August 13, 2003


For Chicago Mayor Rich Daley, having a friendly president in the White House is a matter of critical importance for the city.

On a wide range of issues, from infrastructure and education funding to O'Hare Airport expansion to federal appointments, the Daley Administration needs the co-operation and indulgence of the president and of Congress. Having a hostile, anti-Chicago (or anti-Daley) president would be disastrous.

Even though Daley's brother Bill was Democrat Al Gore's 2000 campaign manager, and even though the Daleys exerted themselves mightily to carry Illinois for Gore, the mayor has a comfortable working relationship with Republican President George Bush, whom he has praised on several occasions. Add to that the fact that Daley's chief congressional operative, Southwest Side U.S. Representative Bill Lipinski (D-3), has a close working relationship with Republican U.S. House Speaker Denny Hastert (R-14), who is from Illinois, and there is no dearth of federal funds for Chicago.

Overall, to coin a phrase, Chicago ain't hurtin' due to Republican domination in Washington. But that could change in 2004, if a Democrat ousts Bush, if Daley backs a loser for the Democratic nomination, or if Daley doesn't carry Illinois for the Democratic nominee over Bush in the election.

It will be remembered that Daley was an early backer of Bill Clinton for president in 1992. He was elected mayor in a 1989 special election, and he was easily re-elected in 1991. The 1992 Democratic field included Clinton, then governor of Arkansas, as well as such underwhelming alternatives as Paul Tsongas, Tom Harkin, Jerry Brown and Bob Kerrey. In mid-1991 Daley took a major risk, endorsed Clinton, and began assembling a Chicago delegate slate favoring Clinton. In the March primary, Clinton got 51.6 percent of the Illinois vote and won half of all delegates elected in each congressional district. Clinton liberally rewarded Daley during his tenure.

Under Democratic delegate selection rules, candidates for delegate in each district are chosen in the same proportion as the statewide presidential vote. In other words, if a district elected six delegates, and if Clinton got half the statewide primary vote, then the three pro-Clinton delegate candidates with the highest vote were elected, with the other three apportioned according to the vote of other statewide candidates. Those rules apply for 2004.

Illinois was allotted 105 Democratic delegates and 18 alternates in 2000. The Daley forces ran slates of pro-Gore delegates in every district, and they did their utmost to prompt a huge statewide vote for the vice president. Gore got 84.3 percent of the popular vote, to Bill Bradley's 14.3 percent, with the rest to Lyndon LaRouche. Of Illinois' 105 delegates at the 2000 convention, just 12 were allocated to Bradley, with the remaining 93 for Gore.

Illinois will have at least 110 delegates at the 2004 Democratic convention, of which at least 45 will be elected from Chicago or Chicago-dominated districts. But the multiplicity of candidates, now numbering nine (Howard Dean, Dick Gephardt, John Kerry, Joe Lieberman, John Edwards, Bob Graham, Carol Moseley Braun, Al Sharpton and Dennis Kucinich), will split the 2004 Illinois delegation, with no single aspirant getting a majority of the delegation.

So Daley's dilemma is this: Does he back a specific contender? That would require that he assemble a slate of his loyalists as delegate candidates, have his city ward committeemen work hard for that candidate, and run up a sizable statewide vote and delegate count. Or does he take a pass?

The Illinois primary will be held on March 16, but the filing period for delegate candidates is Jan. 7 to 14; nominating petitions for delegate can be circulated from Oct. 16, 2003, until the filing period. But by the time of the state primary, the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary, plus 14 other primaries or caucuses, will have already been held, and the Democrats' nominee may have already become apparent.

So if he runs a slate, Daley will have committed himself. If he backs somebody, with the choice presumably limited among Gephardt, Lieberman or Kerry, and that horse falters, then Daley looks bad, and he will have less clout at the national convention.

The obvious solution to Daley's dilemma would be to run a "favorite son" Illinois candidate, but there are none available. There was in 1988, when Senator Paul Simon ran for president and got 42.3 percent of the statewide Illinois vote. That was before the proportionality rule, and Simon won all the delegates in 19 of the 22 congressional districts, with Jesse Jackson winning the three black-majority districts. But Massachusetts' Mike Dukakis won the nomination, and he lost to George H.W. Bush.

There also was a candidate available in 1984, when Harold Washington was mayor, and he ran a slate of "Washington for president" delegates in the three black-majority districts and won those 24 delegates. The white Chicago Democratic establishment, then led by Ed Vrdolyak, got behind Walter Mondale early, and Mondale won all the other district delegates, even though he topped Gary Hart by just 670,951-584,579 statewide, with Jackson getting 348,843 votes. In 1980 Mayor Jane Byrne backed Ted Kennedy over Jimmy Carter, and Kennedy won less than half of Chicago's delegates. Had Carter been re-elected, Byrne could have been penalized.

And there was in 1976, when the forces of Mayor Richard J. Daley ran a delegate slate committed to Senator Adlai Stevenson as a favorite son, and they won every Chicago district. However, by convention time, Carter had the nomination clinched, so Daley scored no points with him. In 1972 Daley backed a slate of delegates committed to Ed Muskie, who lost the nomination to George McGovern. Daley did nothing to assist McGovern in the election.

Daley's safest course for 2004 is to do nothing and back nobody in next year's presidential primary. After a nominee is selected, Daley can decide how hard he will work for him. That nominee will need Daley's fervent support, and if the Democrat wins Illinois on the crest of a huge Chicago vote, Daley can take credit.

Illinois has not backed a Republican for president since 1988, when the Bush-Quayle ticket won the state by 94,999 votes. But the state did vote for Republicans in the five previous presidential elections: Reagan won by 620,604 votes in 1984 and by 376,636 in 1980, Gerald Ford topped Carter by 112,974 votes in 1976, and Richard Nixon won Illinois in both 1972 and 1968. However, the state is now trending Democratic.

Clinton won by a sizable 719,254-vote margin in 1992, and he replicated that with a 754,723-vote win in 1996. Gore topped Bush by 569,605 votes in 2000, carrying just 24 of the state's 102 counties but amassing a 604,929-vote margin in Chicago.

To be sure, President Bush will get more Illinois votes than his 2,019,421 in 2000, a lot more than Bob Dole's 1,587,021 in 1996, and much more than his dad's 1,734,096 in 1992. But unless the Democrats nominate an extreme liberal like Dean, the odds are that Bush won't win Illinois in 2004.

So Daley likely will do in 2004 what he has done in prior state primaries: stay neutral. He can then decide whether he wants to help the Democratic presidential nominee against Bush. If Bush looks like a winner, Daley can ignore the Democrat, do nothing to help him win Illinois, and keep a friendly Bush in the White House for another 4 years. If Bush looks like a loser, Daley can jump aboard the Democratic candidate's train, do what it takes to beat Bush in Illinois, and have a friendly Democrat in the White House.

But the good news for Daley is that in 2008 the Democrats may nominate Hillary Clinton for president, and Daley is well wired to the Clintons. If she's not nominated, then Rod Blagojevich, if he's still Illinois' governor, might be. If either is in the White House in 2009, it would be just peachy for Daley and Chicago.