Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn, center, greets visitors as they enter the fairgrounds after opening ceremonies at the Illinois State Fair Friday, Aug. 9, 2013, in Springfield, Ill. The Illinois State Fair will run through Aug. 18. (AP Photo/Seth Perlman)
Updated: September 12, 2013 6:47AM
At last year’s Illinois State Fair, Gov. Pat Quinn was heckled and booed by union members, tarred as anti-worker on a banner towed by a plane flying overhead and followed around by an angry mob of protesters.
The beleaguered incumbent moved Friday to make sure that doesn’t happen again next week.
Quinn made an unprecedented move and cancelled the traditional “Governor’s Day” pep rally, a mainstay of Illinois politics at the fair for generations.
Last year’s Governor’s Day in Springfield was hijacked by a well-choreographed, anger-filled labor protest that overshadowed Quinn’s remarks all day.
This year threatened to bring another cool reception — if the loud booing he won at the Blackhawks Stanley Cup rally in Chicago in June was any indication.
Quinn told reporters in Springfield on Friday that the cancellation had nothing to do with his unwillingness to face a potentially unwelcoming crowd.
“Well you know I enjoyed everything last year, and I’m planning to enjoy everything this year. I like going to the fair,” he said. “I have been in public life in Illinois for quite some time and, believe it or not, you do get booed.”
Gone this year will be the traditional political speech-making and Republican bashing by Democrats at a big afternoon rally. Quinn said Friday there will be time for speech-making at a county chairman’s breakfast that is still planned that morning. The afternoon instead will be devoted to family activities and music, he said.
Last year, Quinn suffered a series of embarrassments. He was heckled by union protesters first thing in the morning at a “Governor’s Day” event off the fairgrounds.
Then, during a speech, Quinn tangled the president’s name with the slain terrorist. “Everybody knows Obama’s — he’s gone. He’s dead,” Quinn said, confusing the president’s name with Osama bin Laden.
At the state fairgrounds, the governor was followed by an angry mob and heckled while he ate and booed during his speech.
It all happened in a day peppered with protests by AFSCME Council 31, the Illinois Education Association and the Illinois AFL-CIO, all drowning out any possibility for feel-good political fluff. The union demonstrators were harping on Quinn for wanting to overhaul employee pensions, lay off state workers and close state facilities..
Known for long speeches and courting the press, Quinn spoke for a mere two minutes at the afternoon rally and left the fair without talking to reporters.
Things are different this year in that Quinn faces re-election, and his primary opponent, former White House chief of staff Bill Daley, is to make an appearance at the fair on “Governor’s Day,” or “Democrats Day,” as it’s also called.
On Thursday, Republicans plan a series of events for Republican Day at the fair. There are four candidates anticipating a face-off in a GOP gubernatorial primary.
Adding to the tension for Quinn, the governor is also locked in a legislative pay battle with lawmakers who have filed a lawsuit against him.
Bill Daley will speak at the county chair’s breakfast on Wednesday, his campaign said.
“The old Pat Quinn used to stand for everybody having their voice heard, now Gov. Quinn is taking democracy out of Democrats Day,” said Bill Daley spokesman Pete Giangreco. “I guess that’s what happens when you get booed by your own party the year before.”