SPRINGFIELD – A Democratic party slating event that just a week ago promised to be controversial instead proved to be a formality on Sunday because of former White House Chief of Staff Bill Daley's departure from the governor's race.
It took less than a half hour for the party's state central committee to slate candidates in six statewide primary races. Five candidates currently are unopposed.
A slating event allows parties to identify candidates on the ticket they choose to endorse.
Gov. Pat Quinn touted the party endorsement as significant even though Daley, his main challenger, withdrew last week with a parting shot – predicting that Quinn would be defeated by a Republican. The only other announced gubernatorial primary candidate is Tio Hardiman, former director of a Chicago anti-violence group and who is little-known outside the city.
"I think any time you have the endorsement of the Democratic party it's pretty special," said Quinn, who said he hadn't spoken with Daley since last Monday's announcement. He also shrugged off Daley's description of Republican primary hopeful Bruce Rauner as the strongest candidate.
"Everyone is entitled to their own vote and their own opinion," Quinn said. "My job is to organize the people of Illinois behind an agenda that moves our state forward for the next generation. Investing in early childhood education, scholarships for needy students, that's part of what I'm really going to be talking about on the campaign."
The slating event — the party's first since 2006 — also had officials calling for unity despite recent public clashes between Quinn and Democratic legislative leaders. Quinn this summer moved to halt lawmakers' pay until a solution on pension reform is reached. Lawmakers, in turn, sued Quinn over the constitutionality of the move.
"The Democratic party is like a family and in any family you've had differences," party chair and House Speaker Michael Madigan said after the meeting. "What I've learned about Democrats is that when they have differences, they're able to work through the differences, and when it's time for a general election they unite."
Twenty-three of the party's 38 committeemen were present at the Springfield event. The rest gave Madigan power to vote in their absence.
Even if the decisions weren't surprising, Madigan said holding the meeting was important.
"It shows to a certain extent that the Democratic party is united. I say it like that because we haven't even started filing," petitions with the state board of election, he said.
Only three of the six candidates — Quinn, U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin and Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon, who is making a bid for comptroller — were present to make a pitch for the committee's endorsement.
Durbin, the Senate's assistant majority leader, used much of his speech to praise the Democratic party's values while blasting the recent vote by House Republicans in Washington to defund the president's health care law.
"That's what's wrong with what they have to offer," he said. "That's the difference between them and us."
But before the meeting began, Durbin also acknowledged clashes among Democrats in Illinois.
"There is some tension as you might imagine, but I think when this pension matter moves forward, as we hope it will soon, that will all be put behind us," Durbin said.