In Pride, Politicians, Candidates Show Their....True Colors
[CHICAGO, IL] - When it comes to the Chicago Pride Parade June 30, there were plenty of winners and one big loser among Illinois' leading politicians.
While the Democratic Party's gubernatorial nominee in the upcoming November general election, U.S. Rep. Rod Blagojevich (D-Chicago), worked the hundreds of thousands of voters along the parade route, his Republican opponent, Illinois Attorney General Jim Ryan, failed to respond to pleas from GLBT leaders and Republican officials and stayed away from the event.
"Jim Ryan blew off and disrespected almost a million gay and lesbian Illinois voters," said Rick Garcia, political director of Equality Illinois. "Those voters should blow him off in November."
By contrast, fellow Republicans on the fall statewide ballot headed by Ryan came to Lakeview Sunday seeking GLBT votes, following the GLBT-supportive example of retiring Gov. George Ryan (R). The governor, under intense press scrutiny over the ever-widening federal investigation into the licenses for bribes scandal, didn't make the Pride parade but sent a statement supporting the GLBT community. In 1998, his support for GLBT equality, coupled with Democratic gubernatorial nominee Glenn Poshard's anti-gay stance, earned him a victory among traditionally Democratic North Side voters.
Blagojevich walked the parade route to show GLBT voters he's not repeating Poshard's political blunder.
"I come every single year," Blagojevich said. "It's everything it ought to be. I believe everybody should have an equal opportunity to live the American dream."
But Jim Ryan decided late last week, after a series of high level discussions in the weeks before the parade, not to appear in the Pride Parade.
"Jim Ryan is pandering to the right wing of his party, when they've already abandoned him," Garcia said, alluding to conservative supporters of Illinois state Rep. Patrick O'Malley (R-Palos Park) in last spring's GOP primary and voters likely to support the Libertarian Party bid for the governor's office this fall by former GOP state Rep. Cal Skinner, of Crystal Lake.
"Look what they did to (Jim Ryan) in the primary," Garcia said. "And now he's turning off moderates and the reasonable and sensible voters of Illinois. The last anti-gay gubernatorial nominee is now an administrator at Southern Illinois University. I sure hope Glenn (Poshard) can get Jim Ryan a job there."
Most statewide officeholders, along with an assortment of Illinois legislators and local officials, were in the Pride parade. Outgoing Lt. Gov. Corinne Wood (R) was cheered loudly, as was Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White (D), Illinois state Treasurer Judy Baar Topinka (R) and state Comptroller Dan Hynes (D), all running for reelection this fall. Republican secretary of state hopeful Kris Cohn and the Democratic nominee hoping to unseat Topinka, Illinois state Rep. Thomas Dart (D-Chicago), were also on hand.
Both of the major candidates aiming to succeed Ryan in the attorney general's office, Illinois state Sen. Lisa Madigan (D-Chicago) and DuPage County State's Attorney Joe Birkett (R), went looking for GLBT votes in Lakeview. Madigan rode her own float to widespread crowd approval, while Birkett attended EI's traditional pre-parade reception at SideTrack but didn't appear in the parade.
The loudest cheers for any politician went to former Illinois state Comptroller and 1994 Democratic gubernatorial nominee Dawn Clark Netsch, honored with the first political spot near the front of the parade for her legendary GLBT community support.
A host of local elected officials trailed behind Netsch, including a perennial crowd favorite, Illinois state Rep. Larry McKeon (D-Chicago), the state's only openly gay legislator.
"It's just great," McKeon said. "It's terrific to see this."
Two GLBT community political stalwarts for years, Illinois state Rep. Sara Feigenholtz (D-Chicago) and Chicago Ald. Helen Shiller (46th Ward) rode atop a convertible together, while others, including Cook County Comm. Mike Quigley (10th District) and Illinois state Rep. Harry Osterman (D-Chicago) walked the route, shaking hands and acknowledging friends and supporters.
"I'm having a great time," Osterman said. "Everybody's having a good time. This is such an important day for our city."
And no Chicago Pride Parade would be complete without the politician who delights the spectators year after year-for the 12th year in a row, Cook County Treasurer Maria Pappas twirled and tossed her baton throughout the parade to raucous approval.
Walking up North Halsted Street, U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Chicago) summed up the experience for most of her political cohorts.
"It's the most fun parade I do," she said. "And I think it's better than ever this year."