Illinois leaders speak to DNC

Chicago Dems spar in Denver, Daley talks about convention unity
August 25, 2008 9:14:16 PM PDT
Illinois' Democratic leaders have had their 15 minutes of fame. It was Day One of the Democratic National Convention, and the Illinois delegation was in the national spotlight.

The state's Attorney General Lisa Madigan talked about how she had the privilege to sit next to Sen. Barack Obama when he was in the Illinois Senate. Up next was Illinois Comptroller Dan Hynes who talked about the privilege of losing to Barack Obama in the Democratic primary race for the US Senate in '04. State treasurer Alexi Giannoulias then talked about being Barack Obama's basketball buddy and having Obama as a mentor.

"Barack Obama has been my basketball buddy, my friend, my mentor and my inspiration," said Giannoulias

"I remember thinking he was the best person I'd seen in public life, visionary and practical," said Hynes.

"I can't wait for President Obama to fight for families across America," said Madigan.

Those Democrats are all thinking about running for governor in 2010 because the current occupant of the office, Rod Blagojevich, is so unpopular he's not invited to speak, and he's not even there yet. But his potential replacements were not only there, they had cheering sections.

"They were all great speeches, but she was the best from Illinois," said Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, Lisa Madigan's father.

"As a proud father I have to say Dan was the best of the bunch," Tom Hynes, Dan Hynes' father.

"If that's what they said, I say Alexi's was best," said Tara Flocco, Giannoulias' friend.

But the leaders from Illinois were only a small part of the evening's program, and they were aware of it.

"Just to warn you, we were given a small amount of time. So, if you have to go to the bathroom around 5:32, just hold it for a little longer," Hynes said before he addressed the DNC. "In fact, if you sneeze or cough at 5:32, you may miss my speech."

Hynes, Madigan and Giannoulias didn't address the convention in prime time Monday evening as they reflected on the Obama they know. So they weren't really able to rock the political world as Obama did four years ago when the Democrats met in Boston. But the sagging popularity of Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich, who wasn't invited to address the convention and hasn't even arrived in Denver yet, is prompting all three of Monday night's speakers to seriously consider running for governor in 2010. So they were in a competition of sorts Monday night.

"Tonight is, for me, beyond exciting. This whole atmosphere is just awesome. It's like Disneyland," said Giannoulias.

"I think there are going to be a lot of people from Illinois speaking tonight, so you'll get plenty of coverage," said Madigan. "This is about Barack. This isn't about Lisa Madigan. It's not about Dan Hynes. It is not about any of us, except for Barack Obama."

"I spoke in 1996 and I think the only person that saw me was my mother. She enjoyed it though," said State Rep. Jay Hoffman, Blagojevich ally.

Regardless of the size of the audience, some Illinois politicians said they think it's a big deal to address the convention.

"I think I'm more nervous than he is," said Tom Hynes.

The other Illinois speakers included the soon-to-retire state senate president, Emil Jones - Obama's political mentor - and Chicago-area Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr., who would like to replace Obama in the Senate if Obama moves down the street to the White House.

Blagojevich will actually get to choose Obama Senate replacement if Obama were elected president. Blagojevich was absent Monday, instead attending an event with his director of veterans' affairs, Tammy Duckworth, who many say would be the governor's pick to replace Obama.

Eight speakers with ties to the state were slated to speak.

Michelle Obama was spoke in the evening after a video tribute introducing her to the convention.

Other rominent Illinois leaders speaking included Tom Balanoff, president of the Illinois Service Employees International Union; and Miguel Del Valle, Chicago's city clerk.

Party Infighting

But there has also already been some controversy as well.

One member of the Illinois delegation caused some controversy. The incident involved a conversation that allegedly occurred between Illinois State Senate President Emil Jones, a star supporter of Obama, and Delmarie Cobb, an Illinois delegate and supporter of Barack Obama's Democratic primary opponent Sen. Hillary Clinton.

Cobb said the two were bantering back and forth Sunday, when Jones allegedly called her an "Uncle Tom," a derogatory term implying she was betraying the black community. There were three Chicago aldermen present when the exchange supposedly took place, but Jones denied he ever made the comment.

"He yelled across the lobby 'Uncle Tom,' and I walked back over to him and I said, 'Excuse me, what did you just say?' And he grabbed me and started laughing. I said, 'No, no, no, what did you just call me?' He wouldn't say anything. I said, 'You didn't just call me an Uncle Tom, did you?' And the rest of what I said I cannot repeat on the air," said Cobb.

"She misunderstood what we were saying. She turned around and asked me. I said, 'No, that's not so.' I said, 'All you doubting Thomases,' she got the last word," said Jones.

Some observers may look at the incident and say it's just another feud among some Chicago Democrats. But the episode is indicative of the friction that exists between the ardent Clinton supporters and those who are fervently supporting Barack Obama. And it may highlight the pressure on those Clinton supporters to now fold into the Obama camp.

"I have to say, I believe he said it," said State Rep. Monique Davis, (D) Chicago. "And I think he owes her a public apology. I know Delmarie Cobb. She's a fabulous woman."

The two Chicago aldermen who, according to Cobb, heard the remark were ducking the issue Monday.

"No comment," said Ald. Freddrenna Lyle.

Jackson says that this kind of racially tinged controversy is the last thing Barack Obama needs to kick off convention week.

"That has the potential for nominees to respond and distance themselves, and that is not the purpose of this convention," Jackson said.

ABC's George Stephanopoulos said there was still a lot of healing to do in the Democratic Party.

"I was just talking to a Clinton delegate from Missouri who was frank about it. She said she's angry," he said. "A lot of Clinton supporters here are."

Stephanopoulos said polls show three in 10 Clinton supporter do not plan to vote for Obama. But he said he believes that tide was starting to turn.

"I think once you see Senator Clinton come out and speak tomorrow night, that will be cathartic for them," Stephanopoulos said.

But Stephanopoulos stressed that Clinton's speech had to seem sincere to resonate with supporters.

"It's not just the words," he said. "It's got to be the body language, the emotion. Delegates have to feel that she's really behind Barack Obama, and that's in her interest because on top of everything thing else, I think Senator Clinton doesn't want to be blamed if Obama loses."

Mayor Daley talks about Denver convention

In Denver, ABC7's Alan Krashesky asked Chicago Mayor Richard Daley, just after the National Anthem opened the convention, whether he thought the theme of unity was being accomplished at the gathering.

"Just in the Illinois delegation, it was a hard-fought campaign between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton," said Daley. "Her supporters fought hard for her. Both of them talked about their vision and dream of America. And the Illinois delegation has come together. You have to thank Hillary Clinton for the price she paid. She made Barack Obama a better candidate. Even saw some his weaknesses. At the same time, Barack has been successful, and there is going to be unity here. Bill Clinton is supporting him and all of the delegates."

Daley was also asked about the spat between Jones and Cobb.

"That was unfortunate," Daley said. "All of these Democrats are delegates and realize what Barack Obama can bring to the economy and working people and rebuild America. And we should set aside our personal differences. This is a general election, we cannot look back and have to look forward and that's what Barack Obama is going to do."

With a national focus with the convention, but within the delegation itself, Daley was asked if there was much talk going on in terms of Illinois and Chicago and getting the things done in Springfield.

"That's hard because when you break trust among legislative body members and the executive branch of government, when you break that trust, it's very hard to get anything done," Daley said. "I think I'm frustrated as anybody else. You have seen editorials, business and political leaders, trying to get this issue. But it's challenging, very challenging. And until that trust builds up, it's just like an uphill fight."

Daley said that Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich's lack of invitation to speak is to be expected.

"I didn't speak for many years," Daley said. "Barack was elected. Very few people have this opportunity. I spoke in 1992 and 1996. That was it. Like anything else, you are big enough in politic. This is all about Barack Obama, not about a governor or mayor or senator, labor leader or anyone else. This is about Barack Obama's convention and that's what it is."

Daley said he anticipated a great speech from Michelle Obama Monday night.

"I think everybody looks forward to that," Daley said. "They are a great family? She is a wonderful, wonderful wife and a mother and very professional for many, many years. And we look forward to her presentation."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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