Yes, it’s a little unseemly that Democratic Illinois Comptroller Susana Mendoza is likely to begin her campaign for mayor of Chicago on Wednesday morning, before she’s had a chance to brush the confetti out of her hair from her expected re-election victory party Tuesday night.
Mendoza has spent the past few months on the stump deflecting talk of a mayoral bid and saying she’s focused on being the best darn comptroller she can be. Her probable pivot will be swift and, for voters who really wanted Mendoza and only Mendoza to be signing off on state government checks these next four years, umbrage-inducing.
I’m hedging here — “likely,” “expected,” “probable” — because Saturday was the 70th anniversary of the Tribune’s famous “Dewey Defeats Truman” headline, and we here have ever since been cautious about saying races are over until they’re over.
Mendoza is a strong favorite to defeat her Republican challenger, former state Rep. Darlene Senger. And she’s said that if she wins, she won’t run for mayor if incumbent Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner confounds the pollsters and pulls off a Truman-style upset of his Democratic challenger, J.B. Pritzker. If that were to happen and Mendoza were to become mayor, Rauner would have the power to appoint a Republican comptroller to serve until the next general election in 2020.
We know Mendoza’s interested because a video clip, evidently banked by her team of political advisers, leaked Friday afternoon that showed Mendoza looking into the camera and saying, “I’m running for mayor of Chicago, and I ask you to join me on this journey together.”
Senger called on Mendoza to encourage the public not to vote for her in light of the video. At least two of the 16 announced mayoral candidates — former Chicago Public Schools CEO Paul Vallas and former U.S. Commerce Secretary Bill Daley — clutched their pearls good and hard. Vallas called Mendoza “disrespectful of voters” for, in effect, running for two offices at once, and Daley said Mendoza shouldn’t be paid for one office while seeking another.
Yeah, well. Climbing the political ladder — using lower offices as rungs to climb toward the top — is standard practice. Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle is currently running unopposed for re-election while also running for mayor, for example. Harold Washington ran for mayor in early 1983 after being re-elected to Congress in late 1982. Barack Obama and John McCain both ran for president in 2008 while serving in the U.S. Senate. Daley’s older brother, Richard M. Daley, twice ran for mayor while he was serving as Cook County state’s attorney, the second (and successful) time announcing his bid less than a month after winning re-election.
Blame the calendar for the particularly stark appearance of impropriety here. Prospective candidates for mayor in the city’s Feb. 26 municipal election need to turn in their nominating petitions by Nov. 26, less than three weeks after Tuesday’s general election. That leaves no time for even the appearance of rumination.
Should Chicago or Illinois have a “resign to run” law requiring candidates who file for a new office to step down from their old offices? Bill Daley’s campaign noted that such anti-job-hopping laws exist in five states and several big cities.
The argument for compulsory resignation is that officeholders are likely to neglect their duties while campaigning and to use their current positions to gain unfair advantage.
The more persuasive argument against is that “resign to run” laws discourage experienced, talented officeholders from seeking advancement because a loss could cost them their political careers. They also discourage candidates who simply can’t afford to quit to take a lunge at the brass ring. The overall effect is to diminish the talent pool, which we can ill afford.
And if we can be honest with one another for a moment, the argument against “resign to run” is particularly strong when it comes to a steppingstone position such as comptroller.
With the exception, so far, of Mendoza, every elected Illinois comptroller in the last 40 years has run for higher office. Michael Bakalis (1977-79) ran twice for governor; Roland Burris (1979-1991) ran for the U.S. Senate, attorney general, governor and mayor of Chicago; Dawn Clark Netsch (1991-95) ran for governor; Loleta Didrickson (1995-99) and Dan Hynes (1999–2011) ran for U.S. Senate; and Judy Baar Topinka, who served from 2011 until her death in 2014, had previously run for governor.
Topinka launched her gubernatorial run from the position of state treasurer, an office that’s also been a steppingstone (see Alan Dixon, Pat Quinn, Alexi Giannoulias, Dan Rutherford and others).
If Pritzker wins and if Mendoza becomes mayor, another aspiring pol will take her place, for a while, in the political waiting room of the comptroller’s office, and the world will continue to revolve on its axis.
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November 5, 2018 at 05:00PM