Bill Daley’s proposal to eliminate partisan primaries would sweep away every vestige of the political machine perfected by his father.
Richard J. Daley’s control over Chicago was based on his control over the Cook County Democratic Party Central Committee, and his ability to turn out votes in the March primary, which was and still is the decisive election in this monolithically Democratic city.
But now his son, who is thinking of running for governor next year, is proposing a non-partisan primary, in which a candidate who receives 50 percent of the vote automatically wins the election. If no one gets a majority, the top two vote-getters, regardless of party, advance to the general election. Identical to the system now in place for Chicago’s municipal elections, it would eliminate meaningless general elections and extend contentious party primaries into November. If it were used in the 2nd Congressional District election, it would result in the top two Democrats advancing to the April general election. Under the current system, a Democrat will likely win the primary with less than 30 percent of the vote, then roll over the hapless Republican nominee.
“What we’ve seen in our society is that there’s less and less emphasis on party,” Daley said Tuesday, after a fundraiser at Misericordia, a home for the developmentally disabled where David Axelrod’s daughter lives.
While the partisan primary played an important role in the Daley Machine, that’s not the machine Bill Daley is trying to dismantle. He’s trying to dismantle the Madigan Machine, which is so powerful it has achieved a veto-proof majority in both houses, making the governor’s office irrelevant. Like Old Man Daley, Madigan’s control of the General Assembly is based on his control of the Illinois Democratic Party, and the money it allows him to distribute to Democratic candidates. It’s a lot easier to control the outcome of a primary election, in which only Democrats vote, than it is to control the outcome of a general election in which EVERYONE votes. If there are TWO Democrats in a general election, Madigan will have to choose between them. If he backs the loser, the winner won’t owe him anything.
(Predictably, Madigan doesn’t like the idea. “Most people I know believe primaries are a time for party activists to come together to pick the strongest candidate for the general election,” his spokesman, Steve Brown, said. “It’s a party activity and activists in the party come together.”)
Bill Daley wants to be governor. But he also wants to make sure the governorship is worth holding.