Northwest legislators face tough 2016 races
by RUSS STEWART
The good news is that there are elections in November. The bad news is that they are only in Mississippi, Kentucky and Louisiana.
That means that there are 55 weeks until the November, 2016, presidential election and 20 weeks until the March 15, 2016, Illinois primary election. The motto of the Chicago Cubs has been "Wait Until Next Year." Politically, in Chicago and Illinois, this year is always "Next Year." Politics is 24/7.
With the Nov. 30 nominating petition filing deadline approaching, here’s a look at developing races:
40th Illinois House District: The "House of Mell" is not doing well. Longtime 33rd Ward boss Dick Mell is suffering from the malaise of political atrophy. That disease can be summarized as: "If you’re not there, you’re nowhere." Mell is not in his office daily, making promises and deals.
Like every Chicago office holder, politics is the family business. If you spend years clawing your way to the top, you want to bequeath your job, or the other jobs you control, to family (first) and friends (second). Mell bequeathed Rod Blagojevich to Illinois in 1992, when he made his son-in-law a state representative, and he upped him to Congress in 1996. Then, in 2002, with Mell disingenuously promising state jobs to every Downstate Democratic Party county chairman, he upped "The Kid" to governor. It was downhill from there.
In 2008 Mell’s daughter Deb Mell decided that she wanted to be a state representative, so Mell dumped 12-year incumbent Rich Bradley and sent his daughter to Springfield where, except for the fact that she married a woman out of state, she failed to distinguish herself. Dick Mell resigned as alderman in 2013, and Mayor Rahm Emanuel compliantly appointed Deb Mell to the seat. Mell, as the dominant Democratic committeeman in the area, arranged for Jaime Andrade, his 17-year aldermanic staffer, to get her House seat.
The 2011 City Council remap, which was controlled by Mell, reconfigured the 33rd Ward, absorbing most of Albany Park, with a large Hispanic population. The 2011 legislative remap, which was controlled by Mike Madigan, made the 40th District about half Hispanic, with Logan Square anchoring the south end, but included many upscale white areas. About two-thirds of the voters are white. Only 21 the district’s 68 precincts were in Mell’s 33rd Ward, with another 36 in the Logan Square 35th Ward and 12 in the 39th Ward. The remaining 19 were scattered among five wards.
Andrade faced four foes in the 2014 primary: Nancy Schiavone, the 35th Ward Democratic committeeman, Aaron Goldstein, a lawyer who represented Blagojevich in his second trial, and two others. In a turnout of 5,798, Andrade got 2,917 votes (50.3 percent of the total) and carried the 33rd Ward with 60.7 percent of the vote. Mell delivered, and Schiavone got only 31.2 percent of the vote in her ward, and with the non-Hispanic vote split, Andrade won an easy victory.
The same can’t be said of Deb Mell in 2015, Mell fatigue was apparent. The She got 4,103 votes (50.3 percent of the total) in a turnout of 8,171, topping the 50 percent threshold by 18 votes and avoiding a runoff. Teacher Tim Meegan, who had union backing, was second with 2,779 votes (34.1 percent), and Annisa Wanat was third with 1,289 votes. Mell got a majority in 13 of 28 precincts, while Meegan got more than 40 percent of the vote in nine precincts. Meegan will run again in 2019. Clearly, Mell lacks the political skills of "Old Gringo," as her dad is known among Hispanics.
Andrade faces a primary challenge in 2016 from Harish Patel, a 30-year-old self-described "serial social justice entrepreneur" and "progressive" who makes a living as a community organizer. Patel, of Indian heritage, has been associated with such nebulous left-wing groups as Chicago Votes, Social Justice Initiative and Accelerate Change. His role model is Democrat Will Guzzardi, a "progressive" who was elected state representative in the adjacent 39th District in 2014 after a non-stop, 3-year door-to-door campaign, defeating Toni Berrios, the daughter of Cook County Assessor and county Democratic Party chairman Joe Berrios. Guzzardi has not endorsed Patel.
Patel spends his days working precincts, but Andrade doesn’t carry the opprobrium of being kin to a fading political boss. In an Andrade-Patel contest, the incumbent will win 70-30.
39th Illinois House District: Expected to be a firebrand in Springfield, Guzzardi has been meek and mild, and he has rarely deviated from the prescription that freshman legislators "should be seen but not heard." Hence, neither Madigan nor Berrios are going to "primary" him next March. Berrios has his own problems in the 31st Ward, where newly elected Alderman Millie Santiago, who beat Berrios ally Ray Suarez by 79 votes, is running for committeeman against Berrios.
55th House District/28th Senate District: The "Energizer Danny" is gone, which creates plenty of complications in the northwest suburbs, and a stellar Republican opportunity. Incumbent Dan Kotowski (D-28) resigned to take a job with a nonprofit group, and that jeopardizes his safe Senate seat.
The district stretches from Park Ridge through Des Plaines, Elk Grove, Schaumburg and Streamwood to Roselle and Bartlett in DuPage County. Kotowski, who was first elected in 2006, is legendary for his campaigning abilities, relentlessly working precincts. He’s priming himself to run for governor in 2018.
Kotowski’s successor is Maine Township Democratic Committeeman Laura Murphy, who cut a deal with the Elk Grove and Schaumburg township committeemen to pick her. Des Plaines Mayor Matt Bogusz may challenge her in the primary. The Republican nominee will be former Park Ridge Park District Board president Mel Thillens. A Murphy-Thillens contest would rate somewhere between dull and drab, and it probably would cost $1 million. Both candidates are devoid of charisma, neither can self-fund, both have already lost legislative elections in the area, and each is wholly dependent on their Springfield party committees for money and staff. Neither has the stamina to door-knock like Kotowski.
Illinois Senate President John Cullerton wants to preserve his 39-20 Democratic super majority, and he will spend whatever it takes to hold the Kotowski seat. Governor Bruce Rauner has $30 million in his political action committee, but he likely will dump it into House races. The outcome will mirror the presidential results. Murphy cannot duplicate Kotowski’s crossover appeal.
The 28th Illinois Senate District contains two House districts, the eastern occupied by former Des Plaines mayor Marty Moylan (D-55) and the western held by Michelle Mussman (D-56) of Schaumburg. Moylan won the historically Republican 55th District seat 21,321-18,711 in 2012, and he eked out a 15,209-13,653 victory over Thillens in 2014. Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan poured almost $800,000 into Moylan’s last campaign, and he will do likewise in 2016, as Madigan wants to retain his 71-47 super majority. A Moylan loss would mean that the Democrats could no longer override a Rauner veto in the House.
The expected Moylan-Thillens rematch will not materialize, so the Republicans, led by Maine Township Committeeman Char Foss-Eggemann, recruited Dan Gott, a 71-year-old retired electrical engineer who obviously promises "not to be a career politician." Gott said he remembers when Illinois was a "thriving state," but that it now is beset by "spiraling debt and a culture of corruption."
Gott, of Des Plaines, insisted that he will not self-fund, but he anticipates some of Rauner’s cash. He will focus on Senate Bill 318, which mandates a statewide freeze on property taxes. The Senate passed it 37-1 in August, with 18 members voting present. It has not been called for a vote in the House, and it will not. If it were passed by both chambers, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s $555 million property tax hike over 5 years would be dead on arrival. "If it does not pass, I will blame Madigan and Moylan," Gott said.
Moylan is in a delicate situation. He needs Madigan’s money. Tens of thousands of dollars of union money go to him because Madigan decrees it. He supports SB 318. He incessantly reiterates that as Des Plaines mayor he didn’t raise taxes (although getting a casino made that unnecessary). Moylan has pledged he will not vote for any state income tax hike.
Gott’s problem is that Moylan, whom Gott concedes is a "nice guy," walks and talks like a Republican, which he once was. He also spends plenty of time working precincts. As long as Madigan does not compel him to make a suicidal pro-tax vote, Moylan can hang on indefinitely.
However, if Rauner dumps $500,000 into anti-Madigan/Moylan ads and mailers, the outcome will be a squeaker.
The Republicans suffered a shocking humiliation in 2009 when state Representative Paul Froehlich, the Schaumburg Township Republican committeeman, switched parties. Froehlich destroyed the party in an area dominated by the Republicans. Mussman won Froehlich’s seat 14,425-13,767 in 2010, and she was re-elected in 2012 and 2014. In the adjacent Hoffman Estates-dominated district, Democrat Fred Crespo, a former Republican, won the seat in 2006, and he has kept it.
The Republicans are painfully and painstakingly trying to rebuild themselves in the far western Cook County suburbs, and they understand that for Thillens and Gott to win, they must make Madigan spend a bunch of bucks on Mussman. They recruited Jillian Bernas, a 30-something woman who recently was elected to the Schaumburg Library Board. Voters, be forewarned: Piles and piles of mail are on their way.
Send e-mail to russ@russstewart. com or visit his Web site at www. russstewart.com.