April 28, 2004


Chicago’s far Southwest Side 19th Ward cannot be characterized as the cradle of U.S. presidents. Nor can it be characterized as the cradle of Chicago mayors. And, as a result of the March 16 Democratic primary, it will not be the cradle of U.S. senators.

Over the past half-century, the clout-heavy ward has produced a Cook County assessor (Tom Hynes), a sheriff (Mike Sheahan), and a county board president (John Duffy) – but never a mayor. And no Chicago ward has ever produced an occupant of the White House.

Nevertheless, Tom Hynes -- the ward’s influential Democratic committeeman since 1976, the Illinois Democratic national committeeman, the county assessor from 1978 to 1997, and a longtime ally of Mayor Rich Daley -- had a dream that he could one day put his son, Dan Hynes, in the White House. And that dream progressed from a fantasy to a possibility when young Hynes, with his father’s clout bulldozing the way, was elected state comptroller in 1998, at the tender young age of 29.

When Hynes the Elder resigned as assessor in 1997, and was replaced by his protégé, Jim Houlihan, the Hynes’ Clan’s White House gameplan was already in place. Despite the fact that a number of state legislators, including Skokie’s Lou Lang (D-16), wanted to run for the job, Tom cleared out the field, and young Dan, then just five years out of law school, and with no prior elective office experience, was unopposed in the primary. He then beat a better-qualified Republican with 58.6 percent.

Young Hynes’ political advancement was supposed to proceed under an aura of inevitability: he would use his visibility as comptroller to generate headlines and name recognition, and then run for attorney general or secretary of state in 2002 or 2006; and then use that post as a steppingstone to run for governor in 2006 or 2010; and then use the governorship as a base to run for president in 2012 or 2016 (or for vice-president in 2008).

But the ambitions of some other clout-heavy Democratic Clans interceded. Just as Hynes cleared out the comptroller’s primary for Dan in 1998, Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan (who is also the 13th Ward Democratic committeeman) cleared out the 2002 attorney general’s race for his daughter, Lisa Madigan. Even though Tom wanted that job for Dan, the speaker’s clout prevailed, and Mayor Rich Daley’s political operatives emphatically insisted that they didn’t want a nasty Madigan-versus-Hynes primary. They told Tom that young Dan could wait.

So Tom capitulated and the party establishment backed Lisa Madigan – who won her primary with 58.2 percent over John Schmidt. Tom carried his 19th Ward for Lisa by just 9,399-9,177 over Schmidt, causing much irritation among daddy Madigan’s 13th Ward contingent, who thought Tom didn’t work hard enough for Lisa. In the speaker’s ward, Lisa walloped Schmidt 12,043-3,479.

In the secretary of state’s contest, Democratic incumbent Jesse White sought re-election. So Dan had only two 2002 options: run for re-election, or run for governor. And since the Mell-Blagojevich Clan was out front early in the gubernatorial race, and the field already crowded with Rod Blagojevich, Paul Vallas and Roland Burris, the Hynes Clan opted for re-election. In the 2002 election, against desultory Republican opposition, Dan Hynes was resoundingly re-elected with 63.2 percent of the vote.

In fact, Dan Hynes garnered 2,150,425 votes, less than ticket-leading Jesse White’s 2,390,181, but far more than Lisa Madigan’s 1,762,949, Blagojevich’s 1,847,040, and even more than U.S. Senator Dick Durbin’s (D-Ill) 2,103,766. Such heady vote totals are the stuff of dreams.

However, the victories of Blagojevich and Madigan constituted huge roadblocks in the Hynes’ march to the White House. The Hynes’ Clan, back in 1998, thought that George Ryan would serve two terms, and that a Democrat would succeed him as governor in 2006. Now Blagojevich is sure to seek a second term in 2006, and Lisa Madigan is first in line to succeed him. So Dan’s path to the Statehouse is blocked until, at the earliest, 2010, and maybe much later.

But Dan got some good publicity in 2003, carping regularly about how Illinois’ budget deficit was the worst in the nation, and generating major headlines when he refused to pay a cost-of-living pay increase to state judges. The governor vetoed the hikes, the Supreme Court ruled the veto unconstitutional and ordered Hynes to pay them. Hynes defied the order, which would have cost the state $4.5 million. But instead of putting Hynes in jail for contempt – and making him a political martyr – the judges relented, and the veto held.

With his Springfield trajectory stalled, the Hynes Clan shifted their focus to the U.S. Senate. Incumbent Republican Peter Fitzgerald announced his retirement in early 2003, and young Hynes, if elected to the Senate at age 35, would, at best, have plenty of time to carve a national reputation. At worst, even if he never got on the national ticket, he could be a senator for decades – making the 19th Ward a cradle of senators.

But Dan Hynes caught a bad break when Carol Moseley Braun, the one-term black senator defeated by Fitzgerald in 1998 chose to run for president in 2004, and not try to reclaim her old seat. There is no doubt that Hynes could have defeated her in a primary. Nevertheless, as the only statewide officeholder in the contest, and with his dad lining up the support of every white pro-Daley ward committeeman in Chicago (and even a few blacks like John Stroger), young Hynes entered the senate race as the early favorite. His principal opponents were wealthy investment broker Blair Hull, black Chicago state Senator Barack Obama, and former Chicago schools CEO Gery Chico, and county treasurer Maria Pappas.

The outcome was a major embarrassment for Tom Hynes, as he delivered an anemic 51.2 percent of the 19th Ward’s vote to his son, with Dan topping Obama 9,490-7,689, with the rest scattered. Given the fact that Hynes’ hand-picked alderman, Ginger Rugai, was re-elected to her fourth full term in 2003 by 10,701-7,905, it is safe to conclude that the Elder Hynes’ grip on his power base is eroding at breakneck speed.

The primary outcome is also a major impediment to Dan Hynes future prospects. Abraham Lincoln may have lost the 1858 Illinois Senate race to Stephen Douglas, and gone on the win the White House in 1860, but young Hynes will have no such good fortune. 

Dan Hynes’ dismal 23.7 percent 2004 showing is not remotely Lincolnesque, and is a clear indication that he’s not ready for political prime time. His senate campaign, managed by younger brother Matt, was bland and unfocused. He failed to craft an identifiable image for himself, or identify himself with any salient issue. And he failed to demonstrate that he has a solid political base – either in Chicago, among his dad’s fellow committeemen, or Downstate. It is now obvious that Dan’s prior wins in 1998 and 2002 were due to his political affiliation, not his less-than-sparkling personality.

More critically, he has yet to establish any clear or concise reputation as comptroller, the state’s chief fiscal officer. During the Ryan Administration (1999-2002), Hynes was critical of Ryan’s “fiscally reckless” spending policies, hit the rise in the state’s indebtedness, and carped about the need to set aside “rainy day funds” for future budget shortfalls. During the Blagojevich Administration, Hynes has uttered not a critical peep about the new governor’s borrowing policies, the skyrocketing state debt, or the ongoing budgetary squeeze. In essence, Hynes is being a (Democratic) team player, which means he is not establishing any independent image for himself – as was apparent in his March 16 loss.

In a primary turnout of 1,242,986, Hynes got 294,717 votes (23.7 percent), to Obama’s 655,924 (52.7 percent). Obama won 41 of 50 Chicago wards, to Hynes’ five: the 11th, 13th, 19th, 23rd, and 36th wards. Obama won 24 of 30 suburban townships, to Hynes’ six. Obama won the five collar counties: DuPage, Lake, McHenry, Kane and Will. Downstate, however, Hynes won 80 counties, to ten for Obama, and seven for Hull.

To be sure, Hull’s $24 million media buy dominated the airwaves, and cut into Hynes’ Downstate base. But Obama spent only $4.5 million, and his black/liberal base was solid. Hynes spent just under $3 million. Had Hull’s campaign not imploded, it is likely that Hynes would have done even worse. Obama won because, unlike Hynes, he crafted an image that appealed to a liberal base.

Young Hynes’ career is not over, but it has been rudely detoured. In the past half-century, state officials who lose primary bids for governor or senator rarely get another opportunity. Roland Burris (comptroller from 1979-90, and then attorney general from 1991-94) lost a senate primary in 1984, and governor’s primaries in 1994, 1998 and 2002. Three lieutenant governors failed to move up: Paul Simon lost for governor in 1972, and Dave O’Neal and Bob Kustra for senator in, respectively, 1980 and 1996. Comptroller Loleta Didrickson lost the 1998 senate primary. Treasurer Bill Scott lost for governor in 1964. Only Simon came back, winning a senate seat in 1984.

Young Hynes can probably remain comptroller for another decade. There is life after defeat. But his aura of inevitability has been punctured, and, like Simon, he will have to wait many years for his second chance.