Illinois Democrats Kick Off Convention With Search For Gubernatorial Candidates | WBEZ
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Illinois Democrats Kick Off Convention With Search For Gubernatorial Candidates

Illinois Democrats are already making clear their priorities for the future of the state party: To win back the governor’s seat in two years. And that’s causing some eye-rolling from at least one of the top names being thrown out there to go up against Republican incumbent Bruce Rauner.

Nearly all of the big names in the Illinois Democratic Party are in Philadelphia this week, a completely different scene than last week in Cleveland, where many top Republicans skipped the convention all together. 

Here you can spot House Speaker Michael J Madigan eating breakfast alone, while the hotel mezzanine is packed with a who’s who of Chicago and Illinois Democrats hugging, eating scrambled eggs and checking out the contents of their new Illinois for Hillary swag bags. Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle is taking selfies; powerful Alderman Ed Burke introducing anyone who walks by to his son, Travis; top Democratic lawyer Michael Kasper is darting through the breakfast line in running clothes with headphones around his neck. 

Even politicians from other states were stopping by, like Connecticut’s Democratic Governor Dan Malloy, who had some advice for Illinois Democrats. 

“First and foremost, I’m a Democratic governor. You need one of those. You need one of those. Let’s not forget that,” Malloy said.

That’s all it took to turn up the buzz on the 2018 race. Cook County Recorder of Deeds Karen Yarborough took the mic right after Malloy and couldn’t resist adding her own two cents.

“Boy, he reminds me of why we need a Democratic governor in Illinois,” Yarborough said, to cheers from the audience. 

At that moment, just about every head in the room turned toward the direction of Dick Durbin, who was sitting on the stage, three chairs away from the podium. A sheepish smile grew on his face.

Even though Durbin has spent two decades as Illinois’ U-S Senator in Washington, DC, his name has been thrown around a lot as a potential Democratic candidate for governor in 2018. And at Monday’s breakfast, it came up multiple times.

After the breakfast, Durbin did multiple interviews with stations back home. He told Tony Sarabia on WBEZ’s Morning Shift that some of his friends in the party were “suffering from Attention Deficit Disorder.”

“Instead of focusing on nominating the next president of the United States and making certain that the Democrats regain majorities in the Senate and the House, they were thinking forward 30 months to the next election. And I’ve told them, for goodness sakes, don’t take your eye off the prize here,” he said. 

Despite Durbin’s critique, the minute the breakfast was over, everyone was talking about 2018. Madigan, who also serves as Illinois Democratic Party Chairman, told reporters he personally talked with Durbin about running, though the tight-lipped house speaker wouldn’t say much more than that. 

“Well obviously his record in the United States Senate, his record in Illinois government, he’s written an exemplary record as a public servant. So Senator Durbin would be uniquely qualified,” Madigan said. 

Across the room, another powerful Chicago Democrat, Ald. Ed Burke (14) was telling reporters that Durbin might want to keep his leadership role in the Senate instead. And besides, Burke added, he’s been hearing whispers about another potential candidate.

“Some of the delegates here that I’ve talked to are mentioning a name that hasn’t been mentioned and that’s Valerie Jarrett,” Burke said. 

Burke said he worked very closely with Jarrett for years during her time at City Hall. She’s now a top advisor to President Obama. There are more names being tossed around like State Senator Kwame Raoul, Chris Kennedy and Attorney General Lisa Madigan. 

And what’s a better way to start a campaign than in a room filled with Democratic power brokers.

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