Ward Room
Covering Chicago's nine political influencers

What Kirk Dillard Taught Me About Politicians

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Kirk Dillard, who lost last year’s Republican nomination for governor by 193 votes, is planning another run for governor.

    Earlier this week he told a statehouse reporter he's already eyeing another shot at taking on Pat Quinn in 2014.

    Dillard gave me my greatest lesson about politics, or at least about politicians.

    In the summer of 2009, I was researching a book about President Obama’s political apprenticeship, and wanted to interview some of his state senate colleagues.

    I especially wanted to talk to Dillard, because he was Obama’s number one Republican ally in Springfield. They’d worked together on a death penalty reform bill, and Dillard had cut an ad for Obama’s presidential campaign during the 2008 Democratic primaries. I figured the best way to find Dillard was to go to Springfield and hunt him down in the Capitol. It’s harder to say no to someone who’s standing right in front of you.

    I found Dillard in the rotunda, outside the Senate chamber. He was telling a friend about how he was getting in shape for the upcoming gubernatorial campaign by jogging to Coldplay on his treadmill. When Dillard was finished, I sidled up to him.

    "I’m writing a book about Obama’s years in Illinois, and why Illinois produced the first black president,” I told him.

    “Absolutely,” Dillard beamed.

    Just call my office and set something up. I lingered in the rotunda for a few more minutes, as Dillard talked to a few other lobbyists and journalists. At one point, he made a reference to “writing a book about Obama,” and nodded toward me.

    Later in the day, I tracked down two more Obama allies. Sen. Terry Link told me he’d “love to” talk to me Obama, and regaled me with a few stories about their golf games. Sen. Kimberly Lightford invited me to call her office after the session was over.

    Do I need to tell you what happened? I never interviewed any of them.

    I called Dillard’s office, and his scheduler put me down for a lunch date in October. A few weeks later, though, another staffer called to inform me it was off. Dillard sent me a note on Facebook telling me he’d be glad to talk after the campaign was over. Fair enough. By then, though, my deadline had passed. I have to say, though, Dillard was more considerate than with the other senators I approached. Link’s office never returned my calls. Lightford’s office scheduled a phone interview with me, but at the appointed time, no one called.

    I interviewed plenty of other current and former senators for the book -- Denny Jacobs, Larry Walsh, Donne Trotter, Rickey Hendon, Dave Sullivan, Jeffrey Schoenberg -- so maybe I just had a bad day in Springfield.

    It taught me something about politicians, though: when you’re standing right in front of them, they’ll tell you whatever you want to hear. And that was an invaluable lesson.