Wins in primary scored by off-ballot politicians
by RUSS STEWART
Success in politics is the ability to get yourself elected. Power in politics is the ability to get other people elected or, more importantly, to get future rivals or threats defeated.
On March 18, for a slew of politicians who weren’t on the ballot, their power, or lack of it, was amply demonstrated.
In the Northwest Side 40th Illinois House District, the non-ballot winners were Dick Mell and Mike Madigan, the losers were the unions, and the clear message was, don’t mess with the Mells. Mell, known as "Old Gringo" in the area’s increasingly Hispanic precincts, quit as the 33rd Ward alderman in mid-2013, had Mayor Rahm Emanuel anoint his daughter Deb as his successor, and then engineered the appointment of his aide, Jaime Andrade, as Deb Mell’s replacement as state representative.
Andrade was a less than imposing candidate, but a hard worker, and Mell and Madigan hatched a two-pronged strategy. Mell’s job was to get a huge 33rd Ward vote for Andrade, and Madigan’s job was to fund a blizzard of mailers, especially to Hispanic-surnamed households, touting Andrade as a "breakthrough" candidate, from an immigrant family, putting his kids through school, giving up a higher-paying job to be a state representative. Never mind that he’s been on the public payroll for the past 18 years, basically as a Mell flunky.
Andrade had four primary opponents, Nancy Schiavone, Aaron Goldstein, Wendy Jo Harmston and Mark Pasieka. Schiavone, a Logan Square attorney and the 35th Ward Democratic committeeman, was the unions’ candidate. They pumped more than $100,000 into mailers and television ads. Goldstein was one of the criminal defense attorneys for Rod Blagojevich, who is Mell’s son-in-law. Harmston and Pasieka were basically inconsequential.
Andrade won with 50.3 percent of the vote, getting a sold 2,907 votes, to 1,579 (27.3 percent) for Schiavone, 617 (10.7 percent) for Goldstein, 375 for Harmston and 303 for Pasieka.
The key was Mell’s 33rd Ward, where he was the alderman from 1975 to 2013 and where he has been the committeeman since 1976. The 40th District contains 72 precincts in seven wards, of which 24 are in the 33rd Ward. Andrade got 1,488 votes in Mell’s ward, a hefty 60.7 percent of the total cast. Clearly the Mell machine is well oiled and not dysfunctional. By delivering for Andrade, Mell clears all opposition to Deb Mell’s 2015 aldermanic election bid.
Andrade’s task was to campaign daily in Hispanic precincts. Bouyed by his 33rd Ward total, Andrade’s appeal to Hispanics gave him 1,415 votes in the other wards. Andrade is poised for a long career as a Madigan loyalist in Springfield.
In the 20th Illinois House District, 18-year incumbent Mike McAuliffe, the only Chicago Republican in the General Assembly, stands out like the proverbial sore thumb. McAuliffe’s fund-raising is desultory, and he stays in office for two reasons.
First, Illinois House Speaker Madigan has a 71-47 Democratic super majority, and he doesn’t necessarily need to beat McAuliffe, at least not yet. McAuliffe’s district includes the 41st Ward (Edison Park, Norwood Park, Oriole Park), Rosemont, Harwood Heights and parts of Park Ridge and Niles. The Republicans’ goal for the fall election is to shave a few seats off Madigan’s majority, and they will, but the 20th District seat is a prime "shave" for the Democrats. McAuliffe was elected narrowly in 1996 after the death of his father, Roger McAuliffe. Madigan has never seriously attempted to beat him, but the retirement of his ally, Alderman Brian Doherty, in 2011 and Doherty’s sizable defeat in a 2010 Illinois Senate bid, has eroded McAuliffe’s organization and fund-raising base.
If Madigan opted to spend $500,000-plus to beat McAuliffe, he would succeed. Madigan spent nearly $1 million to take out longtime Republican state representative Skip Silvestri of Elmwood Park in 2012, and he did. He need only find and fund an Edison Park Irish-surnamed female police officer, or recruit attorney Tom Needham, who lost to McAuliffe by 1,895 votes in 1996, and McAuliffe could be beaten.
Second, it is part of the McAuliffe DNA to forge "nonaggression pacts." The elder McAuliffe, who was first elected to the House in 1972, had a deal with the 38th Ward "Cullerton Clan" whereby his organization didn’t try to beat any non-statewide Democrat and the Democrats gave him a free pass. That evolved into a Doherty-McAuliffe-Silvestri pact in the 2000s with the 36th Ward Banks-DeLeo crowd. Now only McAuliffe and county Commissioner Pete Silvestri are left standing. Bill Banks, Jim DeLeo and Doherty are political history.
Now there is a 41st Ward "nonaggression pact" between McAuliffe, who is the Republican committeeman, and Alderman Mary O’Connor (41st), the ward’s Democratic committeeman, and her ally, state Senator John Mulroe (D-10). The latter gave McAuliffe and Silvestri a free pass this year, and McAuliffe will reciprocate for O’Connor in 2015 and for Mulroe in 2016. Mulroe already had a free pass in 2012, with no Republican foe.
That pact packed no punch on March 18, with O’Conner the off-ballot loser. Fielding a "shill" candidate is an ancient political ploy. A shill is an opponent who makes no effort to win the election. The McAuliffe-instigated Democratic shill was Jerry Acciari of Niles. On primary day, every 41st Ward precinct had someone in front of the polling place handing out Acciari palm cards, and his signs were all over the ward. Acciari was opposed by Mo Khan, a 28-year-old law student from Park Ridge.
Acciari won the 41st Ward by a respectable 1,320-1,090 (with 54.8 percent of the vote) and the 38th Ward by 161-60, but he fared dismally in the 44 suburban precincts, losing to Khan 1,015-661. Clearly, the McAuliffe machine is sorely lacking in clout outside of Rosemont. Khan is McAuliffe’s November opponent, winning districtwide by 2,265-1,981, with 53.3 percent of the vote.
Madigan now has a huge bargaining chip. Instead of a shill in the 20th District, the Democratic candidate is energetic and ambitious. If the Republicans in Springfield get obstreperous, Madigan will not "play nice" in the McAuliffe race. It’s doubtful that Khan can beat McAuliffe, but $500,000 in Madigan money for Khan will make the Republicans spend an equal sum to save McAuliffe.
In county judicial races, the "Judgemaker Extraordinaire" prevailed. The off-ballot victor is Alderman Ed Burke (14th), the chairman of the Democrats’ county judicial slating committee, a 46-year alderman, and the husband of Illinois Supreme Court Justice Anne Burke. Controlling the judiciary by controlling who gets to be a judge is the lifeblood of Democratic dominance in Chicago and Cook County.
Think about keeping Emanuel on the 2011 ballot, invalidating tort reform, validating the Democrats’ 2011 remap, and, soon, deciding whether city and state pension reforms violate the Illinois Constitution. Forget about the concept that "Justice is Blind." The judges that Burke puts on the bench know why and how they got there, and when crunch time comes, they don’t disappoint.
There were three Appellate Court and 11 Circuit Court countywide slots on the Democratic ballot on March 18, of which eight were contested. The Burke slate lost two races, which means that Burke got 12 of his 14 slated candidates on the bench — an 85.7 winning percentage. It would not be inaccurate to conclude that 70-80 percent of all Cook County’s judges got there because of Burke’s committee’s slating, or Illinois Supreme Court (and Burke’s wife’s) appointments.
In judicial races, gender, race and Irish surnames are key. Women won five of eight contested contests, with only one slated woman losing. Slated African-American women with neutral-sounding surnames beat men in three races. Slated men won in two contested races. The biggest upsets were for the Appellate races, where black women (one slated) lost.
The slated John Simon, the son of the late alderman and Illinois Supreme Court justice Seymour Simon, with lots of party, Jewish and trial lawyer clout, beat his black female foe, Sharon Oden Johnson, who was left off the "Soul Slate," by just 19,000 votes. In the second race, white committeemen failed to deliver for the slated Fredrenna Lyle, a black former Chicago alderman, enraging a lot of black politicians. Lyle faced a white female Irish-surnamed judge (Susan Kennedy Sullivan) as well as appointed Justice Sheldon Harris, who ran as "Shelly Harris" — a gender-bender moniker — and spent close to $500,000 on a barrage of television ads. Harris eked out a 5,000-vote win.
The election validated previous judicial verities — women beat men in one-on-one contests or in a field with several men, men beat women when two or more run, slating helps, and spending $500,000 is magic.
However, turnout also is a factor. It was a sparse 410,347 in Chicago and just 98,917 in the suburbs, or under 10 percent. The lower the vote, the better for the machine. Turnout in the 2010 primary 959,921. Turnout spikes to more than 1.2 million in presidential-year primaries.
Low turnout minimizes gender, ethnicity, race and Irish surnames. Democratic mailings, sample ballots and precinct workers loom large. The stunning upset by Judge Tony Kyriakopoulos in the northwest 10th Subcircuit is illustrative. The district consists of 226 precincts in 11 Chicago wards and 65 precincts in Maine, Norwood Park, Niles and Northfield townships.
Kyriakopoulos’ opponent was Katherine O’Dell, the daughter of a prominent trial attorney. An Irish-surnamed woman versus a man with a multi-vowel Greek name. How could she lose? Kyriakopoulos won 7,788-6,393, getting 54.8 percent of the vote in a turnout of 14,187. Kyriakopoulos averaged a paltry 30 votes in the Chicago precincts and 16 votes in the suburban precincts.
Kyriakopoulos won 71.6 percent of the vote in the 40th Ward, 53.5 percent in the 39th Ward, 52.8 percent in the 41st Ward, 59.7 percent in the 47th Ward and 50.5 percent in the 45th Ward. The clear message: Hear me roar. The machine controls 30 to 40 votes in every Chicago precinct. The lion has awakened.
Send e-mail to russ@russstewart. com or visit his Web site at www. russstewart.com.