On April 29th, the University of Chicago College Democrats sent a delegation of eleven to the College Democrats of Illinois (CDIL) convention at Illinois State University in Normal, Il. Despite train delays, pouring rain, and whipping wind, the delegation arrived right before Jack McNeil, DePaul sophomore and CDIL President, gavelled the convention into order.
Eighteen chapters were represented, a record for the conference. Each gave a brief summary of their work the past year, and UC Dems was represented by our own President, Anais Rosenblatt, who spoke to our volunteering before the November election, our phone banking in the weeks and months afterward, as well as our work to increase political participation on campus.
The first day’s lineup of speakers was impressive to say the least: three candidates for Governor and three elected officials with histories of hard work and innovation. JB Pritzker was the first candidate to speak, citing his civic involvement from the private sector as a means for proving his gubernatorial chops. Chris Kennedy went next, lamenting the downfall of the American Dream and what we, as young people, Democrats, and voters, could do to save it. Rounding out the candidates was Madison County Regional Superintendent of Schools Bob Daiber, a downstate “dark horse” contender in the race for governor who insisted that carrying Cook County alone was not enough to win the state (as we saw in 2014).
Another guest who spoke to the importance of competing downstate was Doug House, the first speaker of the convention and chairman of the Illinois Democratic County Chairs Association. House emphasized the wave that many people see on the horizon and how College Democrats would be necessary in using it in all of Illinois’ 102 counties.
Surprise! Scott Drury spoke later, and he announced that he was considering a run for Governor as well. Drury gained some repute this past year, as he became the first Democrat in nearly thirty years to not vote for Mike Madigan as Speaker of the House. Though a distinct anti-Madigan campaign may gain some traction among conservative Democrats (or those simply fed up with the Speaker), as a state representative from border of Cook and Lake counties, Drury will be competing with already-declared heavy-hitters Pritzker, Kennedy, and State Senator Daniel Biss, all of whom are expected to play heavily in Chicago and the suburbs.
Rounding out the first day’s speakers was State Treasurer Mike Frerichs, who began his speech with the necessary, “Hi, I’m Mike Frerichs, and I am NOT running for governor.” The six-foot-eight state senator turned Treasurer spoke to his successes in negotiating from the office, successes that Governor Rauner was unable to accomplish. As Republicans try to save money, the essence of his speech went, Democrats try and find solutions.
Following the speeches were breakout sessions on topics ranging from Local Politics and Fundraising to Running for Office and “Talking with Republicans”, session headed by a leader in the field. Local Politics, for example, was headlined by Bloomington Mayor Tari Renner, the sitting and first Democratic mayor elected in Bloomington’s almost one hundred and ninety year history.
The second day of the convention was split at noon. Before was a panel on the future and present of the Democratic Party, after were elections for Executive Board.
The panel, moderated by Zach Braun, junior at Illinois State and Vice President of CDIL, focused on what the Democratic Party should learn from 2016 and where it should go moving forward. Panelists included State Senator and gubernatorial candidate Daniel Biss, State Representative and candidate for Congress for Illinois’ 13th District (probably) Carol Ammons, State Senator Scott Bennett, and Carlo Robustelli, a member of the McLean County Board and political and business strategist. All four panelists spoke on the Democratic Party’s failures at the state and local level, noting that rural voters especially had been neglected by party infrastructure. Term limits were discussed by Sen. Biss, an advocate. Rep. Ammons spoke on the need to bring downstate back into play, drawing focus onto the flaws of believing that any votes are “automatic”. She hit her opponent, Rep. Rodney Davis, for refusing to hold town halls. Everyone, and I mean everyone, attacked the President, albeit after noting his successful strategies while campaigning.
The Executive Board elections were a show in and of themselves: all nominations were taken from the floor. Most of the EBoard was elected uncontested; Pres. Jack McNeil and VP Zach Braun, who had both risen to their offices due to a vacancy during the summer, won full terms for the 2017-2018 cycle. UC Dems’ own Victoria Koffsky (‘19) was elected Finance Director by acclimation. Only two elections were contested, Communications Director and Chicago Regional Director, and in both cases, the Maroon nominee came out on top. Ridgley Knapp (‘20) was elected to Communications, and Sam Joyce (‘20) was elected to represent the city of Chicago.