Keith Ellison Is Now the DNC Deputy Chair. This Should Be the Next Move for Progressives.

Keith Ellison is now DNC Deputy Chair. Bravo, progressives. Now on to the next crucial step: taking over the Cook County Democratic Party. Simply put, for progressives, to take over the Cook County party establishment is the first real step towards not only influencing the national stage, but dominating it.

Understand something about Chicago. It is the heart of the Democratic establishment’s power. New York and D.C. are the mind and nerve center, Hollywood is one strong arm, and Wall Street is the other. Women are the neck and unions are the legs, with both showing strong trends towards progressivism, though they’re still trapped up in the establishment, mostly through fear.

Chicago is the heart, and where the battle will be fought.

Let’s move to the state’s most important players. First, the Governor in the background is a billionaire Republican named Bruce Rauner. In Chicago, there’s Mayor Rahm Emanuel, of course, former Chief of Staff to President Obama and aide to President Clinton. This guy is the best fundraiser in the history of national politics, and he is notoriously ruthless. Next is Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle. She started her career as a reformer, yet she has long since drifted from it. Now, her machine is simply vying for domination same as the rest. Understand that Chicago is a city of war chiefs, all fighting for control. The Mayor is chief of the neoliberal machine, an army of wealthy donors and press people, mostly affluent whites. President Preckwinkle is chief of the semi-progressive, blue-collar mostly black and brown coalition.

There’s something else we need to insert here: both Emanuel and Preckwinkle’s relationship with the Clintons. Rahm was shoved out of the Clinton White House because Hillary did not like him. She helped to have him demoted before he eventually left. Then she joins the Senate and he joins the House after making twenty million dollars on a single deal, eventually rising to the number four man in the Democratic party, their golden boy and enforcer. Then he’s Chief of Staff and she’s Secretary of State, and the two are butting heads yet again, with Rahm winning this time. A lot of people don’t know this, but President Obama did not want Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State. Her people leaked a rumor that he was considering her, and, once it had spread, her supporters—who still wielded great power within the Democratic party—would have revolted if the President had appointed someone else. So the first thing Hillary does during the new administration is hamstring the President by saddling him with someone he didn’t want for such an important role. You better believe Rahm let Hillary feel pain for that as Chief of Staff. And, seeing as all three are from Chicago, the people in the political know in my city heard this message loud and clear. Side note, the mayor of Chicago when Obama ran for president was Richard M. Daley, of the Daley dynasty. He supported Obama from the first, vocally. That’s just a tidbit.

Then we get to 2016 primary, during which Rahm supported Hillary and raised money for her, yet everyone knew his heart wasn’t really in it. That’s when old boy Billy C steps in to shock Illinois.

The first night of the Democratic convention, Former President of the United States of America Bill Clinton brings up Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle—the only person in Chicago who can challenge Rahm as mayor—to sit right next to him and Chelsea. It was clear that Bill and Hillary told the networks to catch the footage of the former president, his daughter, and Toni Preckwinkle sitting together. There is not an Illinois politico who would not climb a mountain for a glimpse inside Rahm’s mind when he found out.

Anyway. The true power in the state is Mike Madigan, Speaker of the General Assembly, in Springfield, the Capital of Illinois. This guy is chair of the state Democratic Party and controls every one of the party’s legislators in the G.A., and many in the senate as well. He has a stranglehold on both the state’s functioning and its Democratic politics—which means Chicago, as most the rest of the state is red—an incredible one-two power punch. Getting nominated by the Democratic party establishment in Illinois means you’ve kissed Mike Madigan’s ring. Unless you’re a judge; then you’ve probably kissed Alderman Burke’s, though that’s a horse of a different color.

So a progressive overthrow of the Cook County Democratic Party, because Chicago is the heart of the party establishment’s power. Let’s now examine that last bit.

Chicago was founded by a saloon keeper akin to Albert Swearingen in HBO’s Deadwood. The Irish have run it from the first, and the first thing they did was take over all the government offices, especially police and fire. Politically, there have only been a few brief periods of democracy in Chicago, to say nothing of Cook County and Illinois as a whole. Today, the Democratic Party establishment has a stranglehold on elections, using a combination of fundraising, press puppets, and—most importantly—the election code to fix outcomes, squashing progressive challenges like bugs. Further, in Cook County, the real election is the primary, not the general, which the party itself sets the rules for; constitutional and statutory election protections do not apply to primaries with nearly as much force, and you can bet the parties abuse this fact, none more so than the Illinois Democratic party. The state is the most corrupt and least democratic in the union. Today, power within the state party is shared between a coalition of whites led and dominated by the Irish, blacks, and Latinos, but the Irish still call all the shots behind the scenes, though Mayor Emanuel is trying to put an end to all that.

So the national Democratic party establishment can count on Chicago. They can count on receiving a ton of money from the region, they can count on the local war chiefs to bring in the votes for establishment candidates during federal primaries, they can count on the delegates coming out of the county, and they can count on a ton of good press from the local papers. Chicago is the Democratic party establishment’s old stone building in the middle of the country, a mighty retreat, their Helm’s Deep a la Lord of the Rings.

Progressives have no chance of overthrowing either the Preckwinkle machine or the Emanuel one. Indeed, there are many progressives within the former, though the true ones are kept in the dark and placed in ineffectual, though often visible, roles. Further, President Preckwinkle just had her hand-picked candidate and former Chief of Staff elected the county’s State’s Attorney (D.A.), an incredibly important role. The woman’s name is Kim Foxx, and she’s lightyears better than Anita Alvarez, whom she replaced. Still, she’s just a soldier in the Preckwinkle army, and that army is only vying for power and control, same as all the others in the county. It is the many who feel the pain of this corruption, none more so than minorities.

Though Mayor Emanuel is the true opponent of progressives, and though President Preckwinkle does a lot of good things, there are far better options. The city’s problems are simply not going to resolve under their watch—indeed, they have only been growing exponentially worse—and the city’s influence on national Democratic politics will never be progressive for as long as they are around, to say nothing of Mike Madigan.

So what to do then, if I say that there is no way of defeating these people? Well, keep them in check, through the Preckwinkle army. Join its ranks and force it further towards progressivism. Progressives on the national stage should make Chicago the top priority, and they should exercise their power by latching onto and ultimately changing the Preckwinkle machine. I’m talking to you, Bernie people. Exerting more influence over Cook County democratic politics will translate into a much broader impact on the national stage for progressives.

But please. I beg you. In my own name, he who worked within it. Do not compromise your integrity even once while inside Chicago politics. The place is a political cesspool, and the allure of corruption is well-masked. Take even one step down that road, and your ability to improve the city and county rapidly fades, so dominant and aggressive is the corruption there, yanking the unwary or the unequipped down a spiral and never letting go. Chicago is the lion’s den.

Trust me, there are a lot of people in Chicago reading this and grinding their teeth, fuming, or sneering. My credentials on this subject do not only include being a lawyer from the city itself. Before law school, I worked for a city alderman, for a year as an unpaid intern during college and for two years as a full-time aide, splitting my presence between City Hall and the ward office. Aldermen are city council members, and, in Chicago, they have a lot of power over their wards. Everyone wants to be one, unless they are eyeing city or state-wide office. The alderman I worked for was one of the few members of the reform caucus, which stood in opposition to then-Mayor Daley. Then law school and the bar. While I awaited confirmation of my passing grade, I worked as Deputy Campaign Manager for one of Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s three progressive challengers. We did not win, but we did help force a run-off election between the mayor and one of the other progressives—the first time Chicago had ever seen a run-off in a mayoral race.

So this is the position from which I speak. Though I am not necessarily well-known in my hometown, people in the political know know me. And let me say it again. Simply put, for progressives, to take over the Cook County party establishment is the first real step towards not only influencing the national stage, but dominating it.


Featured photo by Thomas Hawk via Flickr.