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Carol Felsenthal
On politics

Who Is Bill Daley For in the Governor’s Race?

The former White House chief of staff refuses to endorse either candidate, but he has some interesting opinions in recent interviews.

 Photo: Antonio Perez/Chicago Tribune

When Bill Daley, 66, made his shocking exit from the Democratic primary for governor 13 months ago, he had some surprisingly harsh words for the sitting governor, Pat Quinn, who would have been his primary rival.

Daley predicted Quinn’s defeat—he “will not be the next governor of Illinois.” He also promised that he would not endorse Quinn in the primary (that’s a promise that Daley kept), and he refused to promise not to endorse a Republican in the general election. He hasn’t formally endorsed Rauner but it seemed to me that he came close today in an interview he gave to Politico.

More on that later, but first, during the 98 days that Daley ran against Quinn, Quinn attacked Democrat Daley, then most recently chairman, Midwest region, J.P. Morgan Chase, in terms similar to those Quinn now uses to attack Republican Rauner, the former GTCR private equity chairman. Several days before Daley dropped out, Gov. Quinn accused Daley, in his role as a “millionaire” banker, of having “helped drive the American economy into a ditch and created the Great Recession.”

With this still in mind as I cover the ugly class warfare race to the bottom between Quinn and Rauner, I was interested in today’s Politico story. Titled “How to define and destroy a private equity candidate” it features a photo of Quinn and Rauner from last week’s debate. Reporter MJ Lee interviewed Daley, now managing partner of the Swiss–based hedge fund Argentiere Capital AG (Daley heads U.S. operations out of a Loop office) for the piece. Daley offered a forceful defense of private equity and, I thought, Bruce Rauner: “What PE companies do and their business makes for a very easy target for people to twist and bend and simplistically attack. It’s tailor-made for a political consultant to attack — all you need is a few facts — you don’t need a lot of them. You sure don’t need truth.” He added, “Basically, the whole Quinn campaign is to trash [Rauner] for his PE stuff.”

With less than three weeks until the election, no need to hedge my bet that Daley won’t be reconnecting to his Democratic pedigree and endorsing Quinn. As for Rauner, in Daley’s Politico interview, issued what I considered an endorsement of sorts, even though Bill Daley has not yet turned up on the list of Democrats for Rauner and probably won’t. I wouldn’t be surprised, though, to see Daley on a Rauner transition committee, should Rauner win on November 4.

Just as this piece was going to press, however, Daley returned my call placed a couple of hours earlier. He told me that he’s not going to endorse Quinn, that he’s now a “private sector person and let’s just leave it at that.” He added that he’s not going to endorse Rauner either. He said that he knows Rauner “well enough to say hello, but that’s about it.” He also told me that I’m reading too much into his quotes in the Politico piece; that he was merely commenting on how the particular “nature of private equity” renders it different from, say, banking or the hedge fund business; that PE is “easy fodder for an attack campaign.”

I asked Daley if he’d use the word “unfair” to describe this state of campaign life, and he chuckled and said no, it’s just the nature of politics. “It’s all fair game, just as Rauner attacking Quinn for Blago or NRI [the controversial and under-investigation Neighborhood Recovery Act] is fair game.” As for a role in a Rauner administration, he sounded completely underwhelmed at the possibility.

Carol Felsenthal is a lifelong Chicagoan and self-proclaimed political junkie. She writes occasionally for Politico Magazine and The Hill. Her books include biographies of Bill Clinton, Katharine Graham, and Alice Roosevelt Longworth. Among her many stories for Chicago are memorable profiles of Michelle Obama and Bruce Rauner. Follow her on Twitter at @csfelsenthal.

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