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Don't Blame Edwin

In response to last week's Who Is To Blame For Blago? post, Lew Manilow sent us a comment - which you can see at the bottom of that piece - and suggested I speak to his stepson, Edwin Eisendrath, who challenged Blagojevich in the 2006 primary. Here are some bits from that interview and then a look at the coverage of that primary, which is even more fascinating in retrospect than it was at the time. Edited for clarity.

Beachwood: You got a decent chunk of the vote, didn't you? (30 percent; a landslide loss but still)

Eisendrath: Most of the votes came from downstate. And it snowed. We did better than the pundits thought we would.

Beachwood: Why didn't the pundits take you more seriously?

Eisendrath: The pundits spend their time listening to what the political insiders tell them. And the political insiders weren't interested in me . . . It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Beachwood: Was it hard to get media coverage?

Eisendrath: It was hard.

Beachwood: But we all knew Blagojevich was under investigation.

Eisendrath: We all knew. The U.S. Attorney went to the extraordinary length of [detailing Public Official A] so everybody knew.

Beachwood: Then why did the political Establishment stick with him?

Eisendrath: Everyone's gotta look in the mirror . . . the party's early warning system, which is largely made up of North Side liberals - Dawn Clark Netsch, Abner Mikva - a self-appointed early warning system - it was a role they didn't play.

Beachwood: Why not?

Eisendrath: It's very hard to do the right thing . . . [but] as a Democrat, I get to go to bed every day and know who's not to blame . . . I talked to [AP reporter] Chris Wills about this. The Democrats had been out of power a long time. There was a lot of low-hanging fruit, things were getting accomplished [on the Democrats'] social agenda. Gay rights, etcetera . . . I was told 'don't depoliticize the criticism of Rod - if it was just Republicans who said he was a crook, who cares!'

Beachwood: It seems like there's an instinct to rally around the incumbent regardless - look at how the Establishment rallied around Pat Quinn once he was governor when you might have thought Dan Hynes would be their guy. Maybe they figure he's someone they can roll, or they want rewards from the current governor and they'll deal with the later governor later.

Eisendrath: Pat's not a crook. And people who stood behind Rod would find it hard not to stand behind Pat now.

Beachwood: Obama stood behind Rod.

Eisendrath: The enemy was George Bush, no question. That was the focus of Democrats. The focus was on Barack - money was being raised for Barack.

Beachwood: So nobody wanted to raise questions about, say, Tony Rezko for fear it would spill over and taint Obama?

Eisendrath: People did raise questions. It was well-known. But there were a lot of other priorities . . . I'm not excusing Democrats - finally they got him out - but it was pretty awful . . . I was hoping someone else would have run against Rod and they didn't and shame on them . . . I was terribly depressed before that about the state of our state. I was more optimistic at the end.

Beachwood: Why?

Eisendrath: [I learned that] government is quite limited . . . I saw amazing things that the people of Illinois were doing not through government . . . for example, people in Decatur were upset with former CHA families from the Robert Taylor Homes who took their vouchers and moved there. 'We don't have the services to take care of them down here,' they said. But church groups and communities came together to take care of each other and the families got help, and were so much better off. Communities, not government, rallied . . . We have fools in government, but our civil society is phenomonal.

Beachwood: But we have such terrible candidates now in both the governor's and U.S. Senate race, isn't it even more depressing?

Eisendrath: So what! Our democracy will survive, our country will survive. It's depressing as all get-out but we have what we have.


As admirable as Eisendrath might be, a look through the clips reminded me that he didn't exactly run a stellar campaign. But can anyone say now they wouldn't have preferred him to the guy we got? Anyway, here's the way the coverage in the Tribune and Sun-Times (and Beachwood) went.


Headline: Ex-Alderman May Take On Blagojevich
Date: Nov. 13, 2005
By: Rick Pearson, Tribune
Excerpt: "Though Blagojevich's administration has been buffeted by investigations into allegations of pay-to-play style politics, and though his popularity among voters has suffered, leading Democrats have stood by the governor's re-election.

"The co-chairmen of Blagojevich's re-election committee are House Speaker Michael Madigan, who heads the Illinois Democratic Party, and Senate President Emil Jones Jr.

"Asked about a potential primary contest, Blagojevich campaign adviser Peter Giangreco said, 'The governor isn't concerned about who's in and who's out.'

"Blagojevich also is winning over some of his Democratic critics, including those who once explored a primary challenge to the governor. One questioned whether an effective political organization could even be developed when the deadline for filing candidacy petitions for the March 21 primary is little more than a month away.

"'For someone who brings a political background, money, organizational skills and has groups behind him, even now I would think it's too late,' said state Rep. Lou Lang (D-Skokie), who contemplated challenging Blagojevich. 'While I've been critical of the governor in the past few years, I do have to say that in the last two or three months he has begun to turn the corner and is heading in the direction we had hoped to see when he was elected.'"


Headline: Bring It On, Eisendrath
Date: Nov. 20, 2005
By: Carol Marin, Sun-Times
Excerpt: "But can he win?

'''No,' says Paul Green, expert on Illinois politics and director of policy Sstudies at Roosevelt University. 'He's betting on the come.'

"Which means?

'''He's betting that between the December filing deadline and the March primary, something drastic happens to Blagojevich . Either someone in his administration gets indicted. Or, he gets indicted. In that case, Eisendrath would be the alternative candidate and could win,' says Green. 'Otherwise he loses - big time.'"


"Blagojevich has not been charged with wrongdoing and there is no sign I have seen yet that he will be."


'''Look, his family has hundreds of millions of dollars,' laughed WBBM-TV's political editor Mike Flannery on Chicago Tonight last week. 'At Thanksgiving dinner, he'll be able to raise the $5 million to $6 million it would take to scare Rod Blagojevich.'

"But Eisendrath , who in 1987 ran what was then the most expensive aldermanic race in Chicago history, says he won't come close to the governor's war chest and doesn't want to.

'''The governor's money isn't just an asset for him, it's an issue,' said Eisendrath , who added he would try to raise far less, somewhere between $3 million and $6 million."


"But the danger here is that we as an electorate suffer from bipartisan corruption fatigue, and either shrug off or laugh hysterically when somebody - anybody - comes along and promises political reform.

"That, after all, is what Rod Blagojevich promised in 2002. No more business as usual, remember?"


Headline: Pressure Tactic To Clear Dem Primary Field Falls Flat
Date: Dec. 4, 2005
By: Lynn Sweet, Sun-Times
Excerpt: "Two Blagojevich allies cooked up a plot designed to pressure Edwin Eisendrath not to challenge the governor in the March Democratic primary - a letter signed by 25 A-list Illinois progressives urging him to stay out of the race . . .

"Eisendrath said he considers the whole exercise, orchestrated by state Sen. Carol Ronen (D-Chicago) and Democratic donor Leo Smith, a child welfare advocate, 'irrelevant.'

"'It was something I thought was a good idea,' Ronen said.

"Ronen, acknowledging her role, said the letter was supposed to be private.

"'How did it become public? The idea was to just send it,' she asked.


"Ronen, one of Blagojevich 's earliest supporters, said the letter - outlining Blagojevich 's long and strong record on progressive issues - was written to let Eisendrath know that his entry in the race may 'start diverting attention away from what was accomplished.'


"The penultimate paragraph of the letter to Eisendrath said, 'We must continue the fight as a unified Democratic community for the values we hold dear without the distractions of a hopeless primary challenge.'"


Headline: Eisendrath Joins The Race
Date: Dec. 19, 2005
By: Rick Pearson, Tribune
Excerpt: "'Four years ago, I supported Rod Blagojevich because I believed his promise that he would end the Ryan legacy of pay-to-play. I thought he was committed to change. I was wrong,' Eisendrath said. Instead, he said, Blagojevich has turned state government into a personal public relations machine, 'paid for by your taxes and contributions bled out of state contractors.'


"In taking on Blagojevich, Eisendrath, who served on the City Council from 1987 to 1993, is mounting an insurgent campaign against a first-term Democratic governor who holds not only a bankroll estimated at nearly $20 million but who also carries the endorsement of the state's Democratic Party establishment."


"On the eve of the final day for filing candidacy petitions for the primary, Eisendrath was joined by about one hundred friends and family members as he said Blagojevich 'built a wall to hide the truth,' made up of 'imagery built by political consultants and held together with mountains of campaign cash.'

"Pledging a true end to 'business as usual,' which Blagojevich promised in his campaign, Eisendrath cited myriad investigations into the Democratic governor's administration.

"'It took our party nearly 30 years to win the governorship,' he said. 'In less than four, the Blagojevich administration has left a perception of ethical lapses to put all that we've worked for at risk.'"


Headline: Gov Challenger Hits The Trail
Date: Dec. 19, 2005
By: Jim Ritter, Sun-Times
Excerpt: "Word of Eisendrath 's candidacy surfaced a month ago, but so far no fellow Democrats have endorsed him publicly.


"'The governor is focusing on his positive accomplishments for working families, and that's where he is going to keep his focus,' campaign spokesman Doug Scofield said.

"Eisendrath said he has talked to Blagojevich 's father-in-law, Ald. Richard Mell (33rd), who has been feuding with the governor. But Eisendrath didn't offer specifics."


Headline: Gov Lacks Support In The Trenches
Date: Jan. 8, 2006
By: Carol Marin, Sun-Times
Excerpt: "'There will be protest votes against Rod in the Democratic primary for [former Ald.] Edwin Eisendrath,' predicts state Sen. John Cullerton (D-Chicago). 'Eisendrath will get a surprisingly higher number of votes than people expect."


Is he going to vote for Blagojevich?

"'Oh, yes, absolutely,' Cullerton said. 'I think he deserves a second chance' though '. . . I'm disappointed in him in certain areas.'"


Headline: Blagojevich Avoids Fray; Governor's Strategy Seems To Be: Can't Talk, Too Busy Running State
Date: Jan. 9, 2006
By: Rick Pearson and John Chase, Tribune
Excerpt: "'Candidates say what they're going to do. Governors do and no governor has done more than this guy on issues such as health care, education, on helping working families make ends meet,' said Blagojevich strategist Peter Giangreco. 'You'd be hard-pressed to find a governor who has done so much in so little time.'"


Headline: Eisendrath Challenge May Help More Than It Hurts Blagojevich
Date: Feb. 27, 2006
By: Rich Miller, Daily Southtown
Excerpt: "Eisendrath 's campaign has been a joke up until now. Not only is it the gang that couldn't shoot straight, they don't even own a gun. I doubt they even have an FOID card.

"Last week, with just a month to go before the election, the campaign was forced to hire a new manager, Felicia Shallow Davis. Davis was initially described in a press release as the deputy field director for the Obama Senate campaign.' Later in the day, another press release was issued that listed her simply as having 'worked on two of Barack Obama's campaigns.' The Chicago Tribune reported that she was merely a 'volunteer"'on the campaigns. It also turns out that she just graduated from the cooking and hospitality school where Eisendrath works. You can't make this stuff up.

"Yes, there's been considerable pressure on Democrats from above to steer clear of Eisendrath 's campaign. The strong-arm tactics have been even more brutal against anyone who would support Forrest Claypool's effort to unseat Cook County Board President John Stroger, yet Claypool has run a respectable campaign and has a long list of endorsements from top Democrats. Alexi Giannoulias' unslated campaign for state treasurer has also had to deal with the long arm of the Democratic Party establishment, but he has still managed to put together a decent effort.

"Perception is almost everything in politics, and if Eisendrath is blown out next month then Rod Blagojevich will gain political strength . . .

"Eisendrath misled supporters and staff, who believed him when he promised to run a real campaign, with real money. But he now looks like he was just jumping in with the hope that the U.S. attorney's office would decide the outcome for him."


Headline: Governor Defends War Chest; Blagojevich Says "We Follow Rules"
Date: Feb. 26, 2006
By: Rick Pearson and John Chase, Tribune
Excerpt: "As his administration faces investigations at the state and federal level into allegations of pay-to-play politics, the first- term Democrat says his office has done nothing wrong. He vouches for the honesty of close friends and advisers who make money lobbying at the Statehouse.

"'We follow all the rules. We follow all the laws,' Blagojevich said."


Headline: Edwin? Rod? What Campaign?
Date: Feb. 26, 2006
By: Tribune editorial
Excerpt "Rod Blagojevich won the governor's race in 2002 on a vow that a new ruling party with a new message would bring a lemony fresh approach to state government. A Democrat could wash the office of its shame. Voters trusted that message of restoring honesty and integrity to governance, and especially of ending Illinois' 'business as usual.'

"Since then, Blagojevich has revealed himself to be "usual," even to the most ardent Democrats. Federal and state authorities are probing his administration's hiring practices. Investigators are examining allegations of pay-to-play politics involving contributions to the governor's campaign from state contractors and appointees to state regulatory panels. The resulting collective loss of faith has manifested itself in sub-par approval ratings for Blagojevich.

"Many Democrats yearned for a choice in the March 21 primary for governor. They deserved a credible alternative to Blagojevich - at least they deserved to hear the governor explain himself.

"So when Edwin Eisendrath announced his candidacy Dec. 18, he engendered great hope. He seemed to have the smarts, the gumption and the public resume to provide a worthy, if long-shot, challenge . . .

"He and the governor met Friday with the Tribune editorial board. Eisendrath was asked where, precisely, to find his campaign. He replied, 'Certainly a lot of it is [on the] Internet, which is kind of hard to see and feel. But that's it. It's not a big, traditional parade, rah-rah campaign" . . .

"Voters who seek sustenance on Eisendrath's Web site will leave with hunger pangs. His positions on security and safety, on guns, on pensions, on gambling, could fit inside a fortune cookie."


Headline: Eisendrath's Campaign
Date: March 4, 2006
By: Felicia Davis, Campaign manager, Eisendrath 2006
Excerpt: "Your Feb. 26 editorial asked 'Edwin? Rod? What campaign?'"

"Our answer is simple.

"We have been on the ground throughout Illinois.

"Democratic candidate for governor Edwin Eisendrath has personally campaigned in every township in Cook County, in the collar counties, Downstate and in diverse Chicago communities like Chatham, Beverly and Rogers Park.

"Edwin has spoken daily with voters about the issues important to them--including education, the economy and ethics.

"Edwin's education proposals include creative ways to improve teacher training and management accountability, and viable methods to increase state aid.

"Edwin believes that the Illinois State Board of Education can be an innovator and advocate of educational best practices.

"He refuses to take a no-tax pledge.

"And he will dedicate 51 percent of all new revenue to school funding.

"Edwin has been on the air in Illinois too.

"In addition to his TV ads, Edwin has been a guest on dozens of radio shows to discuss his plan for improving Illinois' economy . . .

"Voters have a clear choice in this election. Voters can opt for the status quo - a world of pay-to-play politics, questionable lobbyist practices and broken promises. Or voters can choose Edwin Eisendrath - a man who will focus on the Democratic values that really matter to us, not perpetuate the scandals that distract us."


Headline: Uphill Fight For Political Upset: The Governor's Only Democratic Foe Eyes Defeat Of His Goliath
Date: March 5, 2006
By: John Chase, Tribune
Excerpt: "'I think Edwin is a well-intentioned, decent guy with a good record but nobody behind him,' said Larry Suffredin, a Cook County Board member who comes from the same lakefront Democratic circles as Eisendrath. 'It is just Edwin.'

"Mike Quigley, another Cook County Board Democrat who is working for Forrest Claypool in his quest to unseat President John Stroger, said some Democrats had hoped for an alternative to Blagojevich but haven't warmed to Eisendrath's campaign.

"'Edwin's polling nowhere near viability,' Quigley said."


"Eisendrath was hired by the college's president, Howard Tullman, an art dealer, a friend of Eisendrath and the Manilows and a Democratic fundraiser.

"Tullman is working behind the scenes in Eisendrath's political campaign because he's become disenchanted with Blagojevich. In 2001, Blagojevich asked Tullman for his support. Tullman obliged, hosting a fundraiser and donating $5,250 to Blagojevich's campaign fund.

"'We did do some fundraising for him, and then he got elected and we never heard from him again,' Tullman said."


"Eisendrath recently visited his old stomping grounds, seeking the endorsement of the 43rd Ward's Democratic Party over Blagojevich. Eisendrath lost."


Headline: Stealth Challenger Seeks Political Upset
Date: March 5, 2006
By: Chris Fusco, Sun-Times
Excerpt: "Edwin Eisendrath - a Harvard graduate turned schoolteacher turned alderman turned public housing official turned college administrator - is now living what he hopes will be the political upset story of the century."


"At Harvard, he took time off to teach in Appalachia before graduating and returning home to become a Chicago public school teacher . . .

"When asked why he left teaching, he quickly answers, 'Four strikes in five years and a 12-year-old murdered in front of me' during a fight outside a school."


"As of Dec. 31, the lone Democratic challenger to Gov. Blagojevich raised just $209,000 - most of it from family and friends. Blagojevich , meanwhile, had more than $15 million at his disposal."


Headline: Eisendrath Launches Attack Ads
Date: March 9, 2006
By: Scott Fornek, Sun-Times
Excerpt: '"Rod Blagojevich says he'll give you four more years of the same,' Eisendrath says in one. 'That's four more years of investigations, subpoenas, wiretaps in the governor's office. Four more years. Are you kidding? Democrats have to hold to a higher standard, or we're no better than this guy,' he says, holding up a photo of Cheney."


"'Gov. Blagojevich is working to improve health care and education and to pass a jobs bill and assault weapons ban,' spokesman Doug Scofield said. 'Silly, negative distortions from a desperate campaign are sad and irrelevant.'"


Headline: A Message To The Governor
Date: March 12, 2006
By: Tribune editorial
Excerpt: "A 2004 Tribune review found more than 120 political appointees tied to $1.9 million in campaign donations to him. More than one of every four individuals and businesses that contributed at least $50,000 to Blagojevich received state business during his first term in office . . .

"This page gave great credit to Blagojevich in his first year for demonstrating discipline and creativity, particularly on spending . . . Then came fiscal tricks, massive borrowing and pension payment deferrals that have this state in nearly as precarious a financial position as it was three years ago. The Illinois auditor general has questioned many of the governor's claims of cost savings . . .

"Eisendrath's campaign and his platform have been too thin for the Tribune to offer a formal endorsement of his candidacy.

"Blagojevich, though, needs to hear the message that many Democrats are disappointed and disenchanted with his haphazard governance . . . Democrats who want to send a message to the governor have a way to convey it: Vote for Edwin Eisendrath."


Headline: Blagojevich Deserves Chance To Keep Moving Forward
Date: March 12, 2006
By: Sun-Times editorial
Excerpt: "When Rod Blagojevich won the governor's office four years ago, he promised to shake things up in Springfield. Did he ever! He never feared to bruise egos in disturbing the go-along-get-along politics in the capital, where lobbyists outnumber legislators. His agenda of expanding educational opportunities and health care insurance for Illinois kids has earned him the endorsement of the Sun-Times News Group in his quest for the Democratic nomination for a second term as governor.


Headline: A Beachwood Guide To The Primaries
Date: March 16, 2006
By: Steve Rhodes
Excerpt: "His stealth campaign is almost stalker-like. Has a lone challenger to a vulnerable sitting governor whose administration is drowning in corruption ever run as lame a campaign anywhere at any time in history?"


Headline: Ways & Means: A Primary Review
Date: March 23, 2006
By: Steve Rhodes
Excerpt: "His phantom campaign won 30 percent of the vote. Makes you wonder what it would have been like had a real challenger stepped up and forced a real referendum on Public Official A's job performance."


Headline: I'd Get A Kick Out Of Booting These Losers Into The Next State
Date: March 24, 2006
By: Rich Miller, Sun-Times
Excerpt: "You're supposed to run to win, not to make a 'statement.' Maybe Eisendrath started out his campaign with the idea that he could topple Gov. Blagojevich in the Democratic primary, but he seemed to have an aversion to putting together a real campaign.

"His TV ads, paid for with his mom's money, were horrid. His field organization was nonexistent. He had a long list of complaints but no solutions and he disappointed a whole lot of Democrats who wanted to see a real alternative to Blagojevich. And what's up with that 'Edwin' name? Who runs as Edwin? In the end, Eisendrath won many of the same counties that the ever-kooky Alan Keyes took in 2004. Some accomplishment."


Headline: Proud Of My Campaign
Date: March 28, 2006
By: Edwin Eisendrath
Excerpt: Rich Miller's angry deportation piece [''I'd get a kick booting these losers into the next state,' commentary, March 24] aims at the wrong target. Sure, I lost a primary fight against an incumbent governor. Not every underdog carries the day. But I fought hard all over Illinois for the principles of our Democratic Party: building a growing and inclusive economy, funding and improving education, and good, honest government. That's real, and more than a third of Democrats agreed with me.

"Miller did not like my TV ads. Many others thought they were among the most effective of the year. I earned more than a quarter of a million votes and spent about $6 per vote. That makes my campaign one of the most efficient and effective in recent memory.

"Miller does not like my name. I suppose I could have adopted a new one for the campaign like some of the judicial candidates in Cook County sometimes do. But I ran as who I am, not some media consultant's concoction of programs, sound bites and comebacks.

"Of course, I would have preferred winning. Miller suggests that not doing so disappointed a lot of Democrats. I'm one of them. Still, those who helped me are proud of our campaign. Those who didn't can't really complain about it.

"But whether voters were with me or Gov. Blagojevich or voted in the GOP primary or just opted out, all Illinoisans are going to have to face our budget realities and work together to grow our economy and to invest in our future."


Headline: On Second Thought: Campaigning Against A Culture Of Corruption
Date: Jan. 1, 2009
By: Edwin Eisendrath
Excerpt: "I challenged Rod Blagojevich for governor in the 2006 Democratic primary. I ran because he sold out the public for piles of campaign cash. I said no to Blagojevich when it mattered.

"A very savvy pol recently said to me, 'Ed, if we only knew then what we know now.' I replied that we did know it then. He laughed and admitted it was so . . .

Many people knew how bad it was . . . Nearly all the state's Democratic politicians calculated that rallying around Blagojevich would ensure their re-election.

"The insiders' reaction to my campaign was swift. Even before I formally announced, I heard from a longtime friend who leads a non-profit that is partially funded by the state. She was being pressured to sign a letter asking me not to run . . .

"A national Democratic Party leader warned me that running would only 'depoliticize the charges against the governor.' He meant, of course, that it would be better to write off any allegations of wrongdoing in an election year as just Republican name-calling. The head of one of the most powerful unions in America warned that loyalty and unity were the things that mattered in politics . . .

"A state representative told me after a church service how much she disliked the governor and loathed his brand of pay-to-play politics. That legislator appeared as the governor's surrogate at an endorsement session later the same day."


Finally, you can see an archived version of Eisendrath's campaign website here; his campaign's is still live.


Comments welcome.


Posted on August 3, 2010

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