SPRINGFIELD – Politics has long been a family business in Illinois, a place where who you know – and who you’re related to – matters more than most. But the family drama shaping up around the next governor’s race adds a new layer of intrigue in a Capitol already grappling with huge financial problems.
Though the election is a year away, the possible candidates include both a Daley and a Madigan – two surnames that represent the royal families of Illinois politics, the local equivalent of the Kennedys or Bushes.
One is the son and brother of the almighty former Chicago mayors. The other is the daughter of the immensely powerful speaker of the Illinois House, who has served in that role for 28 of the last 30 years and heads the state Democratic Party.
While intraparty battles aren’t uncommon in the Democratic stronghold that produced Barack Obama, the possibility that one or both heirs could challenge the incumbent governor is creating a buzz over the final weeks of the legislative session.
“When you lay it all out, you say ‘Oh my goodness,’ ” said Thom Serafin, a consultant and operative in Illinois politics for three decades.
Among the questions: Would voters want a Daley, youngest son of the big-city dynasty, to run the whole state? Could a daughter be governor while her father wields such great power at the Statehouse? And how much turmoil would a primary challenge to the sitting governor cause in an otherwise dominant Democratic party?
Both William Daley, the former White House chief of staff, and Lisa Madigan, the Illinois attorney general, say they haven’t decided whether to run. But both are acting a lot like candidates, and both have the potential to win.
At 46, Madigan has become one of the state’s most popular office holders, winning her last two elections by more than 30 percentage points. Her resume and forceful speaking voice show a toughness that belies her petite frame: She’s taught Zulu girls in South Africa during apartheid, started after-school programs in some of Chicago’s roughest neighborhoods and as attorney general took on now-imprisoned former Gov. Rod Blagojevich.
Her ballooning campaign fund has stirred talk about her intentions and raised questions about her father – a man often compared to a chess master for his ability to quietly outmaneuver rivals. After 42 years in the House, Michael Madigan still has a firm grip on power, and his spokesman dismissed any talk of the speaker possibly stepping down as “a lot of speculation.”
The Daley in the picture is a deal-maker in a smoother, more traditional business sense than his famously dictatorial father, Mayor Richard J. Daley, or his often tongue-tied brother, Richard M. Daley. Always well-pressed in the sharp suits of a banker and lawyer, Bill Daley – as he is typically called – helped negotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement and served as secretary of commerce under President Bill Clinton.
Daley, 64, has said he is “seriously looking” at running and has made a point of saying the state has “a problem right now in leadership at the Capitol.”
Republicans, who’ve been shut out of most of Illinois’ top political positions for the past decade, are looking at the unfolding scene with incredulity.
“I can’t understand why in a state with 13 million people, how we can’t find a couple people that aren’t related to hold some of the highest positions in state government,” state Sen. Matt Murphy said. “If you took that script to Hollywood, they would laugh you out of town. And yet here it’s a serious question.”
All the fuss over Lisa Madigan and Bill Daley threatens to overshadow Gov. Pat Quinn, the plain-spoken incumbent who inherited his job from the disgraced Blagojevich. The 64-year-old casts himself as an everyday populist determined to clean up Illinois government, yet he has some of the lowest approval ratings of any governor.
Critics say he lacks the leadership qualities for the job, and they point to Quinn’s use of a cartoon snake known as “Squeezy the Pension Python” to portray the seriousness of the state’s worst-in-the-nation pension crisis. But Quinn also boldly defied Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel by vetoing a casino for his city.
In the first three months of 2013, Madigan raised $830,000, and she has $4.3 million on hand, almost three times what Quinn reported on April 1.
“She is taking the steps necessary to ensure that she has the financial and political resources necessary for another campaign, whatever that may be,” Gina Natale, a Madigan campaign aide, said in a statement.
Daley did not respond to requests for comment.
Quinn declined to comment on the race except to say that he would be prepared for any challenger.
While the all-in-the-family field of potential candidates may seem to some like yet another Illinois political oddity, it isn’t so striking to former U.S. Sen. Adlai Stevenson III, whose own Illinois family tree includes a vice president, secretary of state and a governor.
“My father used to say he was born with an incurable, hereditary case of politics,” Stevenson said. “You’re born into a life of service, and sometimes you’re just conditioned to carry on.”