4-Candidate field roils 45th ward race
by RUSS STEWART
The entry of a second pro-Rahm Emanuel candidate into the heretofore three-person 45th Ward aldermanic race complicates all strategies, rearranges all coalitions and changes all dynamics.
There now are contenders who are anti-Emanuel (Alderman John Arena), non-Emanuel (John Garrido) and pro-Emanuel (Michele Baert and Mike Diaz), and that means the following:
First, a runoff is a certainty. With four candidates, two of whom (Arena and Diaz) will be lavishly funded, none will surpass the 50 percent threshold in the Feb. 24 nonpartisan municipal election, triggering an April runoff between the top two contenders.
Second, Arena finishing first is a certainty. As the 4-year incumbent, with a viable base in Portage Park, a record of opposing the mayor on a myriad of issues and the expected funding of up to $500,000 from the Service Employees International Union, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees and the Chicago Teachers Union, and as a self-proclaimed “progressive” champion, Arena is a lock to get 35 to 40 percent of the vote.
However, an Arena showing of less than 40 percent of the vote makes his defeat in the runoff a near certainty. If 60 percent of the ward’s voters opt for someone else on Feb. 24, they’re not likely to vote for him in April. He will have to go negative, demonize his runoff foe, spend $500,000 (as he did in 2011), and hope that his opponent is too flawed to win.
Third, the collapse of the campaign of Baert, the self-styled “45th Ward Mom,” is a certainty. Diaz, whose campaign is being quarterbacked by Emanuel’s top political aide, Tom Bowen, would not have filed for the election if the mayor’s strategists believed Baert was electable. She’s had 18 months to prove herself, and she hasn’t. She was perceived as a lightweight, so she’s been ditched.
Presuming that Baert stays in the race, thereby splitting the pro-Emanuel vote, it makes an Arena-Garrido runoff much more likely.
Fourth, that Diaz will suffer the same fate as the hapless Marina Faz-Huppert did in 2011 is a certainty. In short, he’s a loser. Diaz was born and raised in Logan Square, resided in Bridgeport, and moved into the 45th Ward in 2012. He is a deputy general counsel in the banking division of the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation. According to the 2010 census, the 45th Ward is 24.5 percent Hispanic, but that’s not the point. Like Faz-Huppert, Diaz was anointed by the party bosses. In 2011 outgoing Alderman Pat Levar scrounged up Faz-Huppert, a union activist with no roots in the ward. She got 19.5 percent of the vote, finishing third. Likewise, Diaz, with no roots in the ward, has been scrounged up by “Team Emanuel.” They figure that their money — perhaps as much as $400,000 — can rectify that problem.
Fifth, too many so-called progressives (the current euphemism for liberals) in the race may make Garrido’s second-place finish a certainty. To be sure, Barack Obama won the ward 15,509-7,266 (with 68.1 percent of the vote) in 2008 and 14,084-6,207 (with 69.4 percent) in 2012. That indicates a solid Democratic base, but it also indicates a conservative/Republican base, with 6,207 votes for Mitt Romney and 7,266 votes for John McCain. They, along with most first responders, are going to back Garrido, as they did in 2011. Being the least “progressive” candidate has its advantages.
In the recent governor’s election, Pat Quinn topped Bruce Rauner in the ward 8,849-5,345, with Quinn getting 60.9 percent of the vote. One must surmise that anyone who voted for Quinn is either a congenital Democrat or a congenital “progressive.”
However, given that Emanuel’s leadership style and governing ability is on a par with Quinn’s, one also could surmise that 61 percent of the 45th Ward’s voters think there is no dysfunction in Springfield or City Hall and that Emanuel is just a swell mayor. If one extrapolates that a pro-Quinn voter is synonymous with a pro-Emanuel voter, meaning supportive of the status quo, then Arena and Garrido are doomed. If, conversely, one extrapolates that there are just a lot of voters who equate hate Republicans, then those voters will be in a real quandary on Feb. 24. The municipal election is nonpartisan. They have to pick someone with no party label, and everyone running will claim to be a Democrat.
It becomes a game of gotcha. Who can be tarred as a Republican? Baert voted in the Republican primary in 2004, 2006, 2008 and 2010, and Garrido voted in the 2010 Republican primary, when he ran for Cook County Board president. Both took a Democratic ballot in the 2012 and 2014 primaries. I guess both saw the error of their ways, or maybe it was political expediency. Diaz, while living on the South Side, voted Democratic in the 2006 and 2008 primaries, but not since. Arena, of course, is the ward’s Democratic committeeman. Nobody can accuse him of the sin of Republicanism.
Therefore, it’s a certainty that the next 45th Ward alderman will be a Democrat technically, if not philosophically.
Sixth, Emanuel’s unpopularity in the ward is a reality. The ward’s population is roughly 54,000, with 30,544 registered voters, of whom a sizable chunk are police officers and firefighters; they and their families are about 10 to 12 percent of the vote. The census pegs the ward as 64.4 percent white and 8.2 percent Asian. Garrido, who lost to Arena in 2011 by 30 votes, is a police lieutenant and a local school council member. In 2011, against two Hispanic candidates and three black candidates, Emanuel got 8,212 votes (51.2 percent of the total cast) in the ward. That’s pathetic, especially because Emanuel was a congressman from the area for 6 years. Gery Chico, the least liberal mayoral candidate, got 6,035 votes (37.6 percent of the total). The three black candidates and the liberal Hispanic candidate got a combined 21 percent of the vote, proving that a fifth of the ward is populated with leftist progressives. If somebody named “Karl Marx” were on the ballot, he’d get 20 percent of the vote.
“I find very few people (in the ward) who like the mayor,” Garrido said.
Seventh, that lots of money will be spent is a certainty. The 2015 election will be a mailbox election. The days of precinct canvassing are over. If a city employee is asked (or coerced) into working a precinct, he or she can file a complaint with the city inspector general, and the asker will be investigated. If a city employee files an objection to a candidate’s petitions, the employee will be investigated. Soon, if an employee even circulates nominating petitions, an investigation will occur.
So the “New Politics” will be direct mail, robocalls, e-mails, the Internet and social media such as Facebook and Twitter, and that requires big bucks. A wardwide mailing of three pieces a week costs $75,000. Emanuel’s “Chicago Forward” political action committee, along with Bowen’s New Chicago Committee, will heavily fund Diaz to beat Arena. The pro-Arena unions, who mercilessly labeled Garrido a Republican in 2011, will do likewise in 2015, spending what it takes to re-elect Arena. Baert has worked assiduously to reposition herself as the happy-touchy-feely candidate, knocking on doors, appealing to women, maintaining a Web site of ward events, trying to re-invent the aldermanic job as a family-friendly conduit of information, not just a constituent-oriented provider of city services.
In effect, Baert presents herself as a nurturing “Mom,” ready to coddle and comfort ward voters, as opposed to the combative male candidates. Since more than half of the ward’s voters are women, Baert has a built-in gender base, probably 25 to 30 percent. While Arena and Diaz battle about who is or is not a mayoral stooge, Baert could sneak into the runoff.
“She’s a Republican,” a public sector union operative told me. “She can’t hide.” An avalanche of union-paid pro-Arena mail will define Baert as a Republican, not a “Mom,” and that is why “Team Emanuel” dumped her. Her fund-raising was anemic, with just under $39,000 on hand as of Sept. 30, and the mayor’s minions wanted to have a referendum on Arena, defining and attacking him as inept and arrogant and unhelpful to ward residents. Baert proved to be an unsatisfactory alternative. They did not want to be saddled with rehabilitating “Republican” Baert, whose only credential is having a Web site.
The choice was clear: bring in someone, even with tenuous roots in the ward, and make him, not Garrido, the anti-Arena alternative. In his announcement statement, Diaz said, “We can be progressive, build a consensus, and get things done,” which means that Arena is not progressive and that he is a “non-builder” and a “non-doer.” Given Arena’s ubiquitous presence in the ward, that won’t be an easy sell.
Eighth, there is no certainty that either Arena or Garrido can replicate their 2011 vote. The turnout for the runoff that year was 12,134, and Arena won 6,083-6,053. The turnout in the Nov. 4 election was 14,094. Arena is very controlling, and he has gotten involved in some vote-losing scrapes, such as the Milwaukee Avenue bike lanes, the Schurz soccer field, a Gladstone Park liquor store, the Koch Foods chicken-processing plant, rezoning to permit new rental unit construction on Argyle (48 units), Kilpatrick (98), Lawrence (39), Montrose (12) and Keeler (18). Perhaps not in Portage Park, but a lot of empty stores remain elsewhere, indicating economic stagnation, but not every 2011 Garrido voter is a guaranteed 2015 Garrido voter. He must re-sell himself.
The 2011 City Council remap, which was intended to benefit Arena, sliced 12 precincts out of the ward, including three in Mayfair, in the southeast portion of the ward, and nine in Forest Glen, Edgebrook and Indian Woods, east of Elston Avenue. Garrido won those precincts 1,677-1,545, a 132-vote margin. New precincts were added around Devon and Nagle avenues. Overall, Garrido was not harmed. The new ward has 1,000 fewer registered voters.
The early outlook: Arena is in the cross hairs. He is everybody’s punching bag. He has to stay positive in the general election, as the independent (meaning anti-Emanuel) candidate. Then, in the runoff, the unions can spend $500,000 dismembering his opponent. Arena is the favorite.
Send e-mail to russ@russstewart. com or visit his Web site at www.russstewart.com.