Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Byrne: "If any Democrat deserves a crack at Roskam, it's Christine Cegelis."

Illinois Democrats show signs of change

Dennis Byrne, a Chicago-area writer and consultant

December 26, 2005

Might state and local Democrats actually be flirting with democracy?

The entrance of independent, qualified and determined candidates into the party's primaries for governor and Cook County Board president is a welcome sign that at least some Democrats are willing to challenge the established order.

Edwin Eisendrath, a former Chicago alderman, former federal housing official and current college vice president, is an excellent alternative for the many who have tired of Gov. Rod Blagojevich's empty reform promises. Cook County Commissioner Forrest Claypool, former chief of staff for Mayor Richard M. Daley and a reformer who took on the lakefront sinkhole known as the Chicago Park District, is equally qualified to challenge Cook County President John Stroger.

At last from Democrats we now have hope that some candidates recognize that Illinois needs a good scrubbing with the wire brush of citizen outrage, if there's any left. Every day, there's another story -- or two, or three -- about new cases, in both political parties, of corruption, graft, dishonesty, favoritism, abuse, cynicism, bossism and various creative felonious behaviors. More than school finance reform or a balanced budget, Illinois' No.1 issue is graft and corruption. It steals our money, creates flawed public policy and puts the squeeze on worthy government programs. Only in this climate would the oxymoron of "honest graft" be confused with wisdom.

On the Republican side, a few candidates, but not enough, also understand. Of course every candidate says he's for reform and against graft. Fortunately, in Illinois, we've got a good way to tell if it is true: Only trust candidates that disavow the bipartisan political establishment that runs this state: The Republican and Democratic "leadership," big business, big labor, big lawyers, big doctors and the rest of "the bigs."

That rules out Republican gubernatorial candidate Judy Baar Topinka. Shamelessly, she sought the endorsement and money of "the bigs" as a condition of running. That included genuflecting to Republican political wonders in Washington -- the Karl Roves and also the reform-challenged Robert Kjellanders who engineered the 2004 GOP wreck in Illinois. Obviously, reform is not much on the mind of this crowd, as we watch the unfolding of a huge scandal involving indicted GOP lobbyist Jack Abramoff. From Topinka's perspective, kissing up to these guys makes practical sense. From ours, it's poison. Amazingly oblivious to any of this is Republican National Committee Chairman Ken Mehlman, who blithely predicts a GOP sweep in Illinois.

Speaking of being bought by the insider crowd, we come to Tammy Duckworth. She has entered the Democratic west suburban 6th District congressional race as a protege of liberal U.S. Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.) Emanuel heads the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which means he has a lot of money to buy candidates and their support.

Emanuel set up Duckworth to run in the Democratic primary, with the winner facing state Sen. Peter Roskam, the GOP's unopposed candidate. But if any Democrat deserves a crack at Roskam, it's Christine Cegelis, one of the two other previously announced candidates in the Democratic primary. In 2005, she got 44 percent of the vote against retiring U.S. Rep. Henry Hyde, a GOP icon.

Emanuel has committed a bankroll to install Duckworth as the candidate of the party apparatus, even though she is a political novice who lives outside the district and whose political positions have been a mystery. So why would Emanuel run such a political nullity, when a proven candidate is available?

Because she is a war hero. Duckworth was an Illinois Army National Guard helicopter pilot who became an amputee in a crash in Iraq. Emanuel already has trotted her out as "evidence" that Democrats are patriotic and sympathetic with the military. And to inoculate Democrats against the (correct) perception that they're weak on the war against terror. Not surprisingly, her campaign was launched by media toadies, including ABC's George Stephanopoulos, who gave her undeserved exposure on his Sunday TV talk show. Of course, it had nothing to do with the fact that George and Rahm worked together for the Clinton White House.

Using her honorable service in this way is breathtakingly cynical, even for someone as practiced as Emanuel. Even in something as squalid as Illinois politics.

Thanks to the unexpectedly many Tribune newspaper and Internet readers who sent in reasoned, informed and interesting responses to last week's column on intelligent design. The gratifying response from both sides demonstrates even more the legitimacy of the ID debate, especially in schools.



Copyright © 2005, Chicago Tribune

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