The Chicago Way: Pritzker’s shell game, Dibs and GOP’s Irvin Not Ready for Prime Time

By John Kass

Aurora Mayor Richard Irvin might have multi-billionaire Ken Griffin’s support–and Griffin’s “political advisers” sniffing around for Griffin’s cash–but is the Republican Irvin ready for prime time? Is he ready to mount a legit challenge to Democratic incumbent Gov. J.B. Pritzker?

No. Not from where I’m sitting.

And that’s unfortunate. Pritzker is not a beloved governor. He’s weak. His foolish mask mandate is falling apart as I type. He seeks re-election while playing a budget shell game, like some carnival sharpie daring the rubes to bet a buck and pick the walnut shell with the pea.

WGN radio’s Jeff Carlin and I talked about Irvin’s fumbling campaign rollout on The Chicago Way podcast with Ted Dabrowski, the stellar government fiscal analyst for the non-partisan group  wirepoints.org. The link to the podcast is at the top of this column. Click on the link to listen for yourself. I hope you do. It’s free.

My problem: What do the Republicans of Illinois stand for?

“What it boils down to is that the Republican Party most of them, don’t have any principles,” Dabrowski said on The Chicago Way. “And so, they don’t know what to say. They’re trying to figure out what to say, politically.”

On the podcast, I also talk of one of my favorite subjects: Chicago Dibs, the use of garage and basement junk to mark your shoveled-out parking space on the streets of Chicago. Not everyone loves Dibs.  The ne’er-do-wells who hate Dibs are probably commies. But I believe in the America as the land of opportunity, where everyone may enjoy the fruits of their labor. As many of you know, I’m the keeper of the Dibstitution, guardian of the sacred scrolls.  I’m the real Judge Dibs.

But let’s get to the governor’s race. Though Democrats are trouble nationally as the November mid-term elections approach. Yet in Illinois, Republicans aren’t impressing anyone. Yes, taxpayers are tired of Gov. Commodius Maximus, who acted like an emperor during the pandemic by ordering us not to worship at our churches, synagogues and mosques, though he did keep the liquor stores open along with the pot shops so we could get high.

But is the Illinois Republican Party ready to bring the fight to Gov. Maximus?

As the first African-American mayor of Aurora, with reported backing by the wealthiest man in the state, Republican Irvin is in good position. But if you don’t know what you stand for, then how can you know what to say?

Irvin was a disaster in a recent TV interview with Mike Flannery on Fox Chicago. In that interview, Irvin ruled out new state taxes and fee increases. He promised permanent tax cuts rather than the “temporary” cuts being offered the governor. But Irvin couldn’t give specifics. Ouch.

“I don’t want to make empty promises to the residents of Illinois without identifying what the issues are, identifying what can be cut,” Irvin said, “But we’ve got to do exactly that. As mayor of Aurora… (blah blah blah). ”

Irvin did not literally say “blah blah blah.” But that’s what I heard coming out of his mouth as he talked.

Irvin opposes abortion and says he was “Pro Life.” But Flannery said the Aurora mayor declined to clarify important aspects.

Any exceptions? Flannery ticked off the usual list. “Rape, incest, life of the mother?”

Irvin squirmed.  “You know there all exceptions rape, life of the mother, things…”

Flannery: “You would allow abortion in those circumstances? You would allow abortion in those circumstances?

Irvin: “I think we’re done.”

And that was it.

I think we’re done?

Mayor Irvin, you’ve been handed a great opportunity. But unless you improve your game and pronto,  you’re done.

Who knows if Griffin’s billions can help him? Many things change over a course of a campaign and Irvin might improve. Big money helps. But you never get a second chance to make a first impression.

Jeff Carlin said he didn’t think Irvin was ready for prime time. I agree.

But I think that many conservatives won’t give him the benefit of the doubt because they’re suspicious of Griffin’s “consultants.” They perceive Combine Republican consultant Mike Zolnierowicz–a.k.a. “Mike Z”– as being too close. Conservatives know the Republican half of the Illinois Combine has let the state sink deep into fiscal quicksand. That’s why they throw shade on Irvin, because of the Combine connection.

Republicans can’t win a general election if the conservative base of the party won’t come out for the candidate. Griffin doesn’t have to listen to me. But loyal readers know that I did try to warn him.

The larger issue beyond what conservatives think of Mike Z is what the Illinois Republican Party thinks of itself. These days, the state party doesn’t seem stand for much except a bankroll. Once it was former Gov. Bruce Rauner’s bankroll, now Griffin’s. At least Rauner tried fighting Boss Madigan and the public (government) workers unions. Unfortunately, he too was captured by some of these same “consultants.” They care only for themselves. That’s politics. But the state is dying.

The Illinois GOP isn’t identified with Republican principles that are recognizable in other states. In Illinois, for years the GOP establishment has been the accommodationist party, serving as the handmaiden of the Democrats, eager to kneel so they might pick up a few crumbs.

Kneeling does not inspire Republican voters. And the state GOP is unfocused, and fearful.

“They’re running scared,” Dabrowski told The Chicago Way. “They don’t know what to do. They (establishment Republicans) always just want a seat at the table. Madigan had such good control. They want a seat at the table to make bad deals better, I think that’s what they always said. They stopped laying down the line of what they’re for, what they support. They couldn’t figure how to take on pensions, they couldn’t figure out how to keep taxes from going up, so they started talking about ‘we’ll make things less bad. We want a seat at the table.’

“Now they’re super-minority. They’ve been that way for a while, they have no influence and they’ve forgotten the way to turn themselves around is to actually look different from the Democratic Party, not be the same. Effectively you can’t tell the difference. And that’s been the problem for a long time.”

Bingo.

A closing note from Judge Dibs: Dibs last only as long as you can’t drive over the snow. If you can drive over the snow to park, then no Dibs. Capisce? And you can’t use chairs to call Dibs in July. Who do you think you are, some Chinatown wise guy?

Oh, and one more thing. If you dare use a blue Virgin Mary statue to mark your Dibs–and yes, such apostasy has been chronicled in the recent past–then Judge Dibs wants you to know that you’ll probably burn in hell for all of eternity. Just sayin’.

Respect Dibs. And don’t send yourself to hell. It’s not fun.

So let it be written, so let it be done.

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(Copyright 2022 John Kass)