Over the weekend, Gov. Quinn responded aggressively to Democratic challenger Dan Hynes' damaging TV ad featuring archival footage of former Chicago Mayor Harold Washington calling the now-governor a "totally and completely undisciplined individual."
Last Thursday, Dan Hynes dropped a bomb in the middle of the Democratic gubernatorial primary in the form of a 60-second television ad that features a 1987 clip of then-Chicago Mayor Harold Washington calling Pat Quinn a "totally and completely undisciplined individual."
After rolling out a defense from several progressive congressmen on Friday, the Quinn campaign responded aggressively over the weekend. So far, their strategy has incorporated two components: First, provide the full context surrounding the apparent rift between Washington and Quinn in 1987; second, remind Chicagoans that Tom Hynes, father of Dan, had attempted to unseat Washington that very year. (The latter message is particularly directed at the African-American electorate, where Hynes' ad hurts Quinn the most.)
On the first point, it turns out that there is, in fact, a lot more to the story. And the full context appears to reflect well on the governor. Eric Zorn posted a June 26, 1987 Tribune article on Quinn's exit as Washington's revenue director (a position he held for eight months), which includes some valuable detail:
Although Washington insisted that Quinn was not "fired," the mayor said he asked for Quinn's resignation because of a "difference in management styles." [...]
Quinn's ouster was orchestrated by Ernest Barefield, Washington's chief of staff, and Lucille Dobbins, an administrative aide to the mayor, both of whom opposed Quinn's appointment in the first place, according to sources within the Washington administration. [...]
In an interview, Quinn admitted that he had been pressured by the "palace guard" to be more cautious in responding to media requests for information and more flexible in dealing with "friends of the administration" on tax audit matters.
Quinn said he was unable to hire his own top assistants, and the deputies he inherited from Sawyer challenged his authority within the administration. [...]
Quinn said, "People would come to me, so-called friends of the administration, asking, 'Can you do this or that?' and I would send them on their way firmly but politely." [...]
Besides his obstinacy in dealing with political powers on tax matters, Quinn was criticized for demanding more Hispanic hiring, recommending cooperation with the news media in uncovering wrongdoing and suggesting that his aides follow his example in forgoing perks such as the use of city cars with costly telephones. A notable success was a parking-ticket amnesty program that netted the city millions in unpaid fines.
But he ran into serious opposition with a plan for an internal audit of the department.
"The Illinois Department of Revenue has 22 people in its internal auditing department to make sure there is no monkey business," Quinn said. "We have none. That idea didn't go over to hot with the palace guard."
The picture painted by the Tribune article is quite different than the one you hear in the Washington clip. According to this depiction, the disagreement between Washington and Quinn had much less to do with competence, and much more to do with respecting the chain of command.
On Fox Chicago Sunday this past weekend, Quinn echoed the string of events laid out in the Tribune piece. "There were people in the administration there who wanted breaks," he said, "and I wouldn't give them to them." He then pivoted to the second prong of his strategy, noting that he "supported Harold Washington in every election he ever ran in" while the Hynes family "did everything they could to unseat him." Watch it:
On a related note, here again is Gary Rivlin's recounting in the Reader of Tom Hynes' 1987 campaign against Washington:
Even Hynes's campaign strategy distinctly smacks of Council Wars. Every action Washington takes is the height of irresponsibility. He sums up one of the black community's heroes as a man of "sleaze" -- not a way of winning the respect of the black community. He portrays the mayor as an incompetent, and talks in code about how the mayor is clearly not interested in working with all segments of the city. (Translation: the mayor didn't talk to me, therefore he's not interested in the white community. Certainly a far more effective rap than saying we had a good thing and Washington's blowing it.)
If he were really interested in healing, Hynes might point out that whites haven't gotten an unfair shake under Washington, might still criticize Washington for shortcomings but give him his due in the area of race relations. Washington didn't do to the white communities what their leaders had forever done to the black community. And while on the subject, Hynes could have thrown in a few words about the racism and unfairness of the Democratic Machine he was a part of for all those years. The Machine was repressive and undemocratic and wasteful but, more than anything else, grossly unfair to those not white and those not willing to play ball.
Of course Hynes couldn't be a healer even if he said that. His whole run is predicated on race. A lifelong Democrat steps outside the party for the first time in his career. What is it that changed, what prompted him to go, for the first time in his career, against a Democratic nominee for office?
Quinn also appeared at Rainbow PUSH's Saturday meeting, where he told the crowd: "We would not let those that would divide go back to those ugly times":
But because the Hynes ad is so simple in construction and relies on Washington's own words -- and because primary day is so soon -- responding with the relevant historical context may not be enough to stop the bleeding.
In that vein, Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. talked to reporters about the controversy after Saturday's PUSH event and focused his comments on Hynes' platform. "Simply put, Dan Hynes has no constructive message," he said. "He has no plan for the future. He's provided no jobs plan. No plan to improve funding or safety at our schools." Watch it:
We're yet to see if the Quinn campaign's response is going to extend to a new TV ad this week. Stay tuned ...
Full Disclosure: The SEIU Illinois State Council, which sponsors this website, has endorsed Pat Quinn in the Democratic primary for governor.