Mike Royko’s Boss is still the best primer ever written on Chicago politics. Scott Lee Cohen should have read it before embarking on an independent campaign for governor. But nobody pawns old paperbacks, so he might not have come across the book.
“Unlike New York, Los Angeles and other major cities,” Royko wrote, “Chicago has no independent parties or candidates jumping in to threaten, or at least pull votes away from, the leaders. It is no accident. Illinois election laws are stacked against an independent’s ever getting his name on a voting machine.”
Hear that. We don’t want no irregulars runnin’ for office in Illinois. Cohen is trying, though, and this morning, he held a press conference at the corner of Wacker and Washington, in front of the statues of George Washington, Robert Morris and Haym Solomon. He chose the site because “these three men are the symbol of American unity, and this statue was dedicated on the 150th anniversary of the ratification of the American Bill of Rights.”
(Meanwhile, the officials who will determine the validity of his petition signatures work out of the Illinois state capitol, which has a statue of Mayor Richard J. Daley, who has more to say than George Washington about who gets on the ballot in Illinois.)
“I also would like to take a minute to talk about the disparity between established parties and independent candidates during the general election,” Cohen said. “If you look at this chart, you will see that the career politicians are only required to get 5,000 signatures. Yet an independent candidate is required to get five times more, or 25,000 signatures. This is a very powerful career politician protection plan. It keeps the career politician in office and makes it very hard for a newcomer to get on the ballot.”
Cohen is a quick learner. He’s been getting a crash course in Illinois politics ever since he won the primary for lieutenant governor in February. His public image has the bruises to show for it.
A reporter pointed out that Cohen should note that the career politicians don’t just need 5,000 signatures, they need to belong to a party that got more than 5 percent of the vote in the last election.
“OK, well you know what, I got 26% of the vote,” Cohen retorted. “Does that mean I should be put on the ballot without collecting signatures?”
“Not for governor and not as an independent you didn’t,” the reporter told him.
“OK,” Cohen admitted. “That’s true.”
Cohen said he has already collected more than the 25,000 signatures -- "Yes," he said, when asked directly -- because he knows that Quinn is going to challenge tens of thousands of them. So Cohen plans to turn in between 100,000 and 150,000 by the June 21 deadline.
When he does, the Democratic Party will do what it’s always done with “independents, Republicans and other foreigners,” according to Boss.
“We throw their petitions up to the ceiling, and those that stick are good.”