conversations” with Madigan about the race.
But state Democratic Party spokesman Steve Brown said Madigan has not picked a favorite in the governor’s race.
Near the end of the 90-minute-long meeting with Pritzker, Thornton Township Democratic boss Frank Zuccarelli arrived fashionably late, in a vehicle registered to the township.
The last governor, Pat Quinn, got flak from fellow Democrats for trying to engineer a plum Chicago Transit Authority board spot for Zuccarelli.
And it wasn’t just elected officials at the Pritzker event. Lobbyist Al Ronan was there, too, maneuvering his black Cadillac with the “R” vanity plate into one of the closest spots to the door. Ronan’s company — though not Ronan himself — admitted guilt in a 2004 in a bid-rigging scheme at McCormick Place.
I couldn’t tell you what Pritzker told all these guys Thursday. Del Galdo ushered me out of his offices on Harlem Avenue almost as soon as I walked in.
“I don’t mean to be rude — this is a private event,” Del Galdo said.
He walked me to the door, all but stepping on my heels in his zeal to make sure I found my way back out as quickly as possible.
The flash of some camera bulbs was all I could make out from outside, through the glass-block windows of the conference room where Pritzker stumped.
Maybe he talked about the “need to stand up for progressive values.” That’s what he tweeted after his appearance last weekend at the Resistance Fair in Chicago, where you’d find plenty of progressives.
“It’s just some mayors,” Pritzker told me when he left the event in Berwyn, adding that he was in a hurry to get to his next campaign stop.
I asked what a progressive candidate like him was doing with the likes of Dominick and Ronan.
“I’m trying to meet everybody at all levels,” Pritzker said.
Considering his great wealth, potential backers who are truly progressive might hope Pritzker manages to build support without going to certain levels.