By DOUG IBENDAHL • December 9, 2009
John Kass is one of my favorite columnists. He’s one of the few reasons left to read the Chicago Tribune.
But in my opinion Kass has been suffering the same watering-down as the rest of his newspaper. Kass’ recent series on the gubernatorial candidates is a case in point. Too much space devoted to the menu choice of this or that candidate in my view. If I wanted to hear about Chicago dining I would watch the Food Channel.
I thought Kass’ report last week from his breakfast interview with Andy McKenna was particularly weak. Read it here.
Kass includes this quote from McKenna: ”My dad has been generous to Republicans and to myself, and he’s made contributions to Democrats, including Mayor Daley. But I’ve never made contributions to Democrats.”
Kass allows that statement to go unchallenged. The problem is it’s empirically false.
In the past, McKenna himself acknowledged he had contributed to Democrats. That was a few years ago and at that time his excuse was that the Democrats at issue were pro-life and also fellow Notre Dame graduates.
But times have changed and obviously so has McKenna’s story. The “truth” has too often been a moving target for Andy.
McKenna’s statement that he has “never” contributed to Democrats is a brand new story – and clearly not an honest one.
Kass also goes too easy with respect to McKenna’s role in the effort to undermine U.S. Senator Peter Fitzgerald.
McKenna told Kass: “I never became a (formal) candidate until Peter decided not to run,” and “I never pursued a race until after he decided not to run in April of 2003.”
Those are weasel words and McKenna is begging the question when he tries to hide behind “never pursued a race.”
The simple fact is Andy McKenna allowed his name to be floated repeatedly in the press as the guy who was ready to run against Fitzgerald in the 2004 GOP Primary. This started in earnest in 2002 and continued until Peter finally threw in the towel in early 2003 by announcing he wouldn’t be running for reelection.
Combine boys like Ray LaHood, Dennis Hastert, Bob Kjellander and Bill Cellini were intent on sending Peter Fitzgerald the message that if he ran again, he would have to spend a big chunk of his own remaining fortune. The “establishment” money was going to be cut-off to him and directed to McKenna. This was all about punishing Peter for bringing in independent U.S. Attorneys, and probably to a lesser extent his opposition to the expansion of O’Hare Airport.
McKenna knowingly went along with all this. One story floating McKenna’s name as a challenger would be one thing – but after several appear with no protest, the guy becomes a partner in the scheme.
I also think that’s why McKenna gave to Democrats years ago. Until he was scooped up by LaHood and the rest when they were looking for a rich challenger for Peter Fitzgerald, McKenna was just a business guy who probably never gave serious thought to the possibility that contributions to Democrats might come back to haunt him.
Kass’ report also left a misleading impression with regard to McKenna’s relationship with Bob Kjellander, the former Republican National Committeeman.
Kass references what McKenna said on the subject at the State GOP Convention last year in Decatur. But Kass wasn’t there. I remember practically begging Kass to go to help keep an eye on things, but he didn’t go.
I was there and I don’t remember McKenna saying a peep about Kjellander specifically. At most, McKenna might have made a very brief general reference to a lobbyist and his activities during his opening remarks – but the same criticism could apply to many of McKenna’s pals who are still around. One has to consider that convention in its entirety anyway to understand that McKenna was just grasping for some disingenuous cover for all of the truly bad behavior that was going on with McKenna’s blessing.
If Kass had been in Decatur he would have more than McKenna’s empty words. He would have seen the horribly divisive affair that McKenna ran. Those actually in attendance could also witness how happy Kjellander was that Pat Brady was chosen as his replacement – another area where Kjellander and McKenna were on the same page. And yes, Kjellander and Brady did hug after Brady received the nod from the nominating committee on the first day of the convention. Brady can deny it all he wants, but at least half a dozen honest Republicans saw it happen. There is absolutely NO question as to who is telling the truth.
The bottom line – Kjellander was allowed to serve out his term as National Committeeman which ran through the National Republican Convention in September last year. McKenna never publicly said a peep in protest. It is true that the State Central Committee passed a resolution in January of 2007 calling for Kjellander’s resignation, but I was at that meeting too and it certainly didn’t seem like McKenna was onboard. It’s also a fact that McKenna did nothing to follow-through on that resolution. If anything, McKenna went out of his way to try and squelch the resolution’s impact.
History records that not only did McKenna never lift a finger to remove Kjellander – Andy provided protection at every turn. We repeatedly called on McKenna to publicly call for Kjellander’s resignation, but Andy never did. A person can say anything in a one-on-one conversation. The public stand is the only thing that counts.
Finally, in my view no synopsis of McKenna’s candidacy can be taken seriously without at least a mention of the fact that earlier this year McKenna threatened to sue Republicans if SB600 passed and they dared to exercise the right to vote again for their own top party leaders. That disgrace alone is overwhelming proof of McKenna’s unfitness for any office.
The Primary Election is less than two months away and early voting starts in just a few weeks. I take no pleasure in being critical of someone I respect like John Kass who has done so much good work. But letting guys like Andy McKenna get away with spreading empirically false information does more harm than good, especially when there are so many candidates for voters to sort through.
Doug Ibendahl is a Chicago Attorney and a former General Counsel of the Illinois Republican Party.