Illinois Democrats display united front — at least on hopes Chicago will host 2024 convention

DNC Chair Jaime Harrison’s visit to Chicago comes as U.S. Rep. Robin Kelly faces opposition as chair of the Democratic Party of Illinois, with advisers to Gov. J.B. Pritzker and Illinois House Speaker Emanuel “Chris” Welch recruiting state Rep. Elizabeth Hernandez, D-Cicero, to replace her.

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Flanked by other elected officials and representatives from the Democratic National Committee, Mayor Lori Lightfoot urges the DNC to choose Chicago for its 2024 convention.

Flanked by other elected officials and representatives from the Democratic National Committee, Mayor Lori Lightfoot urges the DNC to choose Chicago for its 2024 convention.

Ashlee Rezin/Chicago Sun-Times

Democratic leaders on Tuesday touted Chicago’s diversity, ability to attract union-friendly jobs and “unified leadership” in their pitch to secure the 2024 Democratic National Convention — despite an intramural feud over who should lead the state’s own party apparatus.

DNC Chair Jaime Harrison’s visit to Chicago comes as U.S. Rep. Robin Kelly faces opposition as chair of the Democratic Party of Illinois, with advisers to Gov. J.B. Pritzker and Illinois House Speaker Emanuel “Chris” Welch recruiting state Rep. Elizabeth Hernandez, D-Cicero, to replace her.

But Pritzker downplayed the intraparty battle, claiming “we’re all standing here in unison, standing up for a Democratic convention for Chicago and for the state of Illinois.” The Democratic Party of Illinois plans to vote on its chair on Saturday in Springfield, creating some unfortunate timing for the DNC visit.

Harrison joined the DNC’s convention site selection team at a glitzy West Loop news conference, with the Willis Tower in full sight, Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White and his tumblers in tow, and Pritzker, Kelly and Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot making their pitch for the city to host the 2024 convention.

Harrison also planned to attend a state party fundraiser at Navy Pier and a roundtable with labor leaders touting the city’s union-friendly hotels. United Center — site of the city’s last national party convention in 1996 — is among the places the team is visiting.

“We have and will continue to spend a lot of time talking about why Chicago is the only choice and a place where the DNC can truly shine,” Lightfoot said.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker and Mayor Lori Lightfoot chat after Tuesday’s news conference.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker and Mayor Lori Lightfoot chat after Tuesday’s news conference.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

“These reasons include our city’s experience hosting major large scale events every year, not episodically, but every single year all year round, our world class infrastructure and strategic Midwestern location, our unified leadership and so much more.”

That “unified” remark raised some eyebrows, with Kelly standing inches from the governor who is trying to oust her as chair of the state party. After the event, Kelly told reporters a slightly different tale.

“Any division doesn’t help, but hopefully we can rise above it,” Kelly said. “Because as I said, we are united on this [convention] and we promote the governor, we promote the statehouse and we promote Democrats on the federal level every day.”

U.S. Rep. Jesus “Chuy” Garcia and Gov. J.B. Pritzker look on as U.S. Rep. Robin Kelly speaks during a news conference on Tuesday morning.

U.S. Rep. Jesus “Chuy” Garcia and Gov. J.B. Pritzker look on as U.S. Rep. Robin Kelly speaks during a news conference on Tuesday morning.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Kelly was elected party chair in March 2021 to replace former state House Speaker Mike Madigan, who was indicted on federal racketeering and bribery charges earlier this year. Madigan had served as state party chair since 1998.

The Pritzker team objects to Kelly as chair because as a federally elected official she is subject to strict fundraising rules and contribution caps that restrict her ability to raise and spend money for non-federal candidates. But Kelly’s allies say she can function as state chair while avoiding legal problems over fundraising.

After 33 years of a state party led by Madigan, a Pritzker pick would be a show of political strength for the Democratic governor.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker speaks during Tuesday’s news conference.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker speaks during Tuesday’s news conference.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Beyond the state party drama, Chicago is vying for the convention against New York, Atlanta and Houston. Harrison said the DNC is looking for “a city that represents the Democratic Party’s values: “diversity, inclusion, opportunity.”

Harrison said he has also told the four cities he needs a “turnkey operation.”

“I don’t want people going out into the hinterlands trying to find their hotel,” Harrison said. “We need them to all be there. We don’t need to have big traffic confusion and all that. I need it all to work. I want the attention to be 100% to be on Joe Biden, Kamala Harris and the Democratic Party.”

The DNC chair downplayed whether it is more politically advantageous for Democrats to hold the 2024 convention in a state that is not traditionally blue, such as Texas or Georgia.

“I don’t buy — I know many of the pundits often talk about the impact politically that it has on things. We held the convention in Charlotte, and we didn’t win North Carolina that year,” Harrison said.

Flanked by Illinois elected officials and supporters, Democratic National Committee Chair Jaime Harrison speaks during a news conference on the Near West Side Tuesday morning.

Flanked by Illinois elected officials and supporters, Democratic National Committee Chair Jaime Harrison speaks during a news conference on the Near West Side Tuesday morning.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times file

“Bottom line is about the show. It’s about putting on the best show possible on the ground, but also on television. Painting the picture and demonstrating why. And it’s about the story of why Democrats need to be in leadership. So I don’t subscribe to that. I want to go to the city and I want to select the city for the president.”

Harrison visited New York last week, as Democratic leaders touted the city’s economic recovery and “resiliency” as reasons they should host the convention.

Pritzker, who last week tested positive for COVID-19, told reporters he’s testing negative and recovering from several days of a mild fever and a bit of a cough.

The Democratic governor, who has delivered political speeches in New Hampshire and Florida that have sparked speculation about his own presidential aspirations, was asked by the Sun-Times if he’s had any conversations with Harrison about a potential run.

“Oh God, no,” Pritzker said with a laugh. “But thanks for asking.”

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