Some losers in runoffs were not on the ballot


by RUSS STEWART

Most people have heard of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Its goal is to prevent the abuse of animals by their owners.

After the April 7 runoff election, there should be a movement to create an American Society to Prevent Cruelty to Politicians. Its goal would be to prevent the abuse of politicians by voters, to salve the pain of defeat. The loser grouses: How dare the voters reject me? I’m special. I have feelings. I’m devastated. They’re ingrates. What’s wrong with them? Now I have to find a real job, or start taking my pension. That’s cruel.

On the Northwest Side, charter members of the "ASPCP" would include those both on and off the April 7 ballot: Mary O’Connor, John Garrido, Ray Suarez, Joe Berrios, Omar Aquino, Deborah Graham, Don Harmon, John Mulroe and Mike McAuliffe.

Before analyzing specific contests, it should be remembered that there are various categories of victory and defeat.

First, victory: (1) Reaffirmation, which occurs when an incumbent who is supposed to win or an open-seat challenger who is favored do in fact win. (2) Mandate, which occurs when an incumbent wins by a larger majority than in his or her past contest. Voters are content and/or impressed by the incumbent’s performance. (3) Coronation, which occurs when the incumbent has desultory opposition and wins with near unanimity. That doesn’t necessarily mean the incumbent is doing a spiffy job; it instead could mean that no credible opponent perceives the incumbent to be beatable, so no one runs.

Second, defeat: (1) Rejection. Incumbents face a "fatigue factor." Their shelf life eventually expires. The longer they are in office, the more enemies they make. Every incumbent eventually loses. The trick is to retire before losing. A narrow loss is palatable, but there is no comeback. It’s over. (2) Repudiation, which occurs when an incumbent or a favored candidate loses when they’re supposed to win, especially when they possess a huge fund-raising advantage. Either they failed to correct their flaws or they had a superior opponent. (3) Humiliation, which means losing by a huge margin, usually due to a scandal or redistricting or demographic change.

The big winners in the runoff were Anthony Napolitano, Brian Doherty, John Arena, the Service Employees International Union, Luis Arroyo, Nick Sposato, Scott Waguespack, Chris Taliaferro, Gil Villegas and the City Council’s anti-Emanuel Progressive Caucus.

Third, there’s just survival, as in Rahm Emanuel’s triumph in the mayoral race. Before this race, the "Rahmster" was perceived in the media as a politician on the make, going places. Perhaps Illinois’ governor in 2018, maybe vice president in 2016. No more. After having spent close to $30 million, the mayor limped to an embarrassing 329,701-257,101 victory over Chuy Garcia, getting 56.2 percent of the vote and winning 35 wards. Emanuel is no longer ascending, he’s descending. He better hope that Hillary Clinton gets to the White House, giving him a good excuse to bail out of his post and take a cabinet job. Emanuel will never win a third term in 2019. By then, if property taxes are raised to cover the city’s $17 billion pension shortfall, the mayor’s "re-election" numbers will be about 15 percent.

Here’s a look at some contests. Detailed analyses will follow in coming weeks:

41st Ward (Edison Park, Norwood Park, Oriole Park, Edgebrook): It wasn’t supposed to happen. Alderman Mary O’Connor, who was elected to her first term in 2011 by 250 votes, supposedly got everything right. She voted with Emanuel on 92 percent of the roll calls. Rahm’s Chicago Forward political action committee and the Chicago Federation of Labor poured in campaign cash. The Chicago Tribune and the Chicago Sun-Times endorsed her. O’Connor had $70,000 in campaign funds on hand as of Dec. 31, she raised another $40,000 through April 7, and she had 25 mailings. O’Connor and her ally, state Senator John Mulroe (D-10), had a "nonaggression pact" with state Representative Mike McAuliffe (R-20), the ward’s Republican committeeman. How could she lose? However, in an absolute repudiation, she did.

Anthony Napolitano, an Edison Park firefighter and a former cop with no prior political experience and no established political operation, scored a stunning upset, beating O’Connor 9,679-9,054, getting 51.7 percent of the vote and winning by a margin of 625 votes. O’Connor won just 18 of the ward’s 47 precincts — an inexcusable feat of failure. In 2011, when the ward had 57 precincts, O’Connor won 21 and lost 36. In the 2011 runoff, O’Connor amassed 7,354 votes; in the 2015 runoff, she had 9,054 votes, an increase of 1,700 votes -and she still lost.

So what happened? "She never connected with the voters," one strategist associated with the Napolitano campaign said. "Her name recognition was low, and her support was soft." The strategist said that when Napolitano volunteers knocked on doors, nary a good word was said about O’Connor. "Our feedback indicated that voters didn’t dislike her, but neither did they like her," he said. "They were just dissatisfied with everything — her, the mayor, ward services, taxes."

On Feb. 24, despite polls projecting a win for O’Connor, she got 7,132 votes (47.7 percent of the total cast), missing the 50 percent threshold by 340 votes. Napolitano, despite being outspent 3-1, got 6,353 votes (42.5 percent), and Joe LoManto got 1,457 votes (9.8 percent). O’Connor got a majority in 18 of the ward’s 47 precincts and a plurality in nine; Napolitano won 19 precincts, with a majority in 10.

Former alderman Brian Doherty was Napolitano’s "field coordinator," and he built a precinct organization consisting of police officers, firefighters and city workers. "Their level of enthusiasm was intense," the strategist said. Trailing O’Connor by just 779 votes, it suddenly dawned on them that Napolitano could win. "It became a crusade," he said.

Emanuel won the ward 11,691-6,746, carrying 47 precincts. Clearly, a third of the Emanuel vote was anti-Garcia. In 2011 Emanuel got 8,583 votes (42.3 percent of the total) in the ward.

There will be blowback. Napolitano’s fledgling organization will run someone against O’Connor for Democratic committeeman and Mulroe for state senator in the 2016 primary, and against McAuliffe for state representative. Expect lots of political turmoil.

45thWard (Portage Park, Jefferson Park, Gladstone Park): Can you say, without becoming, as some will, too nauseated, "Mayor John Arena"? Arena as mayor would make Emanuel look like "Mr. Milquetoast." It would be hubris quantified. It would make New York’s rabidly liberal Mayor Bill deBlasio look like a paragon of moderation. Arena as mayor would be like Cleveland’s one-termer Dennis Kucinich — an apostle of chaos.

However, Arena was re-elected, and his victory can definitely be construed as a "mandate." Give Arena credit: He has mastered the politics of polarization. He’s the good guy, and everybody who disagrees is a jerk; he knows best, and you better do what he tells you. Arena topped police lieutenant John Garrido 7,083-7,053 in the 2011 runoff, and he defeated Garrido in the 2015 runoff 8,467-7,239 (with 53.9 percent of the vote). Given that Arena won by 30 votes last time and by 1,228 votes this time, I guess that’s a mandate. His victory margin increased 40-fold, and his vote increased by 1,616.

Arena won 33 of the ward’s 53 precincts in 2011, almost all of them south of Montrose Avenue. Arena ran up 2-1 margins in his base, Portage Park, in the ward’s more liberal south end, while Garrido won by 3-2 margins in his base, Jefferson Park and Gladstone Park, in the ward’s more conservative north end. As the alderman, Arena had a consistent anti-Emanuel voting record, emerging as the most anti-Emanuel alderman.

Arena won 37 of the ward’s 48 precincts in the runoff, again amassing better than 2-1 margins in Portage Park and burrowing into Garrido’s base. The fault lines were clear: Arena was anti-Emanuel, Garrido was non-Emanuel, Michelle Baert, who got 13.3 percent of the vote in the Feb. 24 election, was pro-Emanuel (but endorsed Garrido), and the remnants of former alderman Pat Levar’s Democratic organization, which had a headquarters with the Plumbers Union, was pro-Emanuel but didn’t coalesce behind Garrido. The mayor’s PAC gave Garrido nothing.

In the mayoral race, Emanuel won the ward 9,309-6,407, winning 45 precincts. Roughly 2,000 pro-Arena voters also backed Emanuel. Go figure. The SEIU paid for and dumped about 40 pro-Arena mailers in the municipal election and another 20 in the runoff. That’s about $600,000 in independent expenditures. Garrido couldn’t compete financially. Arena may as well run for mayor in 4 years. He can’t be any worse than Emanuel.

31st Ward (Belmont-Cragin, Avondale): This is an overwhelmingly Puerto Rican ward. Garcia, a Mexican American, won the ward 5,232-3,172 (with 62.3 percent of the vote) on April 7. Joe Berrios, the ward’s longtime boss (who also is the county assessor, the county Democratic Party chairman and ward’s Democratic committeeman), and his ally, 24-year Alderman Ray Suarez, backed Emanuel for mayor. Oops. Not smart.

As of Dec. 31, Berrios and Suarez had a combined $2.5 million in their campaign accounts. Against three opponents in the municipal election, Suarez got 2,778 votes (48.0 percent of the total), leading to a runoff with Milly Santiago, a well known former Hispanic television anchor with ties to such anti-Berrios politicians as Luis Gutierrez and Will Guzzardi. Suarez won a majority in 21of the ward’s 41 precincts, and Santiago won five.

In the runoff, despite a bombardment of mailers, Santiago squeaked to a 4,203-4,117 win, with 50.5 percent of the vote, which is being challenged by Berrios lawyers. She won 21 precincts and got 2,057 more votes. Santiago’s theme was "Joe must go," and soon he will.

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


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