Campaigns heat up for city Hispanic aldermen


by RUSS STEWART

In the Northwest Side Hispanic-majority wards, where Puerto Ricans predominate, there is a veritable phalanx of area politicians, plus the Cook County Board of Ethics and a federal monitor enforcing the Shakman Decree, who eagerly want to "stick a fork" in Joe Berrios, the beleaguered county assessor who also is the county Democratic Party chairman and the 31st Ward Democratic committeeman.

They include U.S. Representative Luis Gutierrez (D-4), Aldermen Joe Moreno (1st), Ric Munoz (22nd), Scott Waguespack (32nd) and Nick Sposato (36th), state Senator Willie Delgado, state Representative Luis Arroyo and his son, county Commissioner Luis Arroyo Jr., fading politicians such as Miguel del Valle, and newly elected state Representative Will Guzzardi (D-39). All are critics of Mayor Rahm Emanuel, and all support Jesus "Chuy" Garcia for mayor. Berrios and his comrades are for Emanuel.

Thus, the undercurrent in the Hispanic wards is Rahm versus Chuy. The "progressives" versus the status quo. The liberal Garcia is a Mexican American from the Southwest Side. In Chicago Puerto Ricans resist supporting Mexican Americans and vice versa, but since Emanuel is allied with Berrios, the others are with Garcia.

After ignominiously failing to renominate his daughter, Toni Berrios, a 12-year state representative, in the March, 2014, primary, Berrios’ credibility has plummeted. Guzzardi beat her by 1,832 votes, and Berrios carried his ward for his daughter by a desultory 1,459-1,236.

Then there are those who are on the assessor’s payroll slurping up sizable salaries. They’re consuming lots of taxpayer dollars. The Shakman Decree, issued in 1972, bans political factors in the hiring, firing and promotion of city and county workers. The Ethics Board found that Berrios engaged in nepotism, with 15 relatives, including his son, his daughter and his sister, on the assessor’s office payroll. The monitor determined that Berrios fired a bunch of non-political, Shakman-protected assessor employees to make room for his kin and his cronies and that he moves his hires around to avoid any Shakman violations.

Toni Berrios will leave office on Jan. 12. Does anybody doubt that she will magically manifest herself in a $75,000-plus job in the assessor’s office? After all, defeated state legislators are prized hirees.

Finally, there are Berrios’ aldermanic allies. They include Ray Suarez (31st), Roberto Maldonado (26th), Rey Colon (35th) and Ariel Reboyras (30th). In 2001, in conjunction with Alderman Dick Mell (33rd), chairman of the City Council Rules Committee, Berrios and the North Side Hispanic aldermen sliced and diced Sposato’s Galewood-Montclare 36th Ward to create a new Hispanic-majority ward in the area, to be occupied by Omar Aquino, the son of Suarez’ buddy. The new 36th Ward included the elder Arroyo’s Galewood home, and the alleged deal was that the elder Arroyo would forego an aldermanic bid, that his son would get county Commissioner Edwin Reyes’ seat, that Aquino’s son would be the alderman, and that Sposato would be out of a job. Reyes, a state trooper, was appointed to fill Maldonado’s vacancy in 2009, after Maldonado was "promoted" to alderman. In 2010 the Berrios machine backed Reyes against Maldonado’s candidate. Then Maldonado became a Berrios boy and got his revenge when Reyes was dumped for the younger Arroyo, and Arroyo won the 2014 primary by a vote of 8,084-6,560.

Guess what? It didn’t happen as planned. After the Berrios-Maldonado-Suarez-Colon-Reboyras machine ousted Reyes, the elder Arroyo had either a severe memory lapse or an epiphany. What deal? Arroyo (and son) are now allied with Sposato, Moreno, Guzzardi, Munoz and the anti-Emanuel, anti-Berrios contingent. The Berrios bunch is livid. A double cross in Chicago politics? Is that possible?

"Arroyo wants to be the North Side Puerto Rican boss," one Hispanic activist said. "He is exerting himself mightily to elect Gil Villegas as alderman over Aquino. He will get himself elected Democratic committeeman (a post now held by Sposato) in 2016. Berrios would not appoint him if Sposato resigned." It would surprise nobody if Arroyo ran against Berrios for assessor in the 2018 primary.

Here’s a ward-by-ward analysis:

31st Ward: The ward boundaries are Central Park Avenue to Central Avenue, between Addison and Fullerton avenues. The ward is 80 percent Hispanic. Berrios has been a player in the ward since the 1980s, when he was an aide to Alderman Tom Keane, his successor wife after he was convicted and jailed, and then Ed Nedza. He was elected to the General Assembly in 1982, to the Board of Tax Appeals (now Board of Review) in 1988, and as assessor in 2010. Since the latter two jobs affect tax assessments and tax bills, Berrios raised humungous amounts of campaign cash. He has $1,179,498 in campaign funds on hand.

Suarez, Berrios’ longtime flunky, has been an alderman since 1991, and he has $1,310,618 in cash on hand. How does an obscure alderman raise that kind of cash? He was unopposed in 2011. Amazingly, despite his money, he has three opponents in next year’s election, the most credible being Milly Santiago, a former reporter for Telemundo Channel 44. Also running are Sean Starr and Irma Cormier. The anti-Emanuel coalition is backing Santiago.

The outlook: Hispanic turnout is notoriously anemic. There are about 55,000 people per Chicago ward, yet only 2,695 turned out in the ward for the Berrios-Guzzardi primary. Suarez got 5,508 votes in 2011 and 4,526 votes in 2007. Emanuel got 2,446 votes in the ward in the 2011 municipal election, while Gery Chico got 2,232 votes. Berrios/Suarez fatigue is palpable. Suarez will spend $500,000-plus, and he should inch barely over the 50 percent threshold. If there is a Suarez-Santiago runoff, Suarez will lose.

35th Ward: Dick Mell, who was the alderman of the adjacent 33rd Ward from 1975 to 2013, was known as "Old Gringo" due to his propensity to meddle in Hispanic wards. He and his precinct army got Vilma Colom elected alderman in 1995 and 1999, but the anti-Mell Rey Colon won in 2003, 2007 and 2011. Colon was knocked off the ballot for filing insufficient signatures for ward Democratic committeeman in 2012. Nancy Schiavone won the job, but she lost the 2014 primary for Deb Mell’s Illinois House seat, and now she is irrelevant.

The outlook: Colon won in 2011 with just 50.9 percent of the vote, and he has been an Emanuel toady in the City Council. The ward is shaped like an inverted "C," extending from Lawrence and Pulaski south along Kedzie to Fullerton and west to Kostner. It includes Logan Square, with an upscale white population, to which Colon has minimal appeal. His opponents are Carlos Rosa, Susana Sandoval and Marcus Winn. Rosa is a leader of the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights. Expect a Colon-Rosa runoff. Colon’s days as alderman are numbered.

30th Ward: You can’t beat somebody with nobody. The ward was crafted to extend from Central Park to Narragansett, taking in the Hispanic-majority precincts around Diversey and Pulaski and Cicero and Belmont, and following Addison Street west to Riis Park, around Narragansett and Fullerton. The ward’s Republican committeeman, Walter Zarnecki, filed to run for alderman, but he is going nowhere. Reboyras is safe.

26th Ward: Maldonado "upgraded" from the Cook County Board to alderman in 2009 (by mayoral appointment), but his level of security in the ward is problematic. Maldonado was elected in 2011 by a vote of 6,126-1,312, he has since made his peace with the Berrios machine, and he is a reliable Emanuel vote. The ward runs on a northwest angle from Damen Avenue north of Grand Avenue, to Kostner and north to Armitage. Maldonado faces Juanita Irizarry, a Harvard graduate associated with a nonprofit housing clinic backed by the "progressives," and Adam Corona. If Maldonado is forced into a runoff, he will lose.

36th Ward: This is ground zero. It’s the Berrios/Suarez machine and money versus Arroyo. "You can’t believe how hard (Arroyo is) working to elect Villegas," one area politician said. The new ward, designed to make Sposato’s re-election impossible, prompted Sposato to move into the 38th Ward to seek a second term. The new Hispanic-majority ward runs from North and Kedzie avenues along Grand Avenue south of Fullerton, west to Nagle, and north between Harlem and Nagle and east to Central north of Belmont. Six candidates filed, Aquino, Villegas, Alonso Zaragoza, Chris Vittorio, Bo Ramos and Joaquin Vazquez.

The question is, how much money and manpower does Berrios pour into the 36th Ward? Villegas, a military veteran and an economic consultant, promises to be independent of Emanuel. Villegas will finish first, with close to 50 percent of the vote, but a Villegas-Aquino runoff is likely. Then Berrios and Suarez can flood the ward with workers.

1st Ward: Just north of the Loop and filled with white hipsters, the ward runs from Erie to Fullerton. Moreno, who is closely allied with Guzzardi, sits atop Berrios’ hit list. He was appointed in 2010 and elected in 2011, and he beat Jesse Juarez, a Berrios ally, for committeeman in 2012. The State Board of Elections recently fined Juarez $61,000 for campaign reporting violations. Berrios is backing Anne Shaw in the ward, and also running is Andy Hamilton. Moreno will win easily.

Send e-mail to russ@russstewart. com or visit his Web site at www. russstewart.com.


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