A friend called to tell me that Democrats are secretly supporting conservative Republican gubernatorial candidate Bill Brady because they predict he’ll be a one-termer. So they’ll grit their teeth for four years and then run a Democrat (who is not Pat Quinn) who can keep the office for multiple terms.
Turns out my friend was half right. There are Democrats working for Brady; but they are working for Brady because, they say, he’s just what’s needed by the state of Illinois, which is teetering on fiscal insolvency. He’s a proven businessman, they say, while Pat Quinn is nice and well meaning but ineffectual and indecisive—the anti-businessman, so to speak.
The ringleader—the guy who is recruiting Democrats to work (stealthily mostly) for Brady—is Dean Vallas of Palos Park. Vallas signed on as a Brady volunteer—Cook County finance co-chairman—before the Republican primary. He is the younger brother of Paul Vallas, the former Chicago public school chief and the runner-up to Blago in the 2002 Democratic gubernatorial primary.
The Vallas brothers are not new to Republican politics. Paul had considered running earlier this year as a Republican for Cook County board president. Meanwhile, Dean has given money to Republicans—Tom Cross, Adeline Geo-Karis, and, as early as 2006, to Bill Brady. Still, he says, “I have supported Democratic candidates most of my life.” When he threw his support to Brady, “My friends called me and asked, `What are you, Karl Rove?’…. Good friends didn’t want to talk to me.”
“Bill’s a down-stater, completely independent,” says Vallas, 54, a retired businessman, in explaining his party switch. (In a subsequent conversation on Tuesday, he called Brady “a downstate yokel” who did not have the support of the Republican establishment.) Most important, he adds, Brady “has been in business [a family home construction company] for his whole life, has had to meet a payroll—knows what it’s like not to sleep on Friday night because you can’t make the Saturday payroll.”
Brady’s other quality, continues Vallas, is that “He’s not part of that old guard”—the insider culture that has made a mess of the state. Pat Quinn, he says, is “a real good man, and, I think, he was thrown into a very tenuous position. I just don’t think he has the political skills to navigate around a Mike Madigan.”
One of Vallas’ recruits is a lawyer who ran for a minor office in the 2010 primary, lost, but “learned the ropes doing it.” He’s doing fieldwork in the southwest suburbs where he now lives, although he’s a product of the South Side’s 19th Ward Democratic powerhouse—the ward that produced the Hynes family dynasty, as well as Sheriff Tom Dart and his political mentor and predecessor, Michael Sheahan. The lawyer describes himself as a Democrat who wants “a fresh face”—someone who “owes nothing to Mike Madigan.”
Another Vallas recruit, a woman who asked me to call her a “political worker”— although she’s actually much higher on the totem pole—says Brady is the first Republican she has ever supported. She says she voted in the Democratic gubernatorial primary but not for Pat Quinn, whom she calls “well intentioned but [not] strong enough to tackle the problems that Illinois has.” She adds: “I’m a firm believer that people in executive roles—governor, mayor, Cook County board president—need to be business people because it’s an executive position as opposed to a legislative one.”
Asked how many Democrats are working for Brady, Dean Vallas hedges, refusing to offer a number, but claims “more and more everyday.” He says he talks everyday to Democrats who are “sitting on their hands, not doing anything to help Quinn.” A recent Rasmussen poll of likely voters confirms Quinn’s lukewarm support among Democratic voters. The poll released Monday shows Brady with a 13 point lead over Quinn, 50-37. It also found that “Brady earns support from 93 percent of Republicans, while just 66 percent of Democrats favor Quinn.”
So is Paul Vallas—who his brother says is definitely not running for mayor—also supporting Brady? No, says, Dean, and “I wouldn’t even ask him.” He says that Paul’s current work formulating a plan to build public schools in Haiti and consulting for the schools in New Orleans requires him to maintain ties to pols of both stripes, including Louisiana’s Republican governor, Bobby Jindal, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.