Illinois Democrats kick off virtual convention: ‘These certainly are some strange circumstances’

The inscrutable, scandalized Democratic Party of Illinois Chairman Michael Madigan, also the Illinois House Speaker, spoke for all of 18 seconds, or 47 words.

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The unprecedented virtual Democratic Convention kicked off with an Illinois Delegation welcome reception. Speakers included L to R., row 1, Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar; Democratic Party of Illinois Chair Mike Madigan; Mayor Lori Lightfoot. row 2, Gov. J.B. Pritzker; Sen. Tammy Duckworth; Rep. Brad Schneider. row 3, Sen. Dick Durbin (with his grandson in the background); Rep. Danny Davis; party executive director Mary Morrissey.

Rich Hein


At the Sunday afternoon Democratic convention welcome reception for the Illinois delegation, one of the speakers, Minnesota’s Sen. Amy Klobuchar, said peering into her screen, “It’s a little bit like Hollywood Squares.”

For the first time in the history of the nation, the spreading COVID-19 pandemic is forcing the Democratic and Republican 2020 presidential nominating conventions to be mainly virtual. Instead of a party on convention eve in Milwaukee, 116 Illinois Democrats huddled together on Zoom for almost 90 minutes.

The inscrutable, scandalized Democratic Party of Illinois Chairman Michael Madigan, also the Illinois House speaker, spoke for all of 18 seconds, or 47 words, using 21 of them to introduce party executive director Mary Morrissey, who moderated the session.

The Democrats kick off their convention Monday night with Bernie Sanders and Michelle Obama delivering the closing arguments after a string of speakers including Klobuchar; Rep. Jim Clyburn of South Carolina; New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo; and Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.

I wouldn’t be surprised to see Lightfoot in a prime-time convention role.

Biden will accept the Democratic nomination Thursday, with President Donald Trump doing the same a week later at the Republican convention. Biden’s VP pick, California’s Sen. Kamala Harris, speaks Wednesday.

The virtual conventions — in the case of Democrats, with segments prerecorded — come as the nation is convulsed with pandemic-triggered health and economic crises and a racial reckoning sparked by the murder of George Floyd. The latest looming catastrophe — and you will hear about this at the Democratic convention — are post office delays with massive vote-by-mail balloting expected in the 2020 pandemic election.

Democratic convention planners will beam in people from all over the country, with Tuesday’s roll call to be a whirlwind tour of the nation’s states and territories. While the evening program will be two hours — with the networks only planning on televising the hour starting at 9 p.m. Chicago time, there will be events taking place virtually throughout the day.

Illinois Welcome Reception: ‘Some Strange Circumstances’

Madigan, who spoke from his Southwest Side 13th Ward headquarters, gets an unearned dividend from a virtual convention — no morning in-person Illinois delegation breakfast meetings where reporters would be working the room to find out if more Democrats wanted him to step down from his leadership roles because of the unfolding Commonwealth Edison scandal.

With Madigan barricaded behind a Zoom moat, diminishing overt local political drama, the welcome reception focused on defeating Trump in the next 79 days.

“These certainly are some strange circumstances,” said Illinois Senate President Don Harmon, sitting at the dining room table in his Oak Park home.

“He’s even trying to break the post office to stop us from voting,” Harmon said. “He may be trying to break us, but we will not let him.”

The Zoom session was a virtual bid to crank up the troops to beat Trump and elect down-ticket Illinois Democrats.

Klobuchar topped off comments from a string of the top Illinois Democrats: Besides Harmon, Mayor Lori Lightfoot; Rep. Brad Schneider; Rep. Danny Davis; Rep. Cheri Bustos; Gov. J.B. Pritzker; Sen. Dick Durbin, whom I’ve never seen in a black T-shirt — and whose grandson made a cameo — and Sen. Tammy Duckworth, who delivers a keynote address Thursday night after making the short list of Biden’s vice presidential picks.

“Let’s start with the obvious,” Pritzker said. “Donald Trump is utterly and completely incompetent.”

Lightfoot’s busy convention

Lightfoot is already booked for a variety of official and non-official events during the virtual convention, some live, others recorded.

On Monday, Lightfoot will be part of the Center for American Progress briefing on “Protecting the Integrity of the Election.”

During the day, the Democratic convention will hold a variety of virtual events for different special interest groups within the party. On Tuesday, Lightfoot, Chicago’s first openly gay mayor, speaks at the LGTBQ Caucus at 11:25 a.m. CT. At noon, she’s on a panel on COVID-19 and the economy.

At 2 p.m. CT, she will also be part of a celebration of the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, giving women the right to vote.

On Wednesday, in a prerecorded segment, Lightfoot addresses the Black Caucus at 2:10 p.m. CT.

At 5 p.m. CT, Lightfoot appears at an event for LPAC, a major lesbian Democratic political action committee.

On Thursday, Lightfoot will meet with the Poverty Caucus, starting at 11:30 a.m. CT. Before that, she will be part of the Milwaukee Host Committee’s Policy Roundtable discussion on election integrity starting at 11 a.m. CT.

At 6:30 p.m. CT, in a prerecorded appearance, Lightfoot will address the Victory Institute, which describes itself as a “national organization dedicated to elevating openly LGBTQ leaders who can further equality at all levels of government.” 

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