By Rick Pearson and Bob Secter
11:50 PM EDT, September 16, 2013
Bill Daley abruptly ended his bid for the Democratic nomination for governor Monday, saying a lifetime in politics had not prepared him for the “enormity” of his first run for office and the challenge of leading the state through difficult times.
Daley, a member of two White House administrations, a presidential campaign manager and the son and brother of two former Chicago mayors, dropped out of the race less than four months after declaring his political resume gave him the best credentials to replace Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn.
“One of the things I always thought in my career that I wanted to do, I thought I would be able to have that opportunity, I hoped, would be to run for office. And even though you're around it for a long time, you really don't get a sense of the enormity of it until you get into it,” Daley told the Tribune.
“But the last six weeks or so have been really tough on me, struggling with this. Is this really me? Is this really what I want to spend my next five to nine years doing? And is this the best thing for me to do at this stage of my life?” he said. “I've come to the conclusion that this isn't the best thing for me.”
Daley's stunning decision to drop out of the race could give Quinn a virtually free shot at winning nomination for re-election in March. But with the primary filing deadline in early December, he said some other Democrat should step forward to challenge Quinn's bid for a second elected term.
Daley said he still believed Quinn was a weak candidate who would lose the November 2014 general election to a Republican.
“There's no doubt in my mind that Pat Quinn will not be the next governor of Illinois,” Daley said. “This governor is not that strong that somebody should fear running against him.”
Quinn's camp did not directly address Daley's criticism.
“When the time comes for voters to make their decision on Nov. 4 next year, we are confident they will recognize the difficult and important work the governor has accomplished on their behalf,” Quinn's campaign said in a statement.
The campaign said it respected Daley's decision to drop out, adding that a “divisive primary would have only helped Republicans who want to take this state backward and undo the important progress we have made.”
Daley, who will turn 65 in August, said he was not dropping his bid because of health concerns, family illness or other issues. Though some important Democrats privately questioned whether Daley could win the primary, he maintained he was not dropping the race out of fear of losing but because of the potential for winning it.
“To be honest with you, losing it wasn't the worst of my fears. In many ways, winning it and having the commitment of five years to nine years was something I struggled with,” he said. “You know, the dog catches the tire and, boom.”
Daley, who served as White House chief of staff for home-state President Barack Obama, commerce secretary for President Bill Clinton and campaign manager for the presidential bid of Vice President Al Gore, had toyed in the past with running for public office — including bids for governor in 2002 and 2010. But he never moved forward.
In early June, Daley took his first-ever formal steps to run for office, forming an exploratory committee for governor and introducing himself in a web video. He said he had grown impatient waiting to see if Attorney General Lisa Madigan would challenge Quinn and increasingly dissatisfied with the inability of state government to resolve the massive unfunded public employee pension liability.
Madigan eventually opted to seek re-election while her father, House Speaker Michael Madigan, remained in the General Assembly. And Daley moved quickly to declare he was in the race to stay despite the exploratory label, which his campaign finance committee formally abandoned at the end of July.
Since launching his bid, Daley had collected about $1.2 million, including $100,000 from his own pocket.
Almost all of it came in amounts $1,000 or greater, and he had the support of several movers and shakers in the worlds of business and politics.
He got checks of $5,000 to $5,300 from an array of former colleagues in the Clinton administration, including former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, former Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin and former White House chief of staff Mack McLarty. James Carville gave $2,500. He also got a donation and endorsement from outgoing New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
Daley had been assembling a veteran campaign staff and only two weeks ago tapped Tom Bowen, a top political aide to Mayor Rahm Emanuel, to run his campaign for governor.
Daley said he “absolutely saw a path” to victory, but he faced several obstacles despite Quinn's perceived weakness.
In Democratic-dominated Chicago, the name Daley is filled with controversy over his brother's tenure as mayor, particularly in the African-American community. And among Downstate voters, Daley and Chicago are unpopular political labels, especially among more conservative Democrats who support gun owners' rights.
His decision to drop out came just a day after he vehemently defended his Democratic credentials against repeated populist attacks from Quinn, who portrayed him as a member of a wealthy banker class that had caused the recession.
Daley, a former Chicago-based executive of JPMorgan Chase, said he was offended by Quinn's criticism and planned to go to Springfield on Sunday to seek support for himself or to try to block an anticipated endorsement of the governor by state Democratic officials.
Though Daley's father, the late Mayor Richard J. Daley, controlled Democratic slating and the fate of state and local candidates, Bill Daley decried such endorsements as outmoded and a political relic — echoing the comments Quinn made in early years as a political outsider.
But symbolizing what had become a campaign of role reversal, Quinn embraced the slating process and was backed by the Cook County Democratic organization over Daley, who was a no-show.
Daley said the weight of his six-week struggle over whether to continue his candidacy fell heavily last week during a news conference when a reporter reminded him of a Quinn comment that the governor “was put on Earth” to solve the state's pension dilemma. At the time, Daley said he hoped that he was on Earth for more than just solving the pension mess.
But in an interview at his Loop office Monday, Daley said the moment left him to ponder, “is that really what I'm put on Earth for?”
Daley said he plans to return to the private sector, but will “stay involved and engaged” in the governing process — though vowing never to seek public office.
“Life goes on,” he said. “Tomorrow we've all got to pay our bills and, hopefully, we put our feet down on the floor and get up and life goes on — and life will go on not only for me, but for everybody else in this state.”
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