Another side to Governor's Day

Contention stirring among democrats

Thursday, August 14, 2003

By Kristen McQueary
Staff writer

SPRINGFIELD ? On the surface, Governor's Day at the Illinois State Fair on Wednesday was all hearts and flowers, hugs and handshakes.

But the unified front elected officials put forth on the first Democratic Governor's Day at the fair in 26 years couldn't hide the warts growing within the Democratic Party. With a U.S. Senate primary seven months away and a Democratic governor who seems to lose friends faster than he makes them, the traditional Director's Lawn rally was more dog-and-pony show than substance.

Within the past six weeks, Gov. Rod Blagojevich angered Hispanic lawmakers by cutting some of the program funds and not signing some of their bills. He drew sharp criticism from Senate President Emil Jones by changing a criminal justice reform bill. The freshman governor also clashed with Democratic Secretary of State Jesse White over White's budget.

Some of his highest praise has come from Republicans.

Still, Democrats masked their political differences during a rally.

"We're proud to be here with you, governor, and we thank you for all you've done," White said.

"I want to thank Jesse White for being a great guy and the most popular Democrat in the state," Blagojevich said.

House Speaker Michael Madigan (D-Chicago), who torpedoed family harmony last year by hinting at "indiscretions" by Blagojevich, said very little.

Though the Illinois State Fair is an agriculture festival, Democrat and Republican days at the fair serve as jumping off points for political campaigns. Republican Day is today.

Part of the game is bringing the most supporters, plastering the fairgrounds with signs and leveraging media attention. The majority of people who show up for the political rallies either hold office themselves, work for the candidates or are lured with free air-conditioned bus rides from Chicago. A handful of 34th Ward soldiers in "Blair Hull for U.S. Senate" T-shirts didn't know much about him.

Hull, who has been endorsed by U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Chicago), has been building relationships with Southland elected officials, hoping to nibble away at the support of state Sen. Barack Obama, who lives in Chicago's Hyde Park community, and Comptroller Dan Hynes, who grew up in the 19th Ward. Both Obama and Hynes have strong ties to the South Side and suburbs.

"Everyone is feeling each other out. It's almost like boxers in a ring. It's a 15-round fight, and nobody actually shows what they have during the first four or five rounds," said state Sen. James Meeks, an Obama supporter.

Though the candidates themselves ? including former Chicago school board president Gery Chico, health care executive Joyce Washington, Metamora Mayor Matt O'Shea and Chicago talk show host Nancy Skinner ? spoke of the need for unity, they also took shots at each other.

"We need a candidate who has campaigned in every county of this state. I am a candidate who can win. It's not enough to have hope," said Hynes, jabbing Obama, who has not run statewide. In a dig at Hull, he added, "It's not enough to say, 'I have $40 milllion and I'm going to run fancy television commercials.' Our Democracy is not for sale."

Hull ignored the dig.

Obama hinted that Hynes is winning more endorsements because he has more to hand out.

"(There are) a number of elected officials and county chairmen and congressmen who have given us their support despite the fact that we have no contracts to give out, no jobs to give out," he said.

When pressed on whether he thought his opponents were trading favors for support, Obama said: "All I'm saying is we've been encouraged about the amount of support we've received considering this is my first statewide race."

During a state lottery promotion that involved flying-Elvis impersonators, Blagojevich told reporters he wasn't angered by the criticism his colleagues have dished out.

"There are times when legislators disagree with what we're doing and they vocally express that, and that's a good thing. I have no hard feelings or reservations about their right to do it," Blagojevich said. "But they should also know that when we disagree with them, it's ... just the nature of the business. No hard feelings."

In the past, lawmakers could call up the governor and get money for a member initiative project or a job for a cousin, he said.

"Those days are over, and it's going to take a while to make that adjustment," he said.

Kristen McQueary may be reached at or (708) 633-5972.

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