SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (WCIA) -- Democrats running for governor are beginning to organize their own events around the Illinois State Fair to replace the Democrat Day rally after party leaders pulled the plug on the annual outdoor festivities last month.
Chicago city Alderman and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ameya Pawar criticized party leadership for nixing an open air rally in lieu of a private brunch with donors.
"If we continue shutting people out of the conversation about the future of our state, then we will never grow as a party and we won't stand a chance to beat Bruce Rauner next year," Pawar said. "We can't just be talking to each other behind closed doors at fundraisers.
Pawar plans to host his own 'Progressives Day Rally' at Springfield's Douglas Park on Thursday, August 17th immediately after the brunch. The Pawar campaign is reaching out to invite other candidates to join him at the event, which is located three miles from the fairgrounds. Part of the itinerary includes stump speeches, hay bales and a band.
"As Democrats, we should be the 'big tent' party. And we must be willing to take our message directly to the public and present our case as to why a progressive Democrat is better suited to be governor than Bruce Rauner," Pawar said.
House Speaker and Democratic Party Chairman Michael Madigan made the decision not to hold the annual Democrat Day rally this year, instead opting to focus on a Chairman's Breakfast with party donors and activists.
So far, at least eight primary candidates are on the agenda, including headliner speeches from U.S. Senators Dick Durbin (IL) and Amy Klobuchar (MN). Admission is $40 per person. Sponsors can pay as much as $15,000 for a table. The donation provides them exclusive access to Senator Klobuchar at a reception.
Dan Kovats, a spokesman for the Sangamon County Chairman's Association, said "This year will be our largest year ever. We'll have close to two thousand people at the event."
Kovats says general admission tickets are nearly sold out, but some could possibly be available at the door. The event is booked at the ritzy Crowne Plaza hotel near Lake Springfield.
"We're very much in favor of a big tent party," Kovats said. "We're not trying to close anyone out or section it off to anyone."
Statewide office holders like Secretary of State Jesse White, Comptroller Susana Mendoza and Attorney General Lisa Madigan will also be addressing the crowd.
Madigan spokesman Steve Brown bristled at the notion that party leaders were neglecting individual voters in favor of donors, saying only conservative groups would make such a suggestion.
Brown then offered to help promote Pawar's event, although he has not said if Speaker Madigan would attend.
"If they want to tell us where it is, we'll put it on our website and let people know about it," Brown replied.
The widening split within state party ranks mirrors a national fight in the Democratic party between the moderate and progressive wings. Several of the primary candidates have opened bruising lines of attack against Madigan in their bid to represent the party in the 2018 general election.
Chris Kennedy has called for a ban on property tax attorneys doubling as state lawmakers, a clear shot at Madigan's private business operation.
State Senator and candidate Daniel Biss (D-Evanston) routinely rails against "money and the machine" and has called for term limits on legislative leaders. Madigan just recently became the longest tenured state House Speaker in American history.
House Representative Scott Drury (D-Highwood) has compared Madigan to big screen villains Dr. Frankenstein and Lord Voldemort, and recently tweeted the state of Illinois more closely resembles a dictatorship than a democracy.
Madigan will be on stage as one of the speakers at next Thursday's fundraising brunch. Party leaders have instructed primary candidates to keep their speeches under three minutes.
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