Illinois’s Pat Quinn wins primary, but Scott Lee Cohen issue looms

After a close vote in Tuesday’s Illinois primary, Gov. Pat Quinn has emerged as the Democratic candidate for that office. But he’s calling for Scott Lee Cohen, the Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor, to step aside.

By MARK GUARINO | Christian Science Monitor Staff Writer / February 4, 2010

Chicago — The Democratic candidate for Illinois governor was finally decided Thursday, two days after the primary produced a slim lead for incumbent governor Pat Quinn over opponent Dan Hynes.

Mr. Hynes initially said the results were too close for him to concede, but he then decided against a recount. In a press conference Thursday morning, he declared his campaign was at an end.

“The people have spoken, and the votes have been counted,” Hynes said. “And if democracy means anything, it means that the campaign with more votes wins.”

At a separate news conference later in the day, Governor Quinn said that Hynes, with whom he had a bitter rivalry, “has the heart of a lion.”

Hynes’s announcement did not end the political uncertainty in this state following Tuesday’s primary: The Republican candidate for governor remains to be determined.

The top GOP vote-getter was state Sen. Bill Brady, but his lead is currently just 406 votes over state Sen. Kirk Dillard. Neither candidate has spoken publicly about the results. Absentee and provisional ballots still need to be counted, but after that, a recount is likely.

“This is going to be a two-week process for everyone before it is over,” James Allen, spokesman for the Chicago Board of Election, told the Chicago Tribune. “And because we have such razor-thin margins, it’s getting way more scrutiny, as it should be.”

Quinn’s victory continues his uphill battle for credibility Illinois. He became governor in late January 2009 under unfavorable circumstances – the impeachment of then-Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D). His tenure has been marked by unpopular issues: a prison-release program that came under criticism when it came out that some inmates returned to committing crimes, an admissions scandal at the University of Illinois, cutbacks in crucial state services, and a $5 billion state debt and $13 billion budget deficit.

It will also be a challenge for Quinn to win the organizational support of his own party, which he has never been particularly close to, says Michael Mezey, who teaches political science at DePaul University in Chicago.

“Quinn has always been an outsider in the Democratic Party,” Professor Mezey says. “He’s always been the reformer, the crusader against corruption…. [Illinois Democrats] are going to be less enthusiastic about that, so he’s going to have some work to do.”

Then there is the black vote, which is not a guarantee for Quinn. That’s because of an incident in 1987 involving the late and beloved Harold Washington, Chicago’s first black mayor. Quinn served as Mr. Washington’s revenue director but was later fired. A video captured Washington summing up Quinn’s talents in the position this way: “Pat Quinn is a totally and completely undisciplined individual who thinks this government is nothing but a large easel by which he can do his [public relations] work. He almost created a shambles in that department.”

The words were reintroduced to voters last month thanks to Hynes, who used them in his campaign advertisements.

“Some people in the black community still remember that. If Quinn can’t pull from the black community, he’s going to have it really tough,” Mezey says.

Further burdening Quinn is his pairing with Scott Lee Cohen, a Chicago pawnbroker, whom voters selected as the Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor. In 2005, Mr. Cohen was arrested for domestic battery. The case was dropped when the woman involved did not show up for a court date.

At his news conference Thursday, Quinn said that Cohen has “an obligation to step down.”

Before the November election, it is likely that Quinn will try to push through large-scale accomplishments. And it is more than likely that “the Democratic Party will rally around Quinn,” says Dick Simpson, who teaches political science at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

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