Tuesday, February 9, 2010

They're Not Going to Hock Illinois--For Now

Several of the Illinois political races are still up in the air, but Illinois is Illinois, so it's not going to be as simple as who wins. Aside from the Democrat winner whose family bank is going bust and is under federal investigation, the pawnbroker who won the Democrat slot for Lieutenant Governor has quit--during the Super Bowl halftime on Sunday.

Scott Lee Cohen fooled the pundits, and took the Democratic nomination for the number two position in Illinois state government. During his campaign, Cohen had stated that an earlier domestic battery charge against him had been dismissed. Forgive and forget, right? Well, within minutes of his getting the nomination, it was revealed that the girlfriend who filed the charges was also a prostitute, and that the charges of Cohen holding a knife to her throat were dismissed because she was afraid to show up in court for the hearing on the charges. Quickly, more news showed up. Cohen also admitted to use of unprescribed steroids, and failed to pay child support at the same time he was pumping $2 million dollars into his own campaign.

Sounds like a typical Illinois politician to me, but apparently it was too much even for the Democrats who want desperately to elect their somewhat-cleaner gubernatorial candidate, Pat Quinn. This follows the statement of the spokesman for Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan (who is also the state Democratic chairman) that the Speaker had asked Cohen to remove himself from the ticket. Cohen quickly complied, issuing a statement that he didn't "want to put the people of Illinois in jeopardy in any way. For the good of the people of the state of Illinois and for the Democratic Party, I will resign."

Cohen had at first refuted the criticisms, and called the allegations against him "overblown" while claiming he had been "transparent" in his disclosure of his past bad acts. We all know what transparency means for the friends of Obama in Illinois. It means "throw up a smoke-screen and pretend that you were fully honest about your past." It worked for the president, didn't it? He at first refused to consider resignation. Still, by Super Bowl weekend, the pressure from his fellow Democrats was becoming very serious.

So what happens now? Remember, this is Illinois we're talking about. No special election here. Even the common practice in other states for the gubernatorial candidate to tap a running-mate, who is then routinely approved by the appropriate authorities, is unavailable in Illinois. Using byzantine machine-politics procedures, the choice will now go to the thirty-eight member Democratic State Central Committee, which is comprised of one male and one female representative from each of the nineteen Congressional districts. So the committee that will determine who the state's lieutenant governor candidate will be is based on federal districts populated by representatives who must be rigidly one man, one woman.

Make note of the fact that the Central Committee is under no obligation whatsoever to choose one of the other candidates who lost to Cohen. Nevertheless, the Speaker's boy, State Representative Art Turner, came in second to Cohen, so he's a likely nominee. The Republican State Committee faced a similar decision in 2004, when their senatorial candidate, Jack Ryan, resigned from the nomination under the cloud of raunchy charges against him in his divorce proceedings. The Republicans took too much time to make the decision, and though there were several solid state candidates, they instead chose controversial candidate Alan Keyes, who lost handily to one Barack Obama. I remind you of the old saying that a camel is a horse put together by a committee.

Meanwhile Quinn, the Democratic governor who replaced scandal-ridden Rod Blagojevich, has at least the advantage of incumbency, but still drags the Blagojevich fiasco in his wake. Turner has stated that he is the best candidate to replace Cohen, but modestly states: "My second-place finish should not automatically give me the spot." Did you check that out with the Speaker, Mr. Turner? Republican insiders say that they are set to tie Quinn and the entire Democratic machine to the miserable conditions that are Illinois politics, and Turner would give them even more leverage. If you know Chicago politics more particularly, you'll know that Cohen was the candidate from the northside, where Turner and Speaker Madigan are south side. Although they usually link arms for a general election, this primary was bitter. Obama, by the way, is from the south side contingent, but easily got the north side's support.

The official announcement from Speaker Madigan's office says "The Speaker is prepared to work with the members of the [Democratic] Central Committee, Gov. Quinn and Senate President John Cullerton to work on selecting a replacement. We'll start with members of the Central Committee and work on ideas." I'll bet you will. Have you ever heard of John Cullerton. No? Well either has pretty much anyone else. This decision will be made by Madigan, probably with the assistance of Chicago Mayor Richard Daley. And the committee will accept the candidate--or else.

In keeping with the traditions of Chicago Democratic politics, Cohen announced his resignation at one of the largest pubs in the city, but did so from a private room set aside for honchos. The announcement was shown to the peasants at the pub on widescreen TVs located at strategic locations around the bar. Reactions among the patrons ranged from "who?" to "when does the second half start?"

13 comments:

Writer X said...

This is par for the course politics in Illinois. I think it's part of the Illinois constitution that a candidate cannot run or hold office unless he/she has been arrested for domestic violence, has had at least one prostitute girlfriend, and a history of felony charges. Extra points for embezzlement or ties to the Daley family.

Regarding Cohen, what was most hysterical was watching him cry on television. Cause he got caught. What a baby.

I'm so glad I don't pay taxes in Illinois anymore.

AndrewPrice said...

I'm amazed that Illinois seems to keep setting new records for corruption? I should say that I'm amazed that the public would vote for this guy in the first place, but then corruption doesn't seem to be a problem for Democratic voters.

BevfromNYC said...

It just seems like you can't be a real politician without prostitutes in your portfolio. Birds of a feather, I guess.

I wonder what payoff Cohen got from the Illinois Democrats for dropping out so quickly? It seems that they don't do anything without a payoff.

StanH said...

SNAFU! Illinois is still a basket case, and will require the people of Illinois to clean it up. We get the government we deserve.

LawHawkSF said...

WriterX: I think it must come in handy for the crooks. If they each "have something" on each other, nobody talks. Honor among thieves, and all that. And if they have a record before they go into politics, it means they have "experience."

LawHawkSF said...

Andrew: Maybe it's something in the water. My mom used to talk about Al Capone and the city hall politicians in a way that almost seemed at times as if she admired them. It was very strange, considering everything else about her otherwise very moral outlook on life. On the other hand, my dad reminded me almost a little too much of Eliot Ness.

LawHawkSF said...

StanH: The classic line about Chicago is that it has the "best cops money can buy."

LawHawkSF said...

Bev: If I know anything at all about Chicago, they'll make him a judge, and let him handle political trials. In that town, behind every great man, there'a a great madam.

HamiltonsGhost said...

Lawhawk--Every system has its imperfections, and a bad person can sneak past the public. But the "boss" system seems to produce them in spades, and Chicago (and most of Illinois) seems to go out of its way to have crooked bosses who produce crooked candidate.

LawHawkSF said...

HamiltonsGhost: The more the people are involved in the process, the cleaner the politics. It doesn't guarantee that crooks and thieves won't slip past them, but the odds for dishonest politicians decrease as more opportunity for vetting occurs at the earliest stages.

As horrible as California politics are right now, charges of corruption are far fewer here than in New York or Illinois, and many states in the South. So as StanH said, the people have nobody to blame but themselves, and the people will have to fix it.

One major exception to that rule is San Francisco. As a one-party town, with a leftist lockstep philosophy, San Francisco resembles NYC and Chicago more than it resembles Los Angeles or San Diego. Nancy Pelosi is pure Democrat machine politician, and it's one reason that it would take an act of God to blast her out of here.

CalFederalist said...

Lawhawk. California in general has never had the kind of boss system that the older states on the east coast and big cities in the midwest have. Wasn't your town somewhat unique in having copied the old system, unlike most of the other cities on the west coast?

LawHawkSF said...

CalFed: The City was populated early by displaced pols from the east. The Irish Tammany Hall expatriates took control of the city government right after the Gold Rush began, and kept a choke-hold on the city for nearly a century. In modified, leftist, and non-ethnic terms, that same machine still controls The City. There was a brief period from the mid 1940's to the late 1960s where reform candidates and Republicans could actually win elections, but by the mid 70s, all opposition had been crushed.

Much of the damage that resulted from the Great Quake and fire of '06 was caused by insane building codes created by greedy political bosses. Crooked deals with contractors resulted in either the collapse of buildings or the way they burned like tinder. The old City Hall was built by contractors in league with the mayor and his cronies. It collapsed almost instantly, and it later turned out that most of the concrete used in the building was literally filled in with garbage rather than proper materials.

LawHawkSF said...

For avid readers of history and politics, I recommend two books that will tell you all you ever wanted to know about Chicago politics. Both are well-written, very informative, and often hilariously funny.

My favorite is Bosses in Lusty Chicago, which I first read while doing my grad work on the modern American city. It's still in print, and available on Amazon. It's the story of Bathhouse John Coughlin and his mentor Hinky Dink Henna, two famous alderman on the Chicago city council from the First Ward. The book overall covers the era from the Civil War to the mid-1930s, but concentrates on the period surrounding these two characters. Bathhouse John was famous for singing his speeches to the council. A new member of the council was alleged to have leaned over during one of those songfests and asked Hinky Dink "is John just getting dotty, or is he full of dope?"

The other is Boss, by Mike Royko, a Chicago newspaper columnist. Royko wrote about the father of the current mayor of Chicago who ruled Chicago and much of Democratic national politics for twenty-one years. Royko theorized that Daley was not the last of the old-fashioned bosses, but rather the model for the new big city boss. I'm not sure how well that theory has held up, but it's completely fascinating to read the story. Considering the current mayor of Chicago, maybe Royko was right.

There are many other good studies, but those two combine both the humor and the horror that comprise classic Chicago politics.

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