IL-14: Podunk, IL vs. the New Chicago Machine

by , posted on Wednesday, January 2nd, 2008 at 5:05 pm

Originally posted at Fireside 14, Prairie State Blue, MyDD, Open Left and Daily Kos.

Not long ago, I ran across this comment from a dedicated Foster volunteer and supporter:  

This will be unpopular… (0.00 / 0) 
…but you know I’m going to say it anyway! 
I am much more interested in what goes on in Northern IL than I am in what happens downstate. With work, I get more than my fill of politics in Springfield and the rest of the cornfields in IL. 
I just really don’t care what is happening in politics in Podunk, IL unless it’s really sexy and scandalous. Otherwise, I am bored.  (emphasis added)

by: bridgetdooley @ Thu Dec 06, 2007 at 22:18:39 PM CST

As anyone who lives in Illinois knows, anything not in the City or collar counties is routinely considered “downstate” (aka “Podunk” to Ms. Dooley) even if it’s north of Chicago.  The distinction here, if you are local, is that Kane and (parts of) Kendall, being collar counties, are typically considered part of the greater Chicagoland region, while everything west of the urbanized strip on the far east of IL-14 really qualifies as “downstate.”  

Which would seem to imply Ms. Dooley’s term “Podunk, IL” represents the vast majority of the geographic area of IL-14, containing somewhat more than half of the voters in the district.  (Of course, if you are a Chicago political insider, anything not in, oh, Chicago, pretty much qualifies as “Podunk.”  Much in the way that, to a DC political insider, anything not in New York, Chicago, LA, or DC pretty much qualifies as “Podunk” but we’ll get to that later.)  But maybe she really meant further downstate.

Plus, it’s an isolated comment from a single supporter, and I dismissed it as such, until I saw the exact same supporter (under different id’s on different blogs) post this in Foster’s manager’s latest DKos diary:

Fox Valley (0 / 0) 
Sure, there’s more to the district than the Fox Valley. But by far, the majority of voters in the district are in Kane and Kendall Counties. People in Kane and Kendall know all about both labs. 
Hate to say it because I love me some farmers, but “agriculture country” just doesn’t have the numbers to swing the election. Saying that the majority opinions matter in Henry, Bureau, Lee and Whiteside counties is just not realistic. 
I know John Laesch is really into the idea of spending all sorts of time campaigning out west, but it’s a huge waste of time and resources if one knows how to count ;)  
(emphasis added). 
The fact that Bill is a scientist is a huge plus. People like the idea of a scientist in government. It makes sense that people who don’t support Bill want to downplay it. 
by RedheadLiberal on Sat Dec 08, 2007 at 09:22:55 PM CST

So here is a single Foster supporter who clearly believes that “Podunk” is a waste of candidate time.  But can the attitude be attributed more widely to the Foster campaign?  Ms. Dooley is close enough, apparently, that she does get early information about what is happening in the Foster camp, as is evidenced by the fact that she was the first to report on the details of Foster’s latest petition filing.  On the other hand, there’s nothing to currently show that she is working for the campaign – she describes herself as a volunteer and I’ll take her entirely at her word for that.

So is it fair to assume Ms. Dooley’s characterization of the voters of this vast area of IL-14 is the opinion of the candidate she supports?  While she has recently chided me in such a way as to suggest she thinks what supporters say should be fairly attributed to the candidate they are supporting, and while Foster’s campaign manager, Tom Bowen, seems to think that is how it is done too.

I can’t say I do agree: candidates can not be expected to be held accountable for every single thing that comes out of every supporter’s mouth.  So I don’t think it’s fair to attribute any “Podunk, IL” type comments coming from Dooley directly to Foster.

But the whole thing did get me wondering:  Ms. Dooley obviously believes John Laesch (from Newark, so a resident, in fact of all the candidates in the race the only resident, of the, ahem, “Podunk” area) takes his grassroots neighbors in the cornfields too seriously.  She thinks it a “huge waste of time and resources” for John to spend time talking to voters there.  She is close to the Foster campaign, but does the campaign itself take the grassroots in the cornfields seriously?

Well, I haven’t heard Foster’s been out that way campaigning.  But to be fair, I haven’t heard he’s beenanywhere campaigning.  Not for Foster the spaghetti dinners and walking door-to-door that Laesch, Stein, and even the Republicans in the race undertake.

He has, to the very best of my ability to discover, not knocked on one door, talked to one random voter in the street or wandered into a diner to shake hands and answer questions.  His public appearances, again to the very best of my ability to discover, have been confined to appearances at (some of) the formal Democratic county forums and debates and a handfull of very controlled invitation-only small-group events.  And some stuff in Chicago.  

True, Foster failed to attend a Henry County Forum in the far west of IL-14.  But then Foster also blew off the DuPage Dems Forum in the far eastern end of the district to attend an (unspecified) event in Chicago instead, and he just recently cancelled an appearance at a coffee organized by a precinct committeeperson in St. Charles.

So, how does he communicate with voters?  Well, he is pronouncing to them via paid commercial advertising from their television screens.  He is sending out lots and lots (really a lot) of shiny, pretty mailers.  And he is sending his campaign manager to DailyKos to post diaries.  So he’s talking to us, the netroots, right?  Well, I’ll let his campaign manager Tom Bowen answer:

No he’s not (2+ / 0-)   
Because he is on the phone doing what a candidate is supposed to be doing.  Building support.  If he had to answer every specious claim made by a John supporter, he’d be here all day. 
by BillFoster4Congress on Fri Dec 07, 2007 at 04:22:41 PM CST

Plus, you know, Bill Foster is a serious, serious candidate: all the pundits say he has the money to be so.  So how can we honestly expect that, while John Laesch tirelessly burns shoe-leather talking to the grassroots, posts diaries and answers actual questions in them when communicating with the netroots, while said grassroots supporters effortlessly handle things like, oh, filing his special election petition signatures while he concentrates on the voters and the issues, that the Foster campaign can take the time and trouble to do so?  As Tom tells us in response to a Kossack suggesting that the issue of reproductive rights was left off Foster’s website intentionally as a political decision:

It was not done on purpose (3+ / 0-)

Seriously, i’ve changed the issue section 1 time in 6 months.  We’ve been busy, understaffed and trying to contend with all this special election stuff. 
If you don’t believe me, fine. 
by BillFoster4Congress on Fri Dec 07, 2007 at 03:53:14 PM CST 
[ Parent | Reply to This ]

Seriously people, don’t you understand how seriously busy, and overworked, and understaffed, this shockingly well-funded campaign is?  How dare you ask questions!

Like this cheeky inquiry:

Mr. Foster, I’d also like a simple yes or no . . (1+ / 0-) 
If elected to Congress, will you support and become a co-sponsor of HR 676? 
Yes or no?… 
By nyceve on Fri Aug 17, 2007 at 08:01:52 AM CST 
[ Parent ]

I’d add the response, but there isn’t one.  

Get a grip, people: neither Bill “Mr. Grassroots” Foster, nor his campaign, has the time to address issues on their website, or discuss them with either people from “Podunk, IL,” or people who hang out on scary blog-sites.

So how is Mr. Foster and his campaign spending their time?

Serious candidate.  Serious campaign.  

And, oh yeah, serious support from the New Chicago Machine
which recent history tells us does not think highly of the ability of “Podunk, IL” to pick its own candidates.

So how does one become the primary pick of the New Chicago Machine?

Well, for Bill Foster that journey began shortly after he walked off his project at Fermilab over funding. To be utterly fair to Mr. Foster, what’s been done to high energy physics funding in this country during the Republican War on Science is an absolute tragedy.  But one wonders how Mr. Foster, who had this:

I apologize to all of you who have worked on technical aspects of the Proton Driver, that the battle for the project has been lost on the political front…

and this:

But I also realize that my voice will not be heard, since after years of insisting that unpleasant technical realities be respected in strategic planning in HEP, I find myself branded as a troublemaker with an axe to grind.

to say in his farewell letter could think he would be more effective in taking his marbles to the big show of all funding – DC.  And yes, it may be an assumption on my part that his frustration with funding at Fermi played into his relocation to DC, but it strains credulity to think his sudden interest in politics coming within mere months of this departure from Fermi was coincidental.

How sudden was his interest in politics?  Well, as his campaign manager tells us:

What I said was he was busy working as a scientist. He wasn’t involved in politics

So, in February of 2006, after over 20 years as a physicist, Foster walks away from an entire career in frustration over political wrangling over federal funding and, despite an adult life devoid of an interest in politics:

“In May 2006, I moved to Washington DC to explore possibilities for a $1/year, non-partisan career on Capitol Hill or elsewhere in government…

It soon became abundantly clear, however, that you can just about forget about a non-partisan career on Capitol Hill. Signing up to work for the Sunnis immediately puts you on Shiite death list, and vice-versa.”

from an essay entitled “Bill Foster – Political Stuff,” formerly posted at… on Foster’s personal website.  This essay was pulled from the website after Foster declared his candidacy for Congress.

Oh, don’t worry, once forced to choose he picked the Dems.  It would be too much to expect he did not see which way the congressional wind was blowing in 2006, as is fairly obvious from this bit, also in his Fermilab farewell letter:

Within a few years, Fermilab is to be a $300M laboratory doing $150M of ILC R&D, an accelerator division operating a JPARC-scale synchrotron, and a limited number of neutrino physicist users. Then, in the likely occurrence that we do not immediately get ~$10B of federal and international funds to build the ILC, congress may tire of funding R&D for a project with an uncertain time scale, and the HEP budget at both US universities and labs will collapse. (By this time, of course, Rep. Hastert will have retired as Speaker of the House and we will no longer have him to defend our budget….)(emphasis added)

While in DC, he experienced another sudden political epiphany, deciding to give up his quest for a non-partisan job on the Hill in favor of going to work for one of the congressional campaigns underway. Foster (who quite nicely fits the profile of the candidate the DCCC is looking for, a fiscally conservative Democrat and potential self-funder from a district who everybody knows will have a seat opening up soon) attended a DCCC (then chaired by Rahm Emanuel) “Red to Blue” program (then co-chaired by current DCCC Chair Chris Van Hollen) fundraiser, where he met several candidates, including Patrick Murphy.  For six whole weeks Foster roughed it:

“So, on September 20th 2006 I abandoned my nice comfortable apartment in DC and spent six weeks camped out in the Ramada Inn in Levittown PA, volunteering my time for the Patrick Murphy for Congress campaign.”

from an essay entitled “Bill Foster – Political Stuff,” formerly posted at… on Foster’s personal website.  This essay was pulled from the website after Foster declared his candidacy for Congress.

In fact, Foster was still living in DC a couple of months later, when he attended the Take Back America conference in June of 2007 but by then, his website issues section had already been developed (back in April, per campaign manager Tom), and he was hiring consultants.

Foster hired his major consultants first.  His campaign prospectus lists these consultants, Pete Giangreco of The Strategy Group, Jim Mulhall and Keith Kincaid of Squier Knapp Dunn Communciations, and Jefrey Pollack of pollster Global Strategy Group as major selling points for his campaign.

Foster doesn’t announce his candidacy until May 30, but DC insiders are apparently enough in the know to be aware of his candidacy and to have been prepped with some salient bio bullets, as a couple weeks before that US News and World Reports says:

In a sign of Democratic optimism, at least three possible candidates are openly threatening a challenge to Hastert. Perhaps the two most credible are state Rep. Linda Chapa LaVia of Aurora and Bill Foster, a wealthy, self-financed entrepreneur and physicist who started a company that is now the world’s largest manufacturer of stage-lighting equipment.

Heh.  They don’t call it a Machine for nothing.  It’s efficient.  Especially at the anointing of its unknown and previously apolitical candidates before they even announce.  Or move back to the district.

So who are these New Chicago Machine types behind Foster?

First up (and most prominently) there’s Pete Giangreco of The Strategy Group, a guy who, along with Rahm Emanuel, David Wilhelm (Clintonian DNC Chairman) and David Axelrod (regular campaign manager for Chicago Mayor Richie Daley) came out of Chicago at the same time.  Giangreco and Emanuel go back together to Daley’s early mayoral campaigns, if not earlier.  Giangreco went on to work on the Clinton and Gore presidential campaigns, among others, and was already a key advisor to Blagojevich when he entered the race for Governor.  Giangreco was also at the center of the “turnkey campaign” Tammy Duckworth was given by Emanuel in 2006.

Or to put it very bluntly indeed, here’s a Chicago guy with enough clout that he can call in favors for a Republican from Rahm Emanuel at will:

Democratic House nominee Rahm Emanuel, a former Clinton White House adviser, has written a letter highlighting pro- Clinton votes a South Carolina Republican candidate for governor made while in Congress.  …

Emanuel said he wrote the letter as a “favor” to Chicago-based political consultant Peter Giangreco. Giangreco has a client running for attorney general in South Carolina, Steve Benjamin. Giangreco “thought it would be helpful” for him to write the letter, Emanuel said.

And, of course, there was the obligatory Giangreco involvement in the Duckworth “turnkey” campaign:

Emanuel (D-Ill.) has been encouraging Duckworth to get in the race for the west suburban seat being vacated by Rep. Henry Hyde (R- Ill.), undermining Cegelis…

While Duckworth is a political rookie with no campaign experience or political organization behind her, if she runs, she will be able to tap into a turnkey political operation engineered in large part by Emanuel. That operation consists of some of the state’s highest- profile Democratic political professionals, including media consultant David Axelrod, direct mail marketeer Peter Giangreco and Jasculca, who said he met with her in Washington a few weeks ago to discuss the possibility of a campaign. …

Ah, but I’m getting so lost in Giangreco’s involvement in Foster’s campaign that I am forgetting that Giangreco can’t be the man behind the curtain, because Foster has an actual campaign manager: Tom Bowen…who, as it turns out,, is a former employee of The Strategy Group:

“working with Pete Giangreco on comunications and direct mail for clients nationwide at the federal, state and local level.”

Ah, but really, Foster’s team isn’t entirely comprised of New Chicago Machine insiders.  Squier Knapp Dunn is merely one of those entrenched Dempcratic Establishment consultant firms.  The only Illinois politician on SKD’s client list: Blagojevich.  So you have to really think of them as more DC than Chicago.  And Jefrey Pollack, President of the Global Strategy Group, while being a card-carrying member of the Democratic Establishment, is admittedly based in NYC.

Meanwhile, back in Podunk, I just got off the phone with Tim Wise, the Police Chief in Annawan, about as far west or (as Ms. Dooley might put it) as far into Podunk as it’s possible to be in IL-14.  Tim tells me that he was the guy whose phone calls the Foster campaign stopped returning, once they found out he was the local PCP assigned to invite Foster to appear at the Henry County Democratic Forum.  Tim seems none too pleased.  He said Foster has not been in Henry County once that he knows of, while Jotham Stein has been there twice, and John Laesch several times.

At this point in the conversation, Tim asked me who I was blogging for, I said no one technically, but I am a Laesch supporter.  Tim said that was fine by him, and I could go along and look at his endorsement of Laesch on Laesch’s website any time.  He said John supported his campaign for sheriff last year (where he lost, but took an impressive 48% of the vote against a Republican who has been an incumbent since the 70’s – and yes, he is running again: GO TIM!!!) like he supports a lot of Dems in local races throughout the district.  He said he thinks we need John to represent regular people like us.   Yeah Tim, I agree.

Because here’s the thing:  No matter how close or far you are from that wall around Washington, or how close or far you are from the inner workings of the New Chicago Machine, if you are outside of the inside, it doesn’t matter if you are living in upscale suburban St. Charles or rural Annawan, it doesn’t matter if you are hanging out at Starbucks or DailyKos, to the “insiders” looking out we are all living in Podunk.  

But here’s the other thing: We, the people of Podunk, are remembering this:

The House of Representatives shall be composed of Members chosen every second Year by the People 
Article I, Section 2 U.S. Constitution

On February 5 we will nominate John Laesch, because he comes out and listens to us and most importantly because he intends to represent us.  And no amount of shiny, bullet-pointed Bill Foster mailers we get from The Strategy Group in the interim will overcome that kind of actual respect for the lives and opinions and experiences of those of us living in “Podunk.”


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