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Does “Gadfly” Hoffman Plan to Run for Mayor in 2011?

Russ Stewart 29 September 2009 3 Comments

Right place. Right time. Wrong office.  Later: right office.

That aptly describes the game plan of former Chicago Inspector General David Hoffman, who’s really running for mayor in 2011, but is taking a brief detour to seek the Democratic nomination for U.S. Senator in 2010.

Hoffman’s campaign rationale is to run strongly in 2010, which will set him up to take out Mayor Daley in 2011 in a one-on-one contest. But his strategy depends on the answers to these questions: How much more thievery, stupidity, corruption, convictions, scandals, trials and arrogance will voters tolerate? When will passivity evolve into disgust and dismay, and then into anger? When will they arise and throw the bums out?

With the Illinois political horizon cluttered by an ethically-suspect senator (Roland Burris), an incompetent governor (Pat Quinn), two utterly corrupt former governors (Rod Blaogjevich and George Ryan), an unpopular County Board president (Todd Stroger), arrogant and ineffectual Democratic legislative leaders (Mike Madigan and John Cullerton), and a Chicago mayor (Rich Daley) more  preoccupied with landing the 2016 Olympics than with purging the city’s scandal-a-week trajectory, Hoffman hopes to be the “Mr. Clean” he thinks voters really demand.

Unfortunately for Hoffman, age 42, he is not black, not rich, and not well-known. That narrows his base substantially. And, as demonstrated in recent senatorial primaries, a “reformer” only wins if he or she is black, such as Barack Obama in 2004 and Carol Moseley Braun in 1992.

Now that Burris, the Blagojevich-appointed incumbent, has wisely decided not to seek a full term, the top-tier 2010 Democratic candidates for Obama’s former seat are state Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias, who was slated by the party, Chicago Urban League president Cheryle Robinson Jackson, who is black, and was Blagojevich’s press secretary from 2003 to 2006, and Hoffman. The second tier includes Stan Jagla, Bob Marshall, Jacob Meister and LeAlan Jones.

Hoffman, in his announcement, pledged to be a “watchdog” in Washington, said he was “not an insider…(or) player in the system,” and emphasized that he was the only candidate running with “no connection to the corrupt politics and cozy relationships of the past.” The reaction: A huge yawn from voters, and lots of snickering from Daley insiders who think that Hoffman, rather than burnishing his credentials and enhancing his name identification, will lose abysmally on Feb. 2 and destroy his credibility for a 2011 mayoral challenge.

The dynamics of the looming contest are daunting for Hoffman. First, turnout will be much lower in a non-presidential year election. It will decline from 2.1 million (2008) to around 997,000, the turnout in 2006. Those potential 1.1 million non-voters are prime Hoffman voters, while most of those who do vote are controlled voters, who embrace the status quo.

Second, blacks comprise roughly 30 percent of the statewide Democratic primary vote, and Jackson will get the bulk of that vote. With black candidates on the ballot for lieutenant governor (Art Turner, Sandi Jackson), Secretary of State (Jesse White), state treasurer (Robin Kelly), and comptroller (David Miller), plus a multitude of contenders for Cook County Board president (Stroger, Toni Preckwinkle, Dorothy Brown, Danny Davis), Jackson will be on the “black ticket.” She has no tangible appeal to white voters, but she will garner at least 20 percent of the statewide vote, sealing Hoffman’s doom.

Third, Giannoulias, age 33, has oodles of family money, is well-connected in the Greek community, had $1,654,018 on-hand as of June 30, and is trying to portray himself as the real FOO – Friend of Obama – in the race. Giannoulias worked for – and contributed liberally – to Obama in 2004, and Obama endorsed him for treasurer in 2006. In 2008, during the primary season, Giannoulias would regularly play basketball with Obama on primary days. Obama won’t endorse his buddy, but Giannoulias’s campaign theme can be summarized in six words: Support Obama. Support Obama. Support Obama.

Giannoulias has some personal skeletons, and has not be an exemplary state treasurer, but as long as the “nationalizes” the primary, making it a referendum on Obama and trumpeting that he will be his most loyal U.S. Senate stooge, he wins. Hoffman must “localize” the primary, making the senate primary a referendum on local corruption, and tying Jackson and Giannoulias to that corruption.

Giannoulias is busily cobbling together a coalition consisting of white Chicago ward committeemen, Downstate county chairmen, gays (he supports gay marriage), immigrants, Greeks, and white liberals. He will be formidable.

Here’s a look at past senatorial primaries:

1992: In the “Year of the Woman,” Braun, the black county recorder, was in the right place at the right time. She challenged incumbent Alan  Dixon (D), with liberal attorney Al Hofeld also in the race. In a turnout of 1,456,268, Braun got 557,694 votes, winning by 53,617 votes (38.3 percent). Dixon won his Downstate base, and Hofeld ran well in the white suburbs. But Braun got monolithic black support in Chicago and Cook County (300,000 votes), plus another 100,000 votes from white women and liberals, and significant support in the collar counties from women and the East Saint Louis area from blacks. But, had she faced a single foe, not two white guys, she would have lost. Cheryl Jackson is not 2010’s Braun; she has no appeal to white voters, and she has baggage from her Blagojevich connection.

2004: As in 1992, Obama was the Flavor of the Month, the obligatory candidate that every “enlightened” liberal Democrat just had to vote for. In a field of seven candidates, including party-endorsed Dan Hynes, Obama’s backing from blacks and liberals got him 655,923 votes. In a turnout of 1,242,996, Obama amassed 52.8 percent. He got 464,917 votes in Cook County, of which roughly 150,000 came from whites, and got 110,000 from collar county whites.

The obvious conclusion: The liberal, pro-change vote for a Democrat in a presidential year is 550,000-650,000, of which at least 350,000 emanate from black areas.  That gives Hoffman a potential base of 200,000-300,000 white voters. To be sure, Giannoulias’s ties to Obama will win him some black support, perhaps as high as 25 percent. Expect Giannoulias to go heavy on black radio with his Obama-needs-me schtick. That would only seal Hoffman’s doom. To win, Hoffman needs a quarter of the black vote, and being a Daley critic rates far less than being a black woman or Obama’s basketball buddy.

1996:  The last “gadfly” – meaning an annoying but largely powerless politician – to run for senator was Quinn. After losing to Ryan in 1994, Quinn was far better known than Dick Durbin, an obscure Springfield congressman. But Democratic politicians throughout the state detested Quinn, who had little money and a muddled message. They coalesced behind Durbin. In a turnout of 902,635, Durbin squashed Quinn, getting 64.8 percent. Durbin beat Quinn by 126,370 votes in Cook County, and won the black wards and townships by 2-1; he beat Quinn by 41,501-22,499 in the collar counties, and he obliterated Quinn Downstate by 178,189-44,179 (80.1 percent).

Another obvious conclusion: Downstate may only account for 225,000 Democratic primary voters, but whoever has the support of the county chairmen will win two-thirds or more. In 2002, when Blagojevich, a Chicagoan, was nominated for governor by 25,469 votes (36.5 percent), he finished third in Cook County, second in the collar counties, but first Downstate. Of Blagojevich’s 457,197 votes, 192,894 came from Downstate – about equal to Durbin’s.

The early outlook: Hoffman is not a Patrick Fitzgerald-like crime buster or renowned federal prosecutor. He’s more of a scandal-sniffer. As Inspector General, he publicized tax dollar waste by garbage-collection crews, ripped the parking meter lease, and probed zoning deals. But sniffers, gadflys and whistleblowers do not make powerhouse candidates.

My prediction: Giannoulias is replicating Blagojevich’s and Durbin’s gameplan, not Dixon’s or Hynes’. The combined Hoffman/Jackson vote will be more than the majority, but Giannoulias will get a solid 45 percent. If Hoffman gets less than 20 percent and/or finishes a distant third, the gadfly will be a no-fly in the 2011 mayoral contest.

Here’s a local political development: 38th Ward Democratic Committeeman Patti Jo Cullerton has abruptly pulled the plug on her nascent campaign for state senator. She had lined up support from her fellow committeemen to replace the retiring Jim DeLeo (D-10), setting up a titanic 2010 race against Republican Alderman Brian Doherty (41st).

“I would have won,” insisted Cullerton, who said “family considerations,” including caring for her ailing in-laws, made her candidacy “impossible at this time.” Norridge Trustee Rob Martwick, son of the township’s Democratic committeeman, Bob Martwick, said he is “leaning” towards running. Martwick lost a 1996 state senate race and a 2002 county board race. 36th Ward Committeeman Bill Banks is backing Mark Donovan. Expect Donovan to be slated, and Martwick to oppose him in a nasty primary.


Russ Stewart is a regular columnist for The Chicago Daily Observer.

image Socrates, the original Gadfly


  • Pat Hickey said:

    Daley will hand Hoffman his . . .arse. Gadlies tend to die on pest strips.

    There will be more appointments for the talented Lad.

  • Darryl said:

    Hoffman’s hubris is getting the better of himself.

    He has not a snowball’s chance in Hades.

  • PFK said:

    LeAlan Jones is actually running as the Green Party candidate.

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