November 1, 2017



A classic aphorism once opined that hell hath no fury like a woman scorned. The same adage can be applied to politicians, which will make the 2018 Democratic primary for Illinois attorney general a source of considerable fury predicated upon scorn.

Pat Quinn is back, a circumstance that has evoked a massive collective yawn among Illinoisans. The former governor managed to lose to Bruce Rauner in 2014 by 142,284 votes, and has announced that he is running for retiring incumbent Lisa Madigan's job, joining a Democratic field of eight others, including Kwame Raoul and Sharon Fairly, Scott Drury, Maryiana Spyropoulos, Nancy Rotering, Renato Mariotti, Aaron Goldstein and Jesse Ruiz.

Each candidate has a minuscule base, except for Raoul. Fairly was briefly Chicago's Civilian Office of Police Accountability chief administrator. Drury is a state representative from western Lake County who bailed from his foundering gubernatorial bid and is best known for refusing to vote for Mike Madigan for speaker. Spyropoulos is president of the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District, and can tap into a lot of money, but minimal votes. Rotering is Highland Park's mayor, but she lost a 2016 congressional primary bid in the North Shore 10th District. Mariotti is a former federal prosecutor and Ruiz is a former vice-president of the Chicago School Board and supported Mayor Rahm Emanuel's school closure initiative. Goldstein is the 33rd Ward Democratic committeeman, having beaten Dick Mell in 2016, and is using the 2018 race to heighten his name recognition for a 2019 aldermanic bid against incumbent Deb Mell.

Only Raoul has the political base, namely among black voters, and the credibility to beat somebody as well known as Quinn.

The filing deadline for nominating petitions is the first Monday in December, and all are busily circulating, with at least 15,000 valid signatures needed to avoid a challenge. With the race now crystallizing, some may not file.

Every Democrat emphatically promises to be the "peoples' lawyer." What a novel idea. But Quinn, who will be among the aspirants appearing before state Democratic slate makers on Nov. 3, is impervious to presumptions that he is a relic, reject and/or a retread. His philosophy is simple: You can't win them all. But if you keep on running you will win some. Of the 17 elections spanning 1982 to 2014, Quinn was on the ballot ten times, once in Cook County and the remainder statewide. He won election five times. But twice he was on the governor/lieutenant governor ballot bracketed with Rod Blagojevich, so that doesn't really count, and three of his seven defeats were in the Democratic primary.

If there is a political scorn-o-meter, Quinn is unquestionably Illinois' most-scorned politician. But since running for office is Quinn's life's work, he is unbothered, and perpetually looks forward to the next election. That's his next job.

Out of the gate, Quinn promised that only he could win the post and "beat the policies of Trump and Rauner," brandishing a Public Policy Polling poll showing him with a not-too-arousing 28 percent, with Raoul, a state senator, at 12 percent, and everybody else at five percent or lower. On Nov. 3, the party slate makers, under the direction of state chairman Mike Madigan, will likely endorse Raoul, the reason being that the Democrats need several blacks on the statewide ticket in order to entice a monumental black turnout.

As demonstrated in past non-presidential off-year primaries, turnout hovers around 1.1 million, with about 625,000 in Cook County, 90,000 in the Collar Counties, and about 400,000 in the remaining 96 Downstate counties. In 1998, Jesse White, then the Cook County Recorder, won the Secretary of State nomination over the Orland Park police chief with 55.8 percent, winning Cook County by 172,426 votes. In 2004, although it was a presidential year, Barack Obama won the Democrats' U.S. Senate nomination with 52.8 percent, coming out of Cook County with 464,917 of his statewide 655,923 votes.

African American votes are 14.3 percent of the state's population, according to the 2010 census, but they comprise 20 to 30 percent of the vote in any statewide Democratic primary. Black numbers matter. In the governor's race, which features a whole bunch of white guys, some egregiously rich, seeking the black vote is obligatory. J.B. Pritzker chose Julia Stratton, a black female South Side state representative and former aide to Toni Preckwinkle, as his lieutenant-governor running mate; Dan Biss chose Letisa Wallace, a female state representative from the Rockford area; and Chris Kennedy chose Ra Joy, an Asian Indian man. The choices were all about quotas, as, after the 2010 primary, the law was changed to deny voters a independent pick for lieutenant governor and to bracket the candidates in the primary as they are in the general election.

So, of the six statewide officials to be nominated - governor/lieutenant governor, Secretary of State, attorney general, treasurer and comptroller, only two - the candidate for governor and Treasurer Mike Frerichs - will be white men. Of those candidates, presuming Pritzker prevails and Raoul wins, three of six statewide candidates would be black, and one - Comptroller Susana Mendoza -- would be Hispanic. Quinn's candidacy would, to use archaic expression, bollix-up the whole thing.

The Democratic AG field, absent Quinn, is stacked in Raoul's favor. He was appointed to Barack Obama's state senate seat in 2015 after Obama was elected U.S. Senator, and has distinguished himself as a competent legislator, focusing on pension issues. His last name, however, may not be helpful Downstate, but Obama, in the 2004 U.S. Senate primary, proved that a huge Cook County win can more than offset any Downstate deficit. In that primary, Obama won Cook County with 64.4 percent of the vote votes in an 8-candidate field, all of whom were white, and won statewide with 52.7 percent.

Throughout his career, Quinn, now age 68, has defied the odds. I first encountered Quinn back in 1972, when he was the Cook County "field organizer" for Dan Walker's insurgent campaign for governor. Walker, a wealthy attorney, put on a red bandanna and walked the length of Illinois from south to north generating massive free publicity, positing himself as a "man of the people" against the slated Paul Simon. Walker won 735,193-694,900, a margin of 46,293 votes. In Cook County, where Democrats had a nasty primary for state's attorney, Walker got 435,484 votes to Simon's 456,141. Quinn did a superlative "organizing" job. In the election, Walker topped Republican Governor Dick Ogilvie by 77,494 votes statewide, and, despite Daley's "benign neglect," beat Ogilvie by 99.411 votes in Cook County.

After Walker's win, Quinn became his chief political operative, and got a job with the Illinois Department of Transportation, where he and Al Ronan created a potent political force of precinct workers. But it was a flop, as Walker's attempts to beat Mayor Richard J. Daley's candidates in 1974 went nowhere, and Walker lost his 1976 re-nomination bid against Daley-backed Mike Howlett, 811,721-696,380, getting 46.1 percent.

Quinn progressed to become a "political organizer," getting such initiatives as the Citizens Utility Board and 1980's Legislative Cutback Amendment on the ballot, and building a statewide network. In 1982, posing as a "tax reformer," Quinn ran for commissioner of the Board of Tax Appeals (now Board of Review) and beat incumbent Seymour Zaban. Instead of consolidating his county base, Quinn ran for state treasurer in 1986, losing with 208,775 votes, to 235,053 for incumbent James Donnewald and 241,006 for Jerry Cosentino, who was treasurer 1979-82, finishing third with 26.2 percent. But there was always next cycle for Quinn.
In 1990, when Secretary of State Jim Edgar (R) ran for governor, opposed by attorney general Neil Hartigan (D), Cosentino ran for Edgar's job, and lost to then-Lieutenant Governor George Ryan. Edgar and Ryan won, but Quinn won the Democratic primary against the slated Peg Breslin by 449,442-429,810, margin of 19,632 votes, and then went on to beat Republican operative Greg Baise with 55.7 percent.

In 1994, with the Bill Clinton presidency in disarray, Quinn's ambition juices were unquelled, and he decided to run against Ryan. In a Republican year, Ryan buried him 1,868,144-1,182,629, or 60.4 percent. Had Quinn stayed put, he would have undoubtedly won re-election as treasurer, and been in a good position to have run for governor in 1998. By then, Quinn was well-known, and out of a job, so he ran for U.S. Senator in 1996, when Simon retired, against Downstater Dick Durbin, a Springfield congressman, and the favored Quinn got his clock cleaned, losing 512,520-233,138, or 64.9 percent, an absolute blowout.

But Quinn was undeterred. In 1998, in the day when lieutenant governor candidates were still voted separately, Quinn lost the primary by 1,468 votes, and in 2002, as the best-known candidate, Quinn won the LG primary with 42 percent. On the Blagojevich-Quinn ticket, he won in 2002 and 2006. And, in 2010, as governor, he beat Bill Brady (R) by 31,834 votes.

Going into 2018, Quinn boasts high name recognition and abysmal voter approval. His gubernatorial tenure was inept at best. But, in a multi-candidate field, he could win 25 to 30 percent and become the Democratic candidate for attorney general.

Send an e-mail to or visit his website at