Black, female candidates to flood 2016 Dem field

by RUSS STEWART

Illinois is known as the "Land of Lincoln." In 2016, at least among the state’s Democrats, it will be the "Land of Estrogen." Women will be seeking the Democratic nomination for every major office, both statewide and in Cook County, and all of the judgeships — and almost all will win.

The Democrats will likely have a woman on the statewide ticket for president (Hillary Clinton), U.S. senator and comptroller. In Cook County, it is possible that black women will be nominated for the three offices on the ballot: state’s attorney, recorder of deeds and clerk of the Circuit Court.

If 1992 was the "Year of the Woman," 2016 is shaping up as the "Year of the Minority Woman." Except for Clinton, every potential female winner for non-judicial office will be black, Hispanic or Asian.

There are a few pesky, obdurate males who haven’t gotten the message. Democratic state Senator Dan Biss is running for comptroller, and Democratic county Commissioner John Fritchey is readying a bid for state’s attorney. Also, black Circuit Court Clerk Dorothy Brown, who is perpetually dancing around some minor scandal — the current one involving her husband — will have white attorney Jacob Meister as her opponent.

"There will be a huge turnout of white women," a Democratic strategist said of the March, 2016, Democratic primary. Women will vote in droves for Clinton, especially since the Illinois primary is sufficiently early that Clinton will not have clinched the Democratic nomination, the strategist said. There will be several white men on the ballot opposing her — Martin O’Malley, Bernie Sanders and Jim Webb. They are more liberal than she is, and more pro-Obama, but none is formidable. Nevertheless, pro-Clinton women will have motivation, and they will vote for every other woman on the ballot.

As for black voters, that’s another story. Clinton can be nominated without enthusiastic black support, but she cannot be elected without it. Black voters will expect Clinton to be effusive in her praise of the Obama Administration, of which she was a part as secretary of state. If she trims and obfuscates, and doesn’t pledge to be Obama’s third term, the black vote will diminish substantially. If she promises to serve Obama’s third term, she will alienate the anti-Obama white vote, especially working class Democrats.

The strategist said that the black vote will be lower than normal in the 2016 primary, and certainly not at the stratospheric levels when Obama ran in 2008 and 2012. It will be in the realm of 25 to 35 percent, not the 75 percent of the Obama elections, but that doesn’t necessarily mean black candidates will lose in the primary.

Here’s a look at developing contests:

U.S. Senate. The clear frontrunner for the Democratic nomination is U.S. Representative Tammy Duckworth (D-8), the daughter of a Vietnam War veteran and a Thai mother, who was born in Thailand. Duckworth is an Iraq war veteran who lost both her legs when the helicopter she was piloting was shot down. Duckworth is a knee-jerk, pro-Obama liberal who had jobs in the Blagojevich Administration and the Obama Administration, but she’s Teflon-coated. To criticize her, either personally or on policy issues, is to appear mean-spirited, almost misogynistic.

Duckworth floated her way from job to job, milking her "life story" for all it’s worth and basking in the glow of being a "war hero." In 2006, when she had a really tough campaign in the DuPage County 6th U.S. House District, she lost to Republican Peter Roskam 91,382-86,572, getting 48.7 percent of the vote. However, the Springfield Democrats created a safe west suburban (Elgin-Schaumburg) district for her, which she won in 2012. The consensus is that she’s a lightweight, but when was that an impediment? Through March 31 she had raised $3,421,320 and had $1,052,287 on hand. Duckworth has been endorsed by U.S. Senator Dick Durbin.

Also running is Andrea Zopp, who is the president of the Chicago Urban League, a Chicago Board of Education member and a former first assistant state’s attorney (under a Republican). Zopp is black, but she has no roots in the Byzantine world of black ward and township politics. In a year like 2008 or 2012, when Obama was on the primary ballot, or even 2004, when Obama won the U.S. Senate nomination against a field of uninspiring white candidates, Zopp might have been formidable candidate, but with black turnout diving in 2016, she’s going nowhere.

Zopp has baggage: She backed Mayor Emanuel’s plan to close 50 city schools, supported the $20.5 million no-bid contract for Supes Academy (now under federal investigation), and was on the corporate board at Exelon, which operates Illinois’ six nuclear power plants and which is seeking a rate hike of $1.6 billion through 2021. Her husband works for the Drug Enforcement Administration. Among black voters she has zero "street cred," and no black politician will support her.

The third alternative is U.S. Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker, of the billionaire Pritzker family, owner of the Hyatt hotels and myriad other business holdings. A long-time fund-raiser, Pritzker got her reward when Obama appointed her to the commerce post in 2013. When Obama leaves the White House in January of 2017, so will Pritzker, Clinton would not keep her, so a 2016 U.S. Senate race, self-funded to the tune of about $50 million, makes sense, but Pritzker can’t wait much longer.

The Democrats had contested Senate primaries in 1992, 1996 and 2004. In 1992, when Carol Moseley Braun beat two white men, including incumbent Alan Dixon, with 38.3 percent of the vote, turnout was 1,456,268 and the Cook County vote was 864,193. In 1996, when Democrat Paul Simon retired, two white men — Durbin, then an obscure Springfield congressman, and Pat Quinn, the former state treasurer who lost a 1994 race against Secretary of State George Ryan — ran. Durbin cobbled together a coalition of Downstate and black voters and won with 64.9 percent of the vote. Turnout was 790,055, down 666,273 from 1992; in Cook County it was 459,290, down 394,903 from 1992. That drop-off was mostly among black voters. In 2004, when Republican Peter Fitzgerald retired, the frontrunners for the nomination were Comptroller Dan Hynes, wealthy businessman Blair Hull and Cook County Treasurer Maria Pappas, all white. Obama, an obscure black state senator from Hyde Park, was an afterthought, but Hull’s campaign imploded after alleged domestic battery revelations, Hynes and Pappas ran insipid campaigns, and Obama became the flavor of the month, appealing to blacks and white liberals. In a turnout of 1,242,996, Obama triumphed with 655,923 votes (52.8 percent of the total), in an eight-candidate field, with 464,917 of his votes in Cook County.

So how does 2016 shape up? It won’t be 1992 or 2004. In 2008 Obama topped Clinton in the Illinois primary 1,316,234-667.930 (with 64.7 percent of the vote), in a record turnout of 2,038,614. It will be around 900,000 in 2016, with black voters tuning out. Duckworth will win with close to 60 percent of the vote.

Comptroller: Chicago City Clerk Susana Mendoza will be slated, and who will face the big-spending Biss. The office will be fourth on the ballot. Will suburban women support a Latina?

Cook County State’s Attorney: The bumbling and fumbling Anita Alvarez, who was buried in negative publicity over her office’s handling of the Kotschman case, is in serious trouble. The nephew of former Mayor Rich Daley, Richard Vanecko, caused the death of David Kotschman outside a Rush Street bar in 2004, but neither Alvarez nor her predecessor, Dick Devine, chose to prosecute; a special grand jury indicted Vanecko for involuntary manslaughter. Vanecko pleaded guilty and got 60 days in jail. Alvarez also is criticized for not prosecuting abusive cops, for jailing too many poor criminals by setting high bail, and for hiring a disproportionate number of women and gays as prosecutors.

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle’s black chief of staff, Kimberly Foxx, a former assistant state’s attorney, is running against Alvarez, and she will benefit from Preckwinkle’s extensive South Side political organization. Due to her hiring policies, Alvarez is extremely unpopular with Democratic committeemen. In a three-way race, 38 percent of the vote is enough to win. If black voters stick with Foxx, committeemen "cut" Alvarez, and white voters, men and suburbanites opt for Fritchey, he can win.

Clerk of Circuit Court: "The party is never going to dump a black woman as well known as Dorothy Brown," a prominent Democratic politician told me several years ago. Brown won the clerk’s post in 2000, defeating the slated Pat Levar. In 2004 white Judge Jerry Orbach got only 25.9 percent of the vote in the primary, but Meister thinks he has a path to victory: "She or her husband could be indicted," he said. "That changes everything."

The Cook County inspector general, in conjunction with the Better Government Association, has revealed that in 2011 a Brown fund-raiser gave a piece of South Side property to Brown’s husband, who then re-titled it in her name, and she sold it for $100,000 and didn’t report it on her campaign disclosures. Not smart, but maybe not important.

Recorder of Deeds: This is a run-up to the 2018 secretary of state race. Incumbent Jesse White is retiring, and he is backing Alderman Walter Burnett (27th) as his successor. Incumbent Karen Yarbrough, a protege of Mike Madigan, wants White’s job. Yarbrough’s her base is in west suburban Maywood. Brown also is interested. A nasty primary, with three back candidates with three different geographic bases, will occur.

E-mail russ@russstewart.com or visit his website at www.russstewart.com.

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