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A look at the future

Tuesday, Mar 10, 2009

* My weekly syndicated newspaper column takes a look at last week’s election and what it means for Illinois’ future, if anything

Can the votes of a handful of Chicago and Cook County residents change Illinois? We are about to find out.

Winning 22 percent of the vote is not usually considered an overwhelming mandate, but winners write the history books. And Democrat Mike Quigley’s congressional primary victory last week is already being touted as an occasion worthy of at least a chapter.

Quigley, a Cook County commissioner, defeated 11 candidates, including two state legislators, to win the 5th Congressional District special primary election a week ago with 12,100 votes. His smart, well-managed campaign was vastly outspent by his top two opponents.

Quigley successfully tapped into rising voter anger in the wake of impeached Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s arrest, Roland Burris’ U.S. Senate appointment and, most importantly, Cook County Board President Todd Stroger’s tax hikes and innumerable missteps.

This is not rocket science. Freshman Rep. Mark Walker (D-Arlington Heights) spent several months last year carrying a petition from door to door against Stroger’s tax hikes. Stroger and Blagojevich were the objects of attack by both parties last year, quite often with success. And with the economy in freefall, voters are even more sensitive to tax increases than before.

For whatever reason, no other top tier Democratic candidate used these potent issues until it was too late. Quigley went into the race leading in all the polls partly because he was widely seen as a Stroger nemesis and a budget hawk. He sent out early, unanswered and well-done direct mail that burnished his reputation further. His twin newspaper endorsements, based mainly on his independence and anti-Stroger and anti-tax ways, made it impossible for one of his opponents to tie him to Stroger with a last-minute TV ad.

The election was the first time Democratic voters have had an opportunity to express their outrage at the dismal state of their party’s affairs. The humiliation many Democrats have suffered after the ecstasy of Barack Obama’s win apparently proved too much to bear.

The two candidates most closely affiliated with the regular organization received a combined 29 percent of the vote. Quigley even won some wards that “reformers” normally don’t, and finished a close second in several more.

In other words, the vast majority of Democrats told their precinct captains “no.” That doesn’t happen too often, to say the least. Several people who walked precincts last week reported witnessing a tangible anger at the doors. Quigley was the only candidate who really expressed any outrage at the current situation, and it worked.

So, is Quigley’s win the start of something new or just a fluke? Well, the district does include some of the more liberal areas of Chicago. And, of course, this was a special election, not the “real” thing. But the serious mistakes by those in charge are coinciding with an obvious decline in the regular organization’s strength.

Precinct captains are getting older and are less motivated since their jobs and promotions are no longer on the line. This isn’t universal. Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan’s organization is still strong, as are others.

The far more serious problem is that the Machine has foisted too many candidates on voters - such as Stroger and Blagojevich - who have thoroughly repulsed the electorate. The organization is rapidly losing its credibility.

Even if this is not a shift, politicians are sure to take notice, particularly state legislators who are likely to face a tax hike vote within weeks. Quigley brutally attacked two of his state legislator opponents for supporting a small local sales tax hike to bail out public transit agencies.

Gov. Pat Quinn is probably closer to Quigley in populist temperament and ideology than anyone, but he, too, is faced with the uncomfortable task of raising revenues in what appears to be an increasingly hostile environment. Some voters might have ignored Stroger’s perceived incompetence if it wasn’t for the fact that his incompetence was subsidized by tax hikes.

Maybe voters will calm down by next year. Or not. Stroger appears set to run for re-election, so he’ll be a constant reminder of the Democratic Party’s mistakes.

Blagojevich’s new “tell all” book is expected to arrive on newsstands by then, accompanied by yet another national media tour. And then there are the potential state tax increases, which won’t help matters much.

That angry fire could spread and burn a while longer.


- Posted by Rich Miller        

  1. - Steve - Tuesday, Mar 10, 09 @ 8:03 am:

    Is Mike Quigley’s win less than meets the eye? Assuming Quigley will become Congressman(defeating the Republican) but for how long? With census numbers showing that Illinois could lose a Congressional seat in northern Illinois: one would think that Quigley district is possibly going to change and Quigley’s seat could be gone.The machine bosses got rid of Quigley on the Cook County board(with a more tax friendly Democrat possibly) and now they might get rid of him by the Census bureau numbers coming in 2010.Just something to think about.

  2. - Amy - Tuesday, Mar 10, 09 @ 8:18 am:

    the district in jeopardy, as pointed out on this board in the past few days, is the district of aaron schock.

  3. - George - Tuesday, Mar 10, 09 @ 8:38 am:

    Steve - don’t you think a seat more likely to be eliminated would be a Republican one?

    Just guessing…

  4. - 618er - Tuesday, Mar 10, 09 @ 8:52 am:

    Wouldn’t it truly be interesting if our president o change pushed for computer generated, census based federal districts……

  5. - wordslinger - Tuesday, Mar 10, 09 @ 9:03 am:

    The failures of the north side ward organizations and the unions to drum up a turnout was the most interesting revelation of the election. Paper tigers.

  6. - Dog the Bounty Hunter - Tuesday, Mar 10, 09 @ 9:06 am:

    Wordslinger - where did Fritchey’s 9,600 votes come from? I don’t think you should make assumptions about labor’s effort in this race until there’s a breakdown of how union households voted in the district.

  7. - Steve - Tuesday, Mar 10, 09 @ 9:13 am:


    You could be right but you never know how or why they’ll draw the lines in Springfield.So,you could be right.I throw that up,because this may be the best way to get rid of Quigley(for Machine Democrats).Quigley’s a lot for effective than a Republican,right now.

  8. - fedup dem - Tuesday, Mar 10, 09 @ 9:31 am:

    Quigley’s election will turn into a fluke once party bosses name an absolutely loyal Daley-Stroger lackey to replace Quigley on the Cook County Board, giving Stroger & Co. a 9-8 majority on the board until the 2010 general election.

    By the way, most of Fritchey’s votes came from people who wanted to have a capable Congressman without giving Toddler Stroger free rein over county government. And Amy, you quite correct in the assessment that the 18th CD of our baby Congressman Aaron Schock is the one most likely to go by the wayside should Illinois fall short of keeping its present allotment of 19 House seats. It is much easier to push the adjacent districts into his central Illinois district than the other way around.

  9. - Billy Dennis - Tuesday, Mar 10, 09 @ 9:57 am:

    Can someone point me to the post in which the future of Aaron Schock’s district was discussed?

  10. - Laborguy - Tuesday, Mar 10, 09 @ 10:08 am:


    You’re analysis couldn’t be more wrong…yet again. If you recall, most of the “regular” operatives, most notably the Fritchey staffers, ensured us the turnout for the special election would be in the 30,000 to 35,000 range. I went out on a limb, and was ridiculed by Rich for predicting that turnout could be as high as 50,000. I believe that the turnout was nearly 55,000. I know that you will argue that is ridiculously low overall turnout but remember that registration levels are at an all-time high coming out of the presidential election. Undoubtedly, all the efforts of both the unions and ward organizations affected turnout but the best organization in the world can only deliver about a 5% increase over ambiant turnout. The real problem, if you know campaigns at all, was that none of the endorsing organizations were able to persuade any voters to change their minds. Mike Quigley ran a very disciplined campaign on not very much money. He started out at 22% in the first poll taken in early January and that is exactly where he ended up. Therefore, the real fault of the unions and ward organizations was not in failing to turnout enough voters but in failing to persuade those that were going to vote to support their chosen candidates. Organizations don’t typically persuade voters though. Ward organizations and unions are relatively blunt instruments best suited to marginally increase turnout. They accomplished that for the most part. Campaigning 101.

  11. - VanillaMan - Tuesday, Mar 10, 09 @ 10:47 am:

    So a dependably liberal congressional district fell for the anti-tax candidate over the party establishment candidates?

    So pro-taxers, what does this tell you about the political viability of your “income taxes are too low” screed? When the 5th US Congressional District gets a fever for anti-tax politics, you have to sit up and take notice.

    The anti-tax mantra will increase. With the economy in free-fall and an administration struggling nationally after wasting trillions, voters are fed-up, angry and scared.

    Voters are not spending. Instead they are paying off their debts. This mood may negatively impact any governments seen as wastefull spenders, as voters would believe their governments should be cutting back - not expanding.

  12. - Phineas J. Whoopee - Tuesday, Mar 10, 09 @ 12:20 pm:

    Laborguy, do we really have to listen to you preach about how smart you are about elections when your candidate tanked even with being the only prominent female in the race and by far the most money. Your candidate ran a crap campaign and Fritcheys stunk too. Everyday there was something negative about him either self generated or through other campaigns and he still came in second.

    Without the ward orgs Fritchey comes in 5th.

  13. - Laborguy - Tuesday, Mar 10, 09 @ 12:22 pm:

    Hey Vanilla Dork-

    Nice try, but Mike Quigley ran as an anti Stroger government reformer. If you think that vote was a tax revolt you are sniffin something brother. Do you really think that Quigley is gonna be some kind of Blue Dog fiscal conservative in Congress? Don’t bet on it.

  14. - Laborguy - Tuesday, Mar 10, 09 @ 12:23 pm:

    Mike Quigley=Russ Fiengold

  15. - Rich Miller - Tuesday, Mar 10, 09 @ 12:43 pm:

    ===Do you really think that Quigley is gonna be some kind of Blue Dog fiscal conservative in Congress? Don’t bet on it. ===

    From Crain’s

    ===When it comes to social issues, Congressman-in-waiting Mike Quigley is as liberal as any other lakefront pol. But ask him about tax policy, and his inner Blue Dog comes right out.

    Fresh off his Democratic primary victory last week in the race to succeed Rahm Emanuel in the House, Mr. Quigley is sending strong signals that President Barack Obama ought not count his backing for tax hikes, at least right now.===

Sorry, comments for this post are now closed.

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