‘Scouting report’ issued on 45th Ward campaign
by RUSS STEWART
In coming weeks, leading up to the Feb. 24 Chicago municipal election, I will do analyses of Northwest Side aldermanic races. Everything you want to know, and more, ad nauseam.
However, how about a completely different format? Not analysis and opinion. How about a sports-like scouting report? How about a column replete with gossip, trivia, tidbits, innuendo, stupidities, candidate information and disinformation, phantom quotes, personal bias, unsubstantiated rumors, speculation, insults and early predictions?
Some would call that trash talk. I call it a fun read. Let’s irritate everybody. Here goes, beginning with the 45th Ward.
Baseball icon Yogi Berra once told reporters in the middle of the baseball season, "It ain’t over till it’s over." The ward’s 2015 campaign began the day after John Arena won the April 2011 runoff, edging John Garrido by 30 votes, and the 2019 campaign will commence the day after Arena is re-elected to a second term, which is more likely than not.
The first question is, can Arena get more than 50 percent of the vote on Feb. 24, winning outright and avoiding an April 7 runoff, or will there be another Arena-Garrido runoff?
The second question is, how much will the public sector unions, particularly the Service Employees International Union, who want at least a few anti-Rahm Emanuel aldermen in the City Council, spend to re-elect Arena? The answer: about $400,000 in the municipal election, and that may be enough to avoid spending a like amount in the runoff.
Four candidates are running. Here’s the scouting report:
John Arena: Views politics simplistically . . . "It’s my way, every day, and never, ever your way" . . . A graphic designer by profession, does not view politics as the art of the possible, what business people refer as "getting to yes" . . . Arena’s already at "yes." He knows all the answers, and those with the temerity to disagree and utter that dreaded word "no" do so at their own peril . . . They are enemies, to be treated with the contempt they deserve, to be eradicated forthwith. The Jefferson Park Chamber of Commerce doesn’t name Arena’s pre-approved list of candidates as directors? Then Arena threatens to get the chamber defunded by the city.
Polarizing, opinionated . . . detested by many, but positively adored by a few more. Base is in Portage Park, where liberals, now self-labeled as "progressives," abound. Barack Obama won those precincts in 2012 with more than 75 percent of the vote, taking the ward with 67.8 percent. Arena won his base in 2011 with 60.2 percent of the vote, but Garrido topped Arena in the runoff in the rest of the ward with 54.6 percent of the vote.
Has no compunction about criticizing and opposing Mayor Rahm Emanuel . . . Had the highest anti-Emanuel score of any alderman . . . Opposed the mayor on the school strike, school closings, charter schools, the council ethics ordinance, police hiring, the 2013 and 2014 budgets, privatization, an elected school board and the minimum wage. This election is a referendum on Arena . . . Is running a two-track campaign, packaging himself as independent in the south portion of ward and hyping his visibility . . . "I’m trying" is his mantra in the north . . . "It’s getting better" he insists, referring to the ward’s economic doldrums. Blame it on George Bush, Rich Daley, Pat Levar, Mother Teresa, OPEC — anybody. It’s working.
So the mayor has a quandary: Does his well funded "Chicago Forward" political action committee dump $500,000 into the 45th Ward, matching the SEIU dollar for dollar? It’s doing so against anti-Emanuel aldermen in the 32nd and 16th wards. The problem is, who is the pro-Emanuel candidate? If Emanuel spends $500,000 to beat Arena and fails, how big an idiot is he?
John Garrido. The ward’s very own "Heartbreak Kid," and "Mr. Signage" . . . "He’s got lots of signs, but no (precinct) workers" one observer said . . . If building, fence and yard signs could vote, Garrido would be a cinch . . . Spent more than $30,000 this election cycle on signs . . . Is a police lieutenant in the 16th District, an attorney, and a victim of a cataclysmic error of political judgment . . . Essentially lost the 2011 aldermanic election on Feb. 2, 2010, when he voted for himself in the Republican primary for Cook County Board president, making him plausibly attackable as a "Bush Republican," a poisonous brand in Chicago, especially only a few years after George Bush left the presidency. Under rules governing political action committees, independent expenditures can be made for or against specific candidates, as long as there is no "coordination." Arena has $81,070 as of Jan. 1 to $22,029 for Garrido, but the SEIU pumped upwards of $400,000 into the race, demonizing Garrido.
Garrido fights the perception that he is "damaged goods," especially if, as expected, the SEIU comes to Arena’s rescue again . . . The 2011 runoff was a choice between Arena and Garrido, and he lost 6,083-6,053 . . . Also fights political reality . . . Politics is not static . . . In the 45 months since his runoff win, Arena has peeled off more 2011 Garrido votes than he has lost among his 2011 voter base . . . That’s what incumbency does.
Michelle Baert. If being sweet and sincere and energetic were the criterion for victory, the self-proclaimed "45th Ward Mom" — or anticipated aldermom — would be unstoppable . . . instead, she’s been unstartable. Arena’s the alderman, Garrido’s a cop, and Baert is what? She’s spent 18 months campaigning door to door, she has $59,284 on hand, and her theme can be summarized as: Come to my Web site, I’ll tell you what’s going on. I’ll be your Facebookmom. Elect me, and every yard and garage sale and street party, will ooze from your computer; I’ll inundate you with gigabytes of data . . . I’ll stream you an avalanche of trivia. Doesn’t that qualify me to be the aldermom?
"Out of her league," according to observer . . . "Hasn’t measured up" . . . Campaign is being run by her husband and a former Levar precinct captain . . . No gravitas . . . It comes down to this: Will Emanuel dump money into the ward, and if he does, will it be on Baert’s behalf? How about: No. No.
Mike Diaz. It is said that absence makes the heart grow fonder. Diaz, an attorney with the state department of professional regulation, is truly pushing the envelope. He filed for alderman, but he has been invisible on the campaign trail. Maybe his effort is subliminal: I’ll say nothing, do nothing, be nowhere, make no commitment. Gee, this guy sounds like a keeper.
Statistics: Obama won the ward in 2008 and 2012. Quinn beat Rauner in November 8,038-5,285, with 60.9 percent of the vote. There is no "change we need."
Issues: Since the collapse of the Lyons/Levar machine in 2011, precinct captains have been a rarity. According to Garrido, this election is all about eyeballing — unfilled potholes, airplane noise, vacant stores and the lack of a police presence. Garrido criticizes Arena for the Milwaukee Avenue road diet, the lack of a decision against upzoning at Long-Argyle for a 48-unit apartment building, and the 98-unit senior-only edifice behind the Jewel at Six Corners. It’s either Fantasy Island or Beirut. It’s either on the rebound or in the toilet. It’s either an economic miracle or an economic cesspool, and credit or blame devolves directly on Arena, or indirectly on Arena’s soul mate, Obama, that paragon of economic recovery. Or, if blame is to be assigned, put it on Emanuel.
Those still-unfilled potholes from last winter? Blame it on Emanuel. Those 80 new businesses Arena says he brought into the ward, especially those coffeehouses that created dozens of jobs? Give Arena credit. If nothing else, 45th Warders are slurping hundreds more gallons of caffeine. All those vacant storefronts on Milwaukee Avenue north of Lawrence? Give Arena 4 more years. Maybe it will get better, or maybe not.
The ward has 30,544 registered voters, with roughly three-fifths of them in Gladstone Park and Jefferson Park and 40 percent in Portage Park. After Pat Levar retired in 2011, the longtime Democratic machine crumbled. His candidate, Marina Faz-Huppert, got a measly 19.5 percent of the vote. Even though Arena is the Democratic committeemen, there is no precinct infrastructure.
The race is being fought by the U.S. Postal Service. He or she who stuffs the most mailboxes will win.
Mayoral impact: Will Emanuel stand down? Garrido thinks he will. Look at it logically: Will the mayor’s Super PAC spend a bundle on Baert or Diaz, or both? What’s the upside? In 2011, with the backing of the Levar machine, Emanuel got just 51.2 percent of the vote in the ward. If Emanuel weighs in against Arena, the alderman, who has not endorsed anybody for mayor, may embrace Chuy Garcia, and a win by Arena win would be a repudiation of the mayor.
The outlook: Feb. 24 will be a "who cares?" day. Turnout will be minimal. Voters may detest Emanuel or Arena, but there is no alternative.
My prediction: If turnout, which was 14,665 in 2011, is under 12,000, can Arena get half of that number? The SEIU will flood the ward with a dozen pro-Arena mailers (and not a single anti-Garrido "Bush Republican" piece). Emanuel will "stand down" and spend his bucks in other wards. Arena will come close to 50 percent, with Garrido at about 25 to 30 percent and Baert not much above 15 percent.
Arena will prevail. For the next 4 years, "no" will not be an option.
Send e-mail to russ@russstewart. com or visit his Web site at www. russstewart.com.