Silverstein the favorite for easy 50th Ward win


Here is another in a series of "scouting reports" on Chicago aldermanic contests. This week it’s on the 50th Ward, encompassing the once heavily Jewish West Rogers Park neighborhood, where a total of three candidates are on the ballot.

This column will be scouting to find a "bupkis" (or several of them). Bupkis is a Yiddish term for absolutely nothing, or nothing of value, when applied to a person meaning someone of no consequence, a nobody or a loser. So by the process of analytical elimination, identifying each bupkis simplifies the task of picking the winner. In the 50th Ward, if it’s not named Silverstein, it a bupkis.

50th Ward: Call it the "House of Silverstein," the abode of one of Chicago’s premier power couples . . . The alderman is married to the Democratic committeeman (and state senator) . . . Lest you jump to any quick conclusions, that the alderman is a woman (Chicago is still politically incorrect, having not renamed aldermen as alderpersons or calling female aldermen alderwomen) . . . Here’s a novel idea: How about tabbing them "alderservants," so they remember that their job is to serve their constituents, not the mayor or special interests . . . Consider the giddy joy of calling your alderman with a complaint and having the phone answered as follows: "Hello, this is Alderservant XYZ’s office. How may I promptly serve and help you?" . . . Just a dream . . . I’m sorry, I digress.

One last point: As of 2011 aldermen earned $108,000 annually and got yearly 3 percent cost-of-living pay hikes, so they’re now up to $120,000. That should make their job 24/7, but for many it’s 8/5 at best. From a psychological and egotistical perspective, the implications of an "alderservant" would be immense. Can you imagine somebody like the 45th Ward’s John Arena introducing himself to anybody as "Alderservant Arena"? He’s "Alderboss Arena." Or some alderman dialing for dollars asking donors to contribute to "Alderservant XYX"? Making aldermen alderservants would be both a serious campaign reform and an ego deflator.

Back to the 50th Ward: The population is roughly 54,000, of which as of 2014 24,189 were registered voters, and 11,400 cast ballots last November . . . About 55 to 60 percent of the voters are Jewish, and about 60 percent of the Jewish population is Orthodox . . . The sward was originally populated mainly by working class Eastern European Jewish immigrants, primarily Polish and Russian, from the 1920s onward . . . Many of their descendants moved to Skokie in the 1950s (and their descendants to Deerfield and Buffalo Grove in the 1990s) . . . Always some intra-Jewish rivalry, based on origin and income status . . . The ward had a Jewish Republican alderman (Jack Sperling) from 1955 to 1973 . . . The Democrats are always riven by feuds and factions.

Ira Silverstein, an attorney and an Orthodox Jew, elected state senator in 1998, now an influential Springfield insider, a onetime protege of the late longtime alderman Berny Stone, battled Stone in a stormy decade-long war for ward political supremacy . . . Finally prevailed in 2011, when his wife Debra Silverstein ousted Stone with a thumping 61.4 percent of the vote . . . In era where concept of "diversity" drives the Democratic Party, she is Chicago’s only Jewish alderman among 50 . . . After 38 years, the obnoxious and testy Stone’s "shelf life" finally expired . . . After many attempts to beat Sperling, once by (later sheriff)Dick Elrod, Mayor Richard J. Daley got rid of Sperling by engineering his appointment as a judge . . . Attorney Stone, a "real estate supervisor" for Sheriff Elrod (elected in 1970), beat anti-Daley Ted Berland in a 1973 special election.

Stone feuded with state senator Howie Carroll for years . . . Carroll’s father was a union official close to Daley, and he got his son elected state representative in 1970 at age 28 and state senator in 1972 at age 30 . . . Carroll ousted longtime committeeman Jerome Huppert, Stone’s mentor, in 1980, and the Carroll-Stone blood rivalry began . . . Epic battle in 1988 for state representative for the "Jewish" 1st District Skokie-Lincolnwwod-50th Ward seat vacated by Alan Greiman of Skokie, who became a judge. Ira Silverstein, with Stone’s backing, faced Lou Lang, a Skokie attorney backed by Cal Sutker’s Niles Township Democratic machine. Carroll covertly sided with Lang, who prevailed 7,682-7,315.

Carroll got his payback . . . and Stone got his revenge in 1998. Carroll ran for Sid Yates’ congressional seat and ignominiously lost to Jan Schakowsky of Evanston 31,443-23,963, with 14,256 votes for Jay Pritzker. While Schakowsky, a leftist state representative, won her Evanston base with 77 percent of the vote, Carroll won his 50th Ward base with a desultory 50 percent, thanks to Stone’s non-help. In that same primary, due to a huge outpouring of Jewish voters and Stone’s help, Ira Silverstein upset the slated 8th District candidate for state senator, 39th Ward Democratic Committeeman Randy Barnette (the husband of Alderman Marge Laurino), 9,469-8,625, with 4,725 votes for Michael Ian Bender, whose father was a judge and who had a base in Lincolnwood . . . Lang and the Sutker machine backed Barnette, to no avail . . . With Carroll gone, Stone won the Democratic committeemanship in 2000, and inevitably a fissure developed between Stone and Silverstein . . . Stone’s goal was to hand off the aldermanic post to daughter his Alana, who was his chief of staff.

Stone’s political death knell was sounded in 2008, when Ira Silverstein defeated him for Democratic committeeman 5,482-2,588 (with 67.9 percent of the vote).

The ward is very diverse, with many Indians, Pakistanis, Greeks, Assyrians, Iraqis, Chinese, Japanese, Filipinos, Vietnamese, Thais, Malaysians and Cambodians (many of whom are non-citizens and non-voters) . . . At least half the ward’s residents are first-generation immigrants or their offspring . . . Along commercial streets Howard, Touhy, Pratt, Devon and Lincoln there are Greek banks, Middle Eastern and Indian food stores, Chinese gift shops, Thai and Italian restaurants, sari palaces, Pakistani and Indian video shops . . . Two physical entities dominate the ward, the Bernard Horwich Jewish Community Center at Devon and Sacramento avenues (with California Avenue deemed the Jewish cultural center of Chicago) and Winston Towers, consisting of approximately 200 condominium units each in five buildings in six precincts between Touhy and Pratt avenues east of Kedzie, which are filled with Jewish voters and which were Stone’s base for decades. It’s now the Silversteins’ base.

Historically, politics in the ward was insular and clear cut. It was originally affluent, longtime Jewish residents versus Jewish newcomers, then it was pro-Daley "Machine" liberals (meaning Huppert, Carroll and Stone) versus anti-Daley liberal "reformers," now it’s basically the Jewish voters versus everybody else, and the Jewish voters vote. There is a relatively large gentile vote around Saint Margaret Mary Parish near Jarvis and Western avenues, encompassing five precincts. In 2011 that area went almost 2-1 for Debra Silverstein over Stone.

So here are the "bupkis" candidates for this election: Zahra Quadri, a Muslim who works for a nonprofit social service, and Shajan Kuriakose, an Indian American. Guess who Jewish voters are not going to vote for. A "circle the wagons" mentality prevails.

As of Dec. 31 Debra Silverstein had $137,182 in campaign funds on hand, and Ira Silverstein had $111,632 in his state Senate account and $6,819 in his ward account. Quadri had a minus-$7,789 on hand, and Kuriakose had nothing. It’s over.

In the City Council, Debra Silverstein has sided with the Emanuel Administration on more than 98 percent of the votes, and she endorsed Rahm for re-election. She opposed additional charter schools, further privatization of city services, Emanuel’s school closings, concealed carry and an aldermanic inspector general. She backed all four of Emanuel’s budgets, the plastic bag ban, the $13-an-hour minimum wage hike and an elected school board. Silverstein said that she has obtained $7 million for public school improvements and that she has worked with the 17th and 24th district police commanders to enlighten business owners on anti-crime techniques including cameras, and has co-coordinated multi-jurisdictional task forces, including the Chicago and Evanston police and the sheriff, to arrest those in the ward who are wanted on warrants.

According to the Silverstein, using her $1.3 million annual menu funds, she has "concentrated on constituent services," "resurfaced over 100 streets" in 4 years, placed new equipment in eight parks, installed new lighting and benches along arterial streets, upgraded streetscaping along Devon, and improved the Indian Boundary Park nature center. As for the city’s looming pension crisis, Silverstein supports a LaSalle Street commodity trading tax, a new casino, a density tax and use of TIF district money to close the pension shortfall.

My prediction: Debra Silverstein trailed Stone 3,864-4,305 in the 2011 general election but then beat him 5,952-3,746 in the ensuing runoff. She will win with close to 80 percent of the vote on Feb. 24.

Mayor: Faint beats the king’s heart. Emanuel realizes that against a credible opponent like Toni Preckwinkle, he would be in deep doo-doo. Luckily, he has a bunch of bupkis candidates running against him. However, the mayor is still worried, and he is running a half-positive/half-negative campaign. Normally an incumbent ignores opposition, but Emanuel’s polling "positives" are so weak, and he is so intrinsically disliked, that he has to make his opponents more dislikable.

The mayor has unleashed a barrage of mailers blasting Chuy Garcia for backing the "largest tax increase in Chicago history" while he was an alderman in 1986 and for illegally taking property tax exemptions on two homes. He has ripped Bob Fioretti for backing the parking meter scheme. My prediction: Turnout in 2011 was 588,956. If it’s under 600,000 on Feb. 24, Emanuel wins.

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