February 10, 2010


Scott Lee Cohen's sad, short political career merits the coinage of a new adage concerning Illinois Democratic politicians: Some of them are fools all of the time; all of them are fools some of the time; and, in the 2010 primary for lieutenant governor, all of them were fools all of the time.

Don't blame a clueless electorate or a negligent news media for Cohen's unanticipated victory. There is plenty of salient stupidity to spread around.

Instead, blame Mayor Rich Daley's enfeebled Democratic organization, state Senator Rickey "Hollywood" Hendon (D-5), state Senator Terry Link (D-34) and, above all, Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan, the state Democratic chairman.

Hendon is a black West Side politician. His lifetime rivalry with and animosity toward fellow black state Representative Art Turner (D-9) prompted him to run in the primary. His goal: To ensure Turner's defeat. Hendon succeeded. Had Hendon won, the media would now be dissecting him.

As was demonstrated in the primary, Hendon was the choice of black voters, not Turner. In retrospect, it is clear that Turner was perceived as an "Oreo" cookie politician -- black on the outside, white on the inside -- foisted on the black community by white politicians. Turner was no Harold Washington.

According to unofficial returns, Cohen had 212,902 votes (25.9 percent of the total cast), finishing 30,040 votes ahead of Turner, who had 182,432 votes (22.2 percent). Hendon got 113,273 votes (13.8 percent of the total), almost all emanating from Chicago's predominantly black wards, and finished third. State Representative Mike Boland (D-71) of East Moline finished fourth with 105,551 votes (12.9 percent), followed by electrician Tom Castillo with 105,056 votes (12.8 percent) and state Senator Terry Link (D-30) with 99,972 votes (12.2 percent).

The combined vote for the two black candidates was 295,705, 36 percent of the total -- enough to win. Had Hendon not run, the bulk of the Hendon vote would have been cast for Turner, who would have won by more than 50,000 votes. Turner, a 30-year legislator and a deputy House majority leader, was Madigan's anointed candidate. Democratic insiders wanted a black candidate on the ticket.

But, surprisingly, Hendon won 19 of 20 black-majority Chicago wards, getting 68,048 votes (21.9 percent of the total) citywide, to Turner's 85,605 (27.6 percent). Turner won 11 Chicago wards, including his home 24th Ward, those of pro-Daley powerhouse committeeman in the 11th (John Daley), 13th (Madigan), 14th (Ed Burke) and 19th wards, and four liberal Lakefront wards (42nd, 43rd, 44th and 48th).

Turner won 11 townships in the suburbs, including such liberal areas as Evanston and Oak Park and majority-black Rich, Bloom, Calumet and Proviso townships. Hendon won none. Cohen won 16 of 30 townships, including Niles (with 42.5 percent of the vote), Maine (33.8 percent) and Leyden (30.4 percent).

Also, blame Link, a 14-year state senator and the Lake County Democratic chairman, whose inept and insipid campaign bungled a golden opportunity. With two black candidates dividing the Cook County vote, all Link needed was a majority of the Downstate and Collar County vote. Link said before the election that he had the support of most Downstate county chairmen and state legislators. He finished dead last, getting 16.8 percent of the Downstate and Collar County vote and just 42.1 percent of the vote in Lake County. Link won one of Cook County's 30 townships (Wheeling), and four of Illinois' 102 counties. As a force in state politics, Link is DOA.

Mostly, blame the Illinois Democratic Party and the Daley Chicago "Machine." They didn't deliver.

Turner was unofficially the "chosen" candidate. Madigan strong-armed the slating of Pat Quinn for governor, David Miller for comptroller and Robin Kelly for treasurer -- the latter two being black. All won. But Madigan could not get Turner slated. With an "open" primary, similar to that for Cook County Board president, the Democratic bosses figured that committeemen in the predominantly white wards would push for Turner. Instead, they ignored the contest.

Cohen got 37.8 percent of the Chicago vote, carrying 15 of 50 wards, and 28.6 percent of the suburban Cook County vote, carrying 17 of 30 townships.

On the Northwest Side, Cohen won a plurality in every ward, and he ran particularly well in the largely Jewish West Rogers Park 50th Ward, where he got 47.5 percent of the vote. He got 37.2 percent of the vote in Dick Mell's 33rd Ward, 38 percent in Pat O'Connor's 40th Ward, 32.9 percent in P.J. Cullerton's 38th Ward and 32.8 percent in Marge Laurino's 39th Ward. He got 32.9 percent in the 41st Ward, 31.5 percent in the 45th Ward, 29.6 percent in the 36th Ward and 28.3 percent in the 47th Ward.

Marching orders from on high, combined with a dismal turnout, should have been enough to ease Turner through. He got 26.8 percent of the vote in the 45th Ward, 19.3 percent in the 36th Ward, 22.9 percent in the 39th Ward, 21 percent in the 38th Ward, 27.6 percent in the 47th Ward and 23.0 percent in the 41st Ward.

In the recent past, a Daley/Madigan machine-backed black candidate (such as John Stroger or Jesse White) would get a quarter to a third of the white vote and 90 percent of the black vote and would win easily. Turner got about 25 percent of the white ethnic vote but not even a third of the black vote. As soon as Hendon filed, Madigan should have pulled the plug on Turner and switched to Link, but the presumption was that blacks would not vote in November unless they had a bunch of black candidates on the statewide ticket.

Now that Cohen has quit, the pressure will be on the Democrats to replace him with a black politician -- likely Turner, but definitely not Hendon.

Lastly, don't blame Democratic liberals, particularly along Chicago's Lakefront, in Cook County's North Shore suburbs and in west suburban liberal enclaves such as Oak Park and Naperville, for Cohen's victory. Cohen, who is Jewish, got barely a quarter of the vote in liberal Lakefront wards, and Turner won in Oak Park and Evanston.

An aside: Frazzled Democrats and the frenzied news media deride Cohen as a "pawnbroker," the implication being that such a profession is somehow unsavory and disreputable. Webster's Dictionary defines it as a "person licensed to lend money at a rate of interest on an article or articles of personal property left as security."

There is huge risk involved, as more than half the "distressed" depositors fail to reclaim their items. Hence, the pawnbroker must unload the collateral, usually at bargain basement prices. There is the need for ready cash to buy pawned merchandise and pay overhead.

If Cohen could spend more than $2.2 million of his personal resources, even after a messy divorce, he must rank as a great American success story. Unlike bankers, pawnbrokers don't get a government bailout when they make bad decisions. Unlike auto dealers, who take pre-owned vehicles in trade and send them to auction, pawnbrokers have no ready market for discarded junk. Obviously, Cohen is an astute business decision maker, but he doesn't have a clue as to politics.

My prediction: Being Quinn's running mate is like being the copilot on a kamikaze plane, but Madigan will try to muscle Turner into the spot.

Governor: Quinn can take scant solace from his unofficial 460,376-452,286 triumph, getting 50.4 percent of the vote and winning by a margin of just 8,090 votes. Given his name recognition and resources, the outcome is an embarrassment. Quinn has squandered all the goodwill and benefit of the doubt accumulated after replacing the disgraced Rod Blagojevich.

The primary clearly was a referendum on Quinn's competence, and he almost lost.

Quinn won seven of 50 Chicago wards, beating Dan Hynes by 185,283-154,277, getting 54.6 percent of the vote and winning by a margin of 31,006 votes. The wards won by Hynes are dominated by the Daley/Madigan machine: the 10th, 11th, 12th, 13th and 19th wards on the Southwest Side and the 38th, 45th and 47th wards on the Northwest Side. Hynes fell below 40 percent in only one white-majority ward, the 50th.

Quinn carried Chicago because he ran exceedingly well in the predominantly black wards, where Hynes' Harold Washington commercial was supposed to have been effective. In the 20 black-majority wards, Quinn won by 87,959-58,466. Quinn won by 23,518-19,059 along the Lakefront and by 35,719-33,759 on the Northwest Side, a definite indication that his pro-tax stance will not resonate among working-class voters in November.

In the Cook County suburbs, in which the large west and south black population accounts for a third of the vote, Quinn won by 118,328-109,357, with 51.9 percent of the vote. In sum, Quinn won Chicago and Cook County by 39,977 votes but lost Downstate and the Collar Counties by 31,887 votes.

From a political perspective, ousting Cohen from the Democratic ticket aids Quinn, but the governor's image and reputation are not salvageable. One word describes Quinn: loser.

Whoever emerges from the unresolved Republican gubernatorial primary, be it Bill Brady or Kirk Dillard, will be favored to be Illinois' next governor.