CHICAGO – A rare intra-party battle began taking shape Tuesday among big-name Democrats in Illinois, as former White House chief of staff Bill Daley positioned himself to try to unseat a governor he blames for failing to resolve the state's financial crisis and other pressing issues.
Daley, an adviser to two presidents who hails from Chicago's most famous political dynasty but has never run for office, ripped Gov. Pat Quinn and the Legislature for a "disastrous" session that ended last month. He pointed to their failure to fix Illinois' $97 billion pension crisis as well as inaction on legalizing same-sex marriage and "protecting our kids from illegal guns."
"We need leadership that gets things done," Daley said in a videotaped announcement that he had opened an exploratory committee allowing him to raise money. A spokesman said he was "100 percent in" the race.
The emerging Democratic primary could be one of the most closely watched in the nation, potentially pitting members of Illinois' political royal families against one another as President Barack Obama's home state struggles with multibillion-dollar debt, the nation's worst state pension crisis and the lowest credit rating of any state in the country.
Daley is the son and brother of two of Chicago's most powerful mayors. Attorney General Lisa Madigan — the daughter of the longtime House Speaker Michael Madigan, a man seen as the state's most powerful politician — also is a potential candidate. She said Tuesday she's still "very seriously considering" a bid.
Daley strategist Pete Giangreco said he's in the race regardless of what Madigan decides.
Daley would be the third candidate to make his run known since the Illinois Legislature adjourned for the session late last month without acting on some of the state's biggest issues, making Quinn more vulnerable and giving candidates fuel for a campaign launch.
Republican state Treasurer Dan Rutherford and venture capitalist Bruce Rauner last week announced that they're running. GOP state Sens. Kirk Dillard and Bill Brady also are considering bids.
Quinn's re-election campaign issued a statement Tuesday, saying the Chicago Democrat has a "strong record of getting big things done for the people of Illinois." They said he continues to fight for a so-far elusive solution to the pension mess, same-sex marriage and gun-safety legislation.
"With the primary in March, the governor is focused on working hard for the people of Illinois — there will be plenty of time for politics in the future," the campaign said.
Daley is the youngest son of Richard J. Daley, the legendary iron-fisted mayor of Chicago, and brother to Richard M. Daley, who served as mayor for 22 years.
He has flirted with running for public office several times but never officially jumped in.
A successful attorney and businessman, William Daley — known as Bill — appeared until now more comfortable in supporting roles, having spent years as a Democratic operative, working both publicly and behind the scenes in city, state and national politics. Co-chairman of the host committee for the 1996 Democratic National Convention, Daley was tapped by Clinton in his first term to push the North Atlantic Free Trade Agreement through Congress. After the election, he was named secretary of commerce, serving from January 1997 to July 2000.
In the Obama administration, Daley was chosen to be White House chief of staff in a revolving door of Chicagoans. President Obama tapped Daley to replace Rahm Emanuel, a former Chicago congressman, after Emanuel chose to step down and run for Chicago mayor when Daley's brother decided not to seek a seventh term.
At the time, he was seen as someone who could build bridges in Congress and between parties. But his tenure was a rocky one. While he was chief of staff when U.S. troops killed Osama bin Laden, Daley had a tough time dealing with congressional Democrats. Some of them blamed him for an embarrassing incident in which Obama was forced to reschedule his plans to deliver a jobs speech to Congress after Rep. John Boehner, the Republican House speaker, rejected the date Obama first proposed.
He announced his resignation in January 2012, just a year after taking the job.
Rauner criticized Daley's insider status Tuesday, saying the state needs "a clean break from the political machines that have been in charge for too long."
"The same old political dynasties have literally had decades to address our economic decline, our pension disaster, and our failing schools," the businessman and political novice said. "They haven't done the job."
His connection to Chicago and his family could be a liability for Daley in other parts of the state, where voters tend to resent the grip the nation's third-largest city has on statewide politics. But he also can tout a connection to Obama, who remains popular in the Chicago area — the territory needed to win a Democratic primary in Illinois.
Daley played up his Obama credentials in his announcement, saying he intentionally borrowed the "we can't wait" slogan that the president used to break a gridlock with congressional Republicans when he was chief of staff.
"We need that same urgency in Illinois," he said.
Associated Press reporter Don Babwin contributed to this story.