These Chicago Backers Could Bankroll Hillary in 2016

Without Obama in the race, Hillary Clinton may have a lot more local support in her corner this round.

Illustration: Aaron Goodman; Photos: (Bluhm) Brian Cassella/Chicago Tribune; (Eychaner) James R. Brantley/British Embassy; (Pritzker) David Klobucar/Chicago Tribune; (Ricketts) Alex Garcia/Chicago Tribune; (Tullman) Travis Haughton/Chicago Tribune

Aside from Bill Clinton, there might not be anybody in America more eager for another Hillary presidential run than Delmarie Cobb. Six years ago, Cobb, a Democratic consultant from Chicago’s South Side, was a member of the indefatigable crew of Clinton supporters who rebuffed the city’s favorite son for its forgotten daughter (who grew up in suburban Park Ridge). It was an experience Cobb remembers as both rewarding and demoralizing, and it is one that has her looking ahead to a possible 2016 Clinton run as not only a course correction for her party and the country but also a form of personal vindication. “Just watching the groundswell of support is already vindication in many ways,” says Cobb. “We were supporting the right candidate.”

But the air of anticipation among Clinton’s core Chicago backers is also mixed with a sense of territoriality. “People don’t want this to turn into the Barack Obama campaign,” says Cobb, who backed Obama for his U.S. Senate run in 2004. “[Those] are the people who did everything they could to disparage Hillary and didn’t want her to be part of the administration, didn’t want Barack Obama to have anything to do with the Clintons. If this is going to be the Hillary campaign with all the Barack Obama people on it, some people may not want to do the kind of work they did in 2008.”

Supporting Hillary the last time around was perceived in town as almost seditious. “People were like, ‘We cannot believe you are endorsing this lady,’ ” says Richard Boykin, a lawyer, lobbyist, and former chief of staff for Illinois representative Danny Davis. “You got criticized. You got ostracized.”

That sentiment was particularly strong within Chicago’s black community. Helen Latimore, a retired prison counselor who once organized for Martin Luther King Jr., remembers a time she went to a Hyde Park restaurant with a Hillary button on her shirt. The waitress offered her an Obama button to wear instead, and when Latimore declined, she says, the restaurant’s owner came to her table demanding to know why she was “messing around.” Says Latimore: “When my food came out, I thought I shouldn’t be eating it.”

Latimore wasn’t the only black Clinton supporter to feel the sting. Cobb made headlines at the 2008 Democratic National Convention when she told the Sun-Times that former Illinois Senate president Emil Jones, a staunch Obama supporter who is also black, had called her an “Uncle Tom” for supporting Clinton. (Jones denied it, though others backed up Cobb’s account.)

While an emotional throng of some 200,000 Chicagoans packed Grant Park on election night to celebrate the historic moment, Cobb was ruing the results at a friend’s house. “I cried,” she says, “but for a different reason.”

The resentment some Chicago Clinton-istas hold toward the Obama camp goes beyond feeling spurned. It also lies in the differing local campaign styles displayed in 2008. Once Obama entered the race, Clinton’s national campaign effectively ceded the Illinois primary. Without many organizational constraints or expectations coming from the Virginia headquarters, Clinton supporters in Chicago felt free to improvise tactics that differed from the meticulous top-down approach that Clinton’s national team used. “The reality was, in Illinois we were an insurgent campaign, and we were the scrappy ones,” says Stacey Zolt Hara, who served as Clinton’s Illinois spokeswoman.

Of the 67 Chicagoans on Clinton’s 2008 Illinois Steering Committee, a core group of 12 met regularly in the LaSalle Street office of Kevin O’Keefe, an attorney and a former classmate of Clinton’s at Maine South High School. “It was a very tight-knit group,” says Zolt Hara.

Key members of that group included financier J.B. Pritzker, who served as Hillary’s national cochairman; Tim Wright, an attorney who had been Bill Clinton’s White House director of domestic policy; and Voda “Betsy” Ebeling, Clinton’s childhood best friend. All three are likely to be significant players in a 2016 presidential campaign, should Hillary decide to run (see “The Players,” below, for more).

It’s the grassroots organizers, the people knocking on doors and passing out fliers, who appear the most hesitant to join up with their old Obama rivals. Last time around, Cobb and about a dozen other South Side women created an informal group they called the Think Squad to challenge what they perceived to be the blithe fealty being paid to Obama in Chicago and around the country.

Cobb would like to reboot the Think Squad, but Latimore, who was also part of that group, isn’t so sure she’ll pick up the torch again, especially if it means working alongside Obama alumni. “If they end up practicing the same kind of campaign [they did in 2008],” Latimore says, “I will probably not be involved.”


The Players

Five deep-pocketed Chicagoans likely to have Hillary’s back if she runs in 2016

Neil Bluhm

Neil Bluhm

Chairman, Rush Street Gaming
A gimme. The real-estate magnate donates to every Dem running for president.


Fred Eychaner

Fred Eychaner

CEO, Newsweb Corp.
The media honcho recently gave $25 million to the Clinton Foundation.


J.B. Pritzker

J.B. Pritzker

Cofounder, Pritzker Group
The financier sponsored the Clinton Global Initiative’s annual meeting in Chicago last year.


Laura Ricketts

Laura Ricketts

Co-owner, Chicago Cubs
The well-known activist cohosted a fundraiser in June for Ready for Hillary, a super PAC supporting a Clinton run in 2016.


Howard Tullman

Howard Tullman

CEO, 1871 startup incubator
The venture capitalist hosted the June fundraiser with Ricketts.




Submit your comment

Comments are moderated. We review them in an effort to remove foul language, commercial messages, abuse, and irrelevancies.

Note: To serve its readers better, Chicago has migrated its comments to Disqus, a popular commenting platform. Please feel free to contact us with any feedback.