William Daley blamed the state's fiscal crisis on a lack of political leadership in Springfield, where his fellow Democrats rule the Statehouse, in a speech Thursday as he sought to position himself for a 2014 bid for governor.
Speaking for a half-hour before about 300 people at the City Club of Chicago, the former White House chief of staff and U.S. commerce secretary said he was "seriously" looking at a run for the Democratic nomination for governor -- in contrast to two previous flirtations with seeking the office a decade ago and two years ago.
"I think when I looked (at running) last time, I was looking at it," Daley told reporters later. "I'm seriously looking at it right now."
Daley called Gov. Pat Quinn, who has indicated he would seek re-election, "a good, decent, honest man," but also noted that his speech was about how "we have a problem right now in leadership" at the state Capitol.
Daley said state political leaders must act to resolve the state's unfunded public employee pension debt and a multibillion-dollar backlog of unpaid bills long before the 2014 governor matchups are decided.
The brother of former Mayor Richard M. Daley served as commerce secretary in Bill Clinton's White House and succeeded Mayor Rahm Emanuel as chief of staff to home-state President Barack Obama, staying for a year. That role ended in January.
Daley did not mention the names of House Speaker Michael Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton, fellow Chicagoans who control the Legislature. But he contended Illinois' elected officials have refused to tackle the state's $95 billion unfunded pension liability, the largest in the nation, because they were politically risk-averse. At the same time, he said, as the state's contribution to employee pensions increases, its credit rating falters, and Illinois' ability to move forward on education, an improved public works system and economic improvement is held in check.
"I've learned about leadership by living it -- growing up in Chicago, advising my brother, the mayor, to helping President Clinton and President Obama through wrenching decisions while working for both of them," Daley said in his speech, which coincided with the 36th anniversary of the death of his father, the late Mayor Richard J. Daley.
"I know no one wants to compromise their way out of a job. It's not human nature," he said. "But to ultimately solve this pension problem, our state leaders need to be willing to put themselves at political risk in order to reach this deal. That won't happen until a single leader, whether the governor, the speaker or someone else, finds a way to push all of the parties to serious job-on-the-line compromise."
When asked by an audience member if Daley, 64, would seek the 2014 Democratic nomination, he said a decision was "a ways off" and he encouraged people not to consider his warnings about Illinois' fiscal problems a political announcement.
"This is a big problem, and I think just because people comment on things, you shouldn't assume that they're going to run, and just because they comment on things doesn't mean they won't run," Daley said.
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