Despite gay marriage flap, Illinois GOP boss keeps his job

April 13, 2013

(WBEZ/Alex Keefe)
Illinois GOP Chairman Pat Brady at a meeting of the state party Saturday.

Despite the public controversy surrounding his support of same-sex marriage, Pat Brady hung onto his job as chairman of the Illinois Republican Party at a raucous meeting of party bosses on Saturday.

“People that don’t - are unhappy with me voiced their opinions, and we all talked and all left friends,” Brady told reporters after spending about three hours meeting with state central committeemen behind closed doors.

In spite of  months of lobbying from Brady’s rivals, efforts to fire the chairman apparently fizzled on Saturday. The question didn’t even make it to a final vote, the chairman said. Brady added that he would not resign, but will not seek another term as chairman next spring.

Brady said the party did develop a "succession plan" to choose the next chairman. Some central committee members, who asked to remain anonymous in order to discuss what happened in the closed meeting, suggested the plan would be a way to ease Brady out before his term is up in 2014.

The meeting drew a few dozen protesters who banged on doors after cops locked them out of the meeting area. Earlier, when state central committee members adjourned to private session, the protestors huddled outside the meeting room started up chants of “Throw him out!”

Committeeman Jim Oberweis, a state senator and west suburban dairy magnate who has been leading the charge against Brady, emerged briefly to supply the crowd with ice cream push-pops.

Oberweis left immediately after the private session was over.

A handful of conservative state central committee members have been trying to engineer Brady’s ouster since early January, when he publicly announced his “full support” of same-sex marriage legislation in Springfield. Brady said he even urged some GOP lawmakers to vote contrary to the party’s platform, which holds that marriage is for one man and one woman.

Brady’s announcement and the ensuing backlash pushed the Illinois GOP’s infighting into the national spotlight, at a time when the public debate over same-sex marriage was taking center stage. The flap has been embarrassing for the state party, which is still recouping from across-the-board election losses in November, while trying to gear up for the 2014 elections.

Polls show same-sex marriage is becoming increasingly accepted among voters, and Brady has said softening the party’s opposition to it could appeal to key voting blocs, such as young people and suburban women. Several prominent Republicans, including Illinois U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk and former Republican National Committee Chairman Ken Mehlman, rushed to Brady’s defense, while conservative groups accused him of abandoning party principles.

But even some of Brady’s more moderate detractors have said the way he handled his bombshell endorsement – the chairman didn’t consult any party bosses beforehand – might have been grounds enough for his removal. Others have pointed to Republicans’ dismal showing in November’s elections. For some, political score-settling and long-smoldering personal rivalries seem to have also played a role.

A handful of committeemen rallied enough support to call a special meeting set for early last month, but it was abruptly canceled after Sen. Kirk and House Republican Leader Tom Cross lobbied party bosses and urged them to hold off. An internal email published by the website Capitol Fax suggested Brady’s future might have hinged on the vote of a single committeewoman.

The nose count on the 18-member state central committee was unclear heading into Saturday’s meeting. The vote of each party boss is weighted differently, based on turnout in their district in the previous primary.