Political mystery No. 1: Is Bill Daley, mega-banker brother of Mayor Daley, ramping up to run for governor in 2010?
Political mystery No. 2: Is Paul Vallas, former head of Chicago schools who's now school chief in New Orleans not running for governor as rumored but instead considering a run for Cook County Board president? As a Republican?
A guy I know (who's South Side Irish and won't let me use his name) told me a pollster called his house last week. It was a young woman "who asked a lot of questions like 'Who are you favoring for governor of Illinois?'. . . And she gave a list of names, the usual suspects including Daley and Vallas."
What did you say?
"Just to be ornery, I said Vallas. But in the back of my mind, I'm curious. Who's doing the polling?" South Side Irish said.
That's because most of her questions, he noticed, focused on Daley. "Like who would you pick in a primary if it was Bill Daley vs. Lisa Madigan, Daley vs. Rod Blagojevich?" And then, South Side Irish said, the woman asked, "Are you aware Bill Daley worked for Bill Clinton? Are you aware Bill Daley worked on NAFTA?"
Now, in politics, it's always possible that it's the potential opposition doing the polling to plot strategy. So before I called Bill Daley, I called some of the other candidates who might be in the mix.
"No," said Robyn Ziegler, spokeswoman for Attorney General Madigan, "it wasn't the AG."
"No," said Mike McKeon who has done polling for Vallas, "it wasn't Paul."
Ditto Gov. Rod Blagojevich, Comptroller Dan Hynes and Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias.
Finally, I dialed Daley. It was one of our shorter conversations.
"I'm not talking about next year until next year," he told me.
Was it his poll or someone else's?
"Anything's possible," he non-answered.
Wasn't he even curious about what I'd been told?
"You know what they say about curiosity," Daley said.
Killed the cat?
• • • •
Another little tip flew in the window last week about Vallas, who last summer moved his family back to Cook County while he commutes to his job in New Orleans. It's a long ride to work but it sure helps him meet a residency requirement to run again. His last bid, you may remember, was a strong but losing challenge to Blagojevich in 2002.
But suddenly, it seems, Vallas may be reassessing. Watching Todd Stroger preside over the disaster that is Cook County government, realizing that the full power of Mayor Daley and his other brother, County Commissioner John Daley, will be behind Stroger come hell or high water, why not jump parties?
There will surely be Democrats challenging Stroger in 2010. Commissioner Forrest Claypool may try again. Or Commissioner Mike Quigley. But whoever emerges from the primary, with Vallas on the other side, it could be an actual battle instead of the usual Democratic cakewalk.
Vallas' brother Dean, his closest adviser, will only say, "Paul has a lot of options."
• • • •
There are major wild cards in the 2010 election deck.
One of them is the Rev./State Sen. James Meeks, the powerful South Side preacher and politician who threatened to run for governor last time as an independent, which could have been incumbent Blagojevich's undoing against Republican Judy Baar Topinka. Meeks relented after the governor promised a big boost in education funding. Like other Blago promises, it went to dust. Meeks, who promises to drive busloads of Chicago students to school in Winnetka come September, won't be double-crossed again.
And pathetically weak as the Republican Party is in Illinois, let's not forget about it. State Sen. Bill Brady hasn't stopped running for governor since he lost the 2006 primary to Topinka. Is he in for sure? He told me he's not talking about it "until January."
Funny, that's the same line Bill Daley gave me.