Wednesday, December 08, 2021

Cook County Democratic Party demands written "Agreement, Promise and Pledge" from prospective candidates

The Cook County Democratic Party will hold its slating meeting next week.

At past slating meetings the Cook County Democratic Party has always asked prospective candidates if they will be willing to pay some sort of assessment for common campaign costs ($40,000 or thereabouts), whether they will support the entire ticket if slated, and whether (if rejected by the Party) they will run against the Party.

There's nothing new or especially controversial in that.

What is new -- this year -- and very controversial, at least in some quarters, is that the Cook County Democratic Party is asking all candidates who appear before the slatemakers next week to sign and return a two-page document entitled "Potential Candidate Agreement, Promise and Pledge" by Friday, December 10. The document is set out in full in this post on Page Two. Feel free to read it and come back.

To begin with, the Party says this pledge is not intended as a loyalty oath or litmus test, according to communications FWIW has had with the Party's executive director and its counsel. But some committeemen and political consultants disagree. One committeeperson told FWIW, "If history has taught us anything we should recognize the danger in making people sign oaths or pledges."

A number of committeepersons have charged that the decision to draft and send this pledge document was taken by the Party's Executive Committee without consultation of the "rank and file" committeepersons.

As far as FWIW can ascertain, this allegation is well-founded. But, Party sources insist, the pledge agreement is a natural outgrowth of discussions within the Executive Committee over the course of several years. Issues of internal support and discipline have been of increasing concern for the Party; my sources see this new pledge as a natural consequence of an incremental standardization and formalization process.

Refusal to sign the pledge is not an automatic bar to slating. Candidates who have failed or refused to sign the pledge may still be slated, according to the Party, if they win sufficient numbers of the weighted votes of the 50 ward and 30 township committeemen that ultimately choose the slate. The Party executive director and counsel characterize the pledge as just another data point included in the binders of information given to each committeeman concerning each candidate, along with information regarding the candidate's credentials, financial backing, and so forth.

As with everything political, therefore, it comes down to votes: If enough committeepeople are offended by the demand for a pledge, candidates who refuse to sign may actually have an advantage. We may be able to determine whether there is serious discontent about the pledge request, or how widespread that discontent may be, next week, when the slate is revealed.

But probabaly not.

The 80 committeepeople in the Cook County Democratic Party Central Committee are drawn from diverse backgrounds with widely varying experiences. In other words, most days they probably would disagree on the color of the sky. They may claim unanimity next week -- they will claim unanimity publicly -- but, if history is any guide, some committeemen will be as loyal to the entire slate as Brian Kelly was to Notre Dame. And we won't necessarily know about all of those who break ranks (or for whom) until the votes are counted next summer. And, by then, it won't really matter.

I've said before that the purpose of slating is for the Party to identify and support likely winners. The paramount objective of a political party is to win elections. That is likewise the paramount objective of any political candidate. And, to win, any candidate needs to build a successful, if temporary, coalition of support. Party loyalists are but one component.

I asked whether, pursuant to this new pledge, a slated candidate would jeopardize his or her standing by attending an event where candidates running against the slate are featured. The Chicago Federation of Labor will no doubt endorse most of the same candidates as the Cook County Democratic Party. But probably not all of them. Would, for example, a slated countywide judicial candidate risk forfeiture of her Party support by appearing at a labor event along with non-slated candidates?

Party sources told me that this is not the intent of the pledge. The purpose is not to prevent a candidate from using a consultant or election attorney or pollster who may be working against the ticket in a different race -- my sources said the Party recognizes that there is a limited pool of qualified political professionals from which to choose -- but, rather to prevent the chosen candidates from actively working against a slated candidate in another race.

Events will show.

However, even if the intention is benign, there is a real question of whether this pledge will have a chilling effect on some candidates.

I know of candidates, in past elections, who were afraid to appear at events with non-slated candidates, even if they were permitted to speak glowingly at these events about all their brothers and sisters on the slate, for fear of losing Party Support. That was long before any written pledge. And, you know what? These candidates lost. The successful candidate has to go anywhere and everywhere where support may be found, and seek support for him- or herself from both those who are inclined to support others on the slate as well as those who are not so inclined.

Then, for judicial candidates in particular, there is the question of whether this explicit, detailed pledge contravenes the Code of Judicial Ethics. Does the pledge potentially compromise judicial independence (Canon 1)? Does it potentially constitute a comment on matters that may come before the judge in the course of his or her duties (Canon 3A(7))? Do the requirements to supervise and monitor and control the activities of subordinates or volunteers, particularly in the expenditure of funds, potentially put a candidate on the wrong side of Canon 7?

Party sources claim that the pledge does not put a judicial candidate on the wrong side of the Code of Judicial Conduct. The pledge requires the candidate to conduct what amounts to a political conflicts check, not allowing him or her to embrace candidates who are in conflict with the slate. Appearing beside a candidate running against the slate at a given event may not constitute active support of the non-slated candidate -- but sending joint mailers would.

(This is a developing story and may be updated as new information is received.)


Anonymous said...

Any Judge or Judicial candidate that signs that pledge should be immediately disqualified from serving on the bench. I don't care what the "Executive Democrats" think, this is unethical for a judicial candidate and there is no doubt that it compromise their judicial independence. As a Democrat I want judges to uphold the law not a pledge to the Democratic Party.

Anonymous said...

"this is unethical for a judicial candidate and there is no doubt that it compromise their judicial independence."

Sounds like sour grapes from a person that does not want to commit to "not running against the party" in the event they are not slated.

Anonymous said...

There is nothing unethical or illegal about it. And utterances of "judicial independence" on this blog are a joke, given that most would-be candidates -- slated or not - will do nothing for the party once elected and confuse "independence" for non-accountability. The Party is useless and desperate to remain relevant. Just run against them if you are inclined to run.

Anonymous said...

Hmmmmm. The new Injustice Watch beat reporter decided to go after an AJ first. But with the 2022 retention election approaching fast, others better start minding their P's and Q's.

Anonymous said...

Dead on. I now will not vote for any slated candidate.