As election approaches, ‘fizzlers’ return to reality
by RUSS STEWART
It’s "fizzler" time — that dreaded, painful moment, usually about a week before the election, when delusional candidates have an epiphany and realize that defeat is imminent. Their campaigns have fizzled, due to lack of endorsements, workers and contributions, candidate flaws, or all of the above.
With the Feb. 24 municipal election imminent, here’s a recitation of fizzlers and winners.
Mayor: Have no doubt, the entire array of anti-Emanuel candidates have famously fizzled. A bunch of underfunded nobodies cannot topple a mayor like Rahm Emanuel, who will spend more than $25 million. Having gone snap, crackle and pop are Chuy Garcia, Bob Fioretti, Dock Walls and the self-hyped Willie Wilson, who was supposed to be the "second coming" of Harold Washington.
Fioretti, the white 2nd Ward alderman, carefully compiled an anti-Emanuel voting record, which presumably appealed to "progressives," unions and teachers. All through 2014, as Chicago Teachers Union president Karen Lewis pondered a mayoral bid, Fioretti was the back-up. When Lewis decided not to run, Fioretti got into the race, expecting to inherit her coalition. He hasn’t. Emanuel sent several mailings into predominantly white wards blasting Fioretti for his support of Rich Daley’s parking meter deal. Fioretti’s candidacy is dead on arrival.
Wilson, a wealthy black businessman, promised to self-fund up to $3 million. He was supposed to pay top dollar for black precinct workers (like Bruce Rauner did) and fund the Democratic committeemen. It hasn’t happened. His candidacy has been a total bust. Every committeeman is supporting Emanuel.
Garcia, a Southwest Side Mexican American who has compiled a certifiably liberal record as an alderman, state senator and county commissioner over 30 years, has fizzled as a credible anti-Emanuel alternative. The city’s Hispanic vote is barely 15 percent, and the North Side Puerto Rican bosses are with Emanuel. Emanuel’s mailers have pummeled Garcia as a tax hiker and tax cheat (for taking two property tax exemptions).
Polling stats confirmed by several sources put Emanuel at slightly over 50 percent, enough to avoid an April 7 runoff, Garcia at 20 to 22 percent, Fioretti at 8 to 10 percent, and the combined Wilson-Walls vote at a paltry 10 percent, with 5 to 10 percent of the voters undecided.
Polling also gives Emanuel half the black vote. That is decisive. That means that he wins. Emanuel is running poorly (barely half against Garcia) along the white Lakefront, and is drawing only a bit over half in the predominantly white North Side and Northwest Side wards, with Fioretti and Garcia splitting the rest.
"Rahm is neither likable nor popular," one area Democratic operative said. "He’s lucky Toni Preckwinkle didn’t run, but the year to beat him will be 2019, not 2015."
My prediction: Rahm won with 55.3 percent of the vote in 2011 in a turnout of 588,956; he’ll win with 51 percent on Feb. 24 in a turnout of 540,000. Not much of a mandate. Given Chicago’s insoluble pension and fiscal problems, there won’t be a third term.
Aldermen: Early voting has altered the dynamic. In the past, a candidate would "peak" 10 days before the election, flooding the ward or district with a mailer every other day for 2 weeks and workers. Voters weren’t focused until then. Now, as voting starts 15 days early, candidates must unleash mailers in mid-January and continue the barrage, and that takes money.
First, the mailers only go to "likely" voters, meaning those who voted in 2011, 2012 or 2014. Every ward has a census population of about 55,000. When minors and non-citizens are factored out, that leaves 20,000 to 30,000 registered voters per ward, of whom just half vote in non-presidential elections. Some households have three or four voters, others just one, so divide 10,000 to 15,000 "likely" voters by two and that means each mailing numbers 5,000 to 7,500, at a cost of 80 to 90 cents each for printing and postage, or about $5,000 a pop. The pieces are multi-colored and printed on heavy laminate stock, so no envelopes need be opened.
Second, there is no hand-me-down factor. It’s scan and toss. In multi-voter households, the first one to the mailbox or mail chute usually throws the piece in the trash. They don’t save it for other family members, so there is a huge no-contact problem, even with a multiplicity of mailings.
Third, there is an "appreciation" factor. Among political insiders, it is thought that, for non-incumbents, each direct mailer boosts name recognition by 10 percent, while for incumbents each mailer solidifies at least 5 percent of their prior base. Any election with an alderman on the ballot is a referendum on the incumbent. Incumbents can raise money needed for up to 10 mailers ($50,000, or get independent expenditures for attack pieces from political action committees and unions. Incumbents, even long-timers, and especially poor performers, need to resell and redefine themselves and to negatively define their opponents (think Emanuel). Challengers need to introduce themselves and give voters a reason to oust the incumbent. In races without an incumbent, where voters have a choice, giving them a reason not to vote for their opponent is as important as giving them a reason to vote for them. The equation is simple: money equals mailings equals victory.
Fourth, there’s the psychology of the runoff. A well financed alderman who can’t get more than 50 percent of the vote in the municipal election is in deep trouble. That means that half the voters wanted someone else and likely will vote for the surviving challenger in the runoff. Historically, in Chicago aldermanic runoffs, incumbents lose two-thirds of the time. When the primary field is upwards of six, runoffs are inevitable.
Fifth, there are moneyed players. Non-fizzling candidates can raise $50,000 to $100,000, but Emanuel’s Chicago Forward super PAC and his Chicagoans for Educational Reform PAC are spending millions on ads and mailers to beat anti-Emanuel aldermen, while the public-sector Service Employees International Union and Chicago Teachers Union are spending a like amount to save them.
Sixth, a saturation point is reached. Mailboxes are over-clogged. It used to be that a third of voters decided a week before the election; now they decide a month before the election and vote early. Those who haven’t mailed are fizzlers.
Here’s a look at some area contests:
45th Ward (Portage Park, Jefferson Park, Gladstone Park, Old Irving Park): Voters need shovels to unclog their driveways and mailboxes. By campaign’s end, nearly 35 pieces will have been mailed. The candidates are incumbent John Arena, police lieutenant John Garrido (who lost to Arena by 30 votes in 2011), self-styled "45th Ward Mom" Michelle Baert and lawyer Mike Diaz. Baert and Diaz have fizzled. Arena has an abrasive do-it-my-way personality, which is offset by his anti-Emanuel voting record, which is popular in Portage Park.
The pro-Arena SEIU political action committee paid for more than 15 pieces, the most memorable blasting Garrido and Baert as Republicans and saying that Garrido "attended Tea Party events." They want to bring the Bush-Cheney "mess" to Chicago, the mailings blared, as if one Republican out of 50 aldermen can make any mess. How about Emanuel and the Obama "mess"? The mailings also hyperventilated about Baert voting in the 2012 Republican primary "when Obama was on the ballot." Chicagoans for Educational Reform ripped Arena for backing the 2012 budget, which closed some mental health clinics; it will have five mailers. Garrido will pay for six, Arena for 10 to 12 and Baert for one, plus newspaper inserts. Diaz has gone to ground.
Union and internal polling puts Arena at or near 50 percent, Garrido around 30 to 35 percent, Baert at 10 to 15 percent and Diaz near zero. Garrido said his polls show him at 34 to 36. An Arena-Garrido runoff would be fascinating and convoluted. Will Emanuel’s PACs spend big bucks to elect a non-Emanuel "Republican" alderman? The SEIU and the CTU will spend another $100,000 to re-elect Arena. Arena ekes out a win with 51 or 52 percent of the vote on Feb. 24.
38th Ward (Portage Park, Dunning): It’s a "free pass." Anti-Emanuel Alderman Nick Sposato had his 36rh Ward dismembered by the City Council and merged into Alderman Tim Cullerton’s 38th Ward. Sposato was supposed to lose, but Cullerton retired. Sposato has raised more than $200,000 (for more than a dozen mailers), and the SEIU PAC has dumped another 10 pro-Sposato mailers into the ward. Emanuel’s PACs are missing from the race. The other six candidates, Jerry Paszek, Tom Caravette, Cullerton-backed Heather Sattler, Carmen Hernandez, Mike Duda and Belinda Cadiz, have all fizzled. Only Sattler has sent out any mailings (two). My prediction: Sposato will get more than 50 percent of the vote on Feb. 24.
39th Ward (Sauganash, Forest Glen, Mayfair): The 2011 remap cut out heavily Democratic Albany Park (with lots of Hispanics) and added territory along Elston Avenue to the ward. Incumbent Marge Laurino has a 100 percent pro-Emanuel voting record. Laurino and her late father have been an alderman since 1964. Opponents Robert Murphy and Joe Laiacona rip the incumbent for poor services. ‘She’s an equal-opportunity alderman," Murphy said. "Every area of the ward is equally neglected." Can the combined Murphy-Laiacona vote exceed 50 percent? It won’t happen. Laurino with 55 percent of the vote.
41st Ward (Norwood Park, Edison Park, Oriole Park): Pro-Emanuel Alderman Mary O’Connor has emerged from hibernation, with six mailers in mid-February. Neither Joe LoManto nor Anthony Napolitano has fizzled, but it’s doubtful they can jointly amass the 50 percent of the vote necessary to force a runoff. O’Connor with 51 to 52 percent.
40th Ward (Budlong Woods, Peterson Park): Pat O’Connor, Emanuel’s floor leader, has been an alderman since 1983, but his "shelf life" and tie to Emanuel are causing problems. He should defeat Dianne Daleiden 70-30; instead it will be closer to 55-45.
Elsewhere, ward bosses are struggling. Dick Mell, who was the 33rd Ward alderman for 38 years, handed off the job to his daughter Deb Mell in 2013. The CTU is backing teacher Tim Meegan. Polls show Mell at under 35 percent. In the new Hispanic-majority 36th Ward, Assessor Joe Berrios is backing Omar Aquino against Luis Arroyo’s guy, Gil Villegas, with teacher Chris Vittorio and Al Zaragoza also running. A Villegas-Aquino runoff looms. In the Austin area 29th Ward, with eight candidates running, incumbent Deborah Graham will be in a runoff.
Send e-mail to russ@russstewart. com or visit his Web site at www. russstewart.com.