Some of us have been thinking out loud that the Democratic field for Barack Obama's old spot in the U.S. Senate looks pretty weak, and that the party needs some other candidates—fast—if it's going to keep the seat after next year's elections.
Now it's looking like the first of additional candidate is entering the race.
The Tribune is reporting that David Hoffman, the city's inspector general for nearly four years, is planning to run. The IG's office confirms that he's already resigned from that job.
At this point Hoffman is probably best known for issuing a damning report on the parking meter lease deal. The report concluded that the city, in the throes of an ongoing budget crisis, rushed into the agreement and may have undersold the meters by a billion dollars. It also advised the City Council to develop a more thorough vetting process—i.e., some vetting process—before agreeing to sell off any more city assets. "There were valid alternatives to this lease deal that could have solved the City’s short-term budget problem without (i) raising the meter rates to the same level, and (ii) giving up control of the parking meters for such a long period of time," the report stated. "At the least, these alternatives merited consideration in a regular, democratic, deliberative process."
That's the kind of well-reasoned critique that boils the blood of Mayor Daley, his staff, and his aldermen, who lashed out at Hoffman and his report for allegedly not taking into consideration all the facts they had available showing that the deal was brilliant. Or, as alderman Bernard Stone so eloquently stated it when we were on Chicago Tonight together last week: "What does he know about it?"
Of course, Stone has been sore at Hoffman since the IG's office investigated one of his precinct workers for election fraud a couple years back.
Anyway, under Hoffman's lead, the IG's office has gained a reputation for doing something—a stark change from the limp operation it was previously. In addition to the parking meter report, the office conducted investigations into corruption in the building department, hiring shenanigans in the human resources department, and loafing by city sanitation workers. Few people have questioned Hoffman's work ethic or seriousness, though Daley allies have long whispered that he was in it to make a name for himself so he could run for higher office, and others of us wondered why he seemed to go after low-hanging fruit when the entire tree was rotten.
If he's going to win the Democratic Senate nomination, Hoffman will need to get some name recognition and cash together—and quickly. His top foe, state treasurer Alexi Giannoulias, has been unofficially campaigning for the job for more than a year, comes across as positive and energetic on camera, and is armed with money and well-heeled connections. But Giannoulias hasn't even finished one term in a post no one knows much about, and he's mostly been in the news for playing hoops with the president and leading a bank that gave loans to mob figures—not the ideal credentials for a seat Democrats need to keep if they want to maintain a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate.
Also running is Cheryle Jackson, who's injected new life into the Chicago Urban League since become its president in 2006. She's the lone African-American in the race so far, which is important considering that this position has been seen by some as the black seat in the U.S. Senate since it was held by Obama and Carol Moseley Braun. But Jackson is going to have to downplay that history if her candidacy is going anywhere—for starters, too many people are still annoyed that Rod Blagojevich and congressman Bobby Rush openly played racial politics in pressuring leading Senate Democrats to accept the appointment of Roland Burris earlier this year. Worse, before joining the Urban League Jackson worked as a top aide to Blago, an inconvenient fact she's already had to talk about.
Likely Republican nominee Mark Kirk has his own problems—among other things, he's reviled by arch-conservatives for the occasional moderation he's shown on issues like carbon cap-and-trade legislation, and Democratic activists are busy painting him as a flip-flopper on health care and other issues. But if the GOP doesn't devour itself from within, his middle-of-the-road social positions and fiscal conservatism could go over well in a state weary of scandal.
That's why Democrats have been looking around for other candidates since Lisa Madigan opted out of a run. Cook County sheriff Tom Dart has been approached by party leaders and is reportedly thinking it over. If he runs, he'll be the favorite since he has cultivated a reputation as a progressive goo-goo type while still maintaining ties to party regulars across Illinois, formed when he was a state legislator.
Hoffman will make the race more interesting regardless. It's too soon to say how he'll do on the stump or who's going to write him checks, but sources say he's enlisted David Axelrod's people to craft his message. Combined with Hoffman's smarts and obvious knack for using the media, that's an indication that this is going to be a real live campaign before it's done.
Meanwhile, there is a city to watch over. A spokesman for the IG's office assures me its work will go on as usual. Until the mayor names Hoffman's successor, first deputy IG Mary Hodge will run the show.