Berrios masterminding another candidate swap




by RUSS STEWART

Chicago’s undisputed "El Hombre Grande," also known as "Super Joe," has masterminded yet another masterpiece.

After stumbling badly in his 2015 efforts to sell Rahm Emanuel in the predominantly Puerto Rican wards on the North Side and backing aldermanic losers in the 31st and 36th wards, Joe Berrios is on the rebound, and as wily and sneaky as ever.

Berrios is the county assessor, the county Democratic Party chairman and the 31st Ward Democratic committeeman. That makes him a powerful man. He can and does put lots of friends and family on the public payroll, but he has been intermittently feuding with state Representative Luis Arroyo (D-2), who represents the Puerto Rican area west of the 31st Ward.

When the City Council created a new Hispanic-majority 36th Ward in 2011, Arroyo staked him claim to the territory, and he was considered likely to be the ward’s alderman in 2015 and the committeeman in 2016. However, Berrios cut a deal that I labeled the "Son Swap." Arroyo’s son, Luis Jr., was given a seat on the Cook County Board in 2014 in exchange for Omar Aquino getting the 36th Ward aldermanic seat in 2015. Aquino I the son of Willie Aquino, who is close to Ray Suarez, the alderman of Berrios’ 31st Ward from 1991 to 2015 and Berrios’ ally.

However, Arroyo had second thoughts. The "Son Swap" would give Berrios control of two wards, and as alderman the younger Aquino could grab the committeemanship, so the swap unraveled. Arroyo recruited and backed aldermanic candidates Gill Villegas in the 36th Ward and Millie Santiago in the 31st Ward. Both beat the Berrios-backed candidates, Villegas defeating Aquino by 938 votes (with 55.7 percent of the total) and Santiago defeating the entrenched Suarez by 79 votes (with 50.5 percent of the total).

Berrios was both livid and terrified. If Santiago defeated him for committeeman, Berrios would no longer be eligible to be the county party chairman, and if he were not the chairman in 2017, he would not be re-slated as assessor in 2018. However, "Super Joe" never quits.

First, Berrios cut a deal with Arroyo, who dissuaded Santiago from running, so he now has a clearer path to another 6 years as assessor.

Second, apparently with the connivance of his ally, county board President Toni Preckwinkle, Berrios is poised to get Omar Aquino into the Illinois Senate. Hey, a senator is almost as good as an alderman, and that is especially sweet when the senator’s district includes Arroyo’s House district.

According to sources, here is what happened: There is a contingent of anti-Berrios "progressive independents" — meaning liberals — on the North Side, including state Senators Iris Martinez (D-20) and Willie Delgado (D-2), former senator Miguel del Valley, state Representative Cynthia Soto (D-4) and Alderman Joe Moreno (1st).

Delgado, who has been a senator since 2006, when he succeeded his mentor, del Valle, filed his nominating petitions in November, along with two other candidates, including Angelica Alfaro, an administrator for the Noble Network of Charter Schools, which says it has 11,000 students in 70 Chicago communities on 16 campuses, almost all in predominantly black or Hispanic neighborhoods. Noble’s Web site boasts that it teaches "entrepreneurial principles," with longer school hours and school year resulting in more instructional time. Understandably, that makes Alfaro anathema to the Chicago Teachers Union, which will spend whatever it takes to beat her.

The third candidate is none other that Omar Aquino, who filed his petitions on Nov. 30, the last day for filing. "He was the back-up," joked longtime Hispanic political operative Frank Avila. Of course, one never knows when a back-up becomes the frontrunner. On Dec. 16 Delgado withdrew and endorsed Aquino.

Now that Berrios has a member of the General Assembly in his pocket, his first since his daughter, former state representative Toni Berrios lost to Will Guzzaardi in the 2014 primary. Now Berrios must direct money and manpower into the 2nd District, half of which lies in Arroyo’s House district, with the other half in Soto’s. However, the teachers union has endorsed Aquino. No Democrat, even an anti-Berrios "progressive," is going to back a pro-charter school candidate.

In other developments:

Norridge: With Secretary of State Jesse White retiring in 2018 after 20 years, there is a whole lot of parachuting going on, both in and out. Current upper-echelon staffers, with comfy pensions, are looking to bail out to some other sinecure, and a bunch of state legislators, looking for a path to the governorship or at least a 20-year gig, covet White’s office.

One of the first out the door will be Thomas Ned Benigno, White’s chief of staff and the deputy secretary of state. Benigno really runs the office, but he fully understands that he’ll never be number one. The gathering crowd of Democrats include county Recorder of Deeds Karen Yarbrough, a protege of Mike Madigan, and Alderman Walter Burnett (27th), a protege of White. A slew of Downstaters, all white men, including state Treasurer Mike Frerichs and legislators Jerry Costello Jr., John Bradley, Mike Hastings, Mike Smiddy and David Koehler, are eyeing the job. If two Chicago-area black candidates run in the primary, a sole Downstater could win.

However, Benigno is downsizing. He going to run for Norridge village president, a job he sought and lost in 2013, in 2017. The incumbent is James Chmura, who is viewed as a nominal Republican, in the same category of Arlene Jezierny of Harwood Heights. Municipal elections in both towns are nonpartisan, with various slates running under nondescript names.

Rumor has it that Benigno, whose father was a longtime Chicago precinct captain, learned his 2013 lesson well. Norridge has a population of 14,572, with 7,468 registered voters crammed into nine precincts located along Harlem Avenue from Gunnison Street to Irving Park Road west to Cumberland Avenue. In 2013 Benigno flooded the tiny town with precinct workers, mostly from Madigan’s Southwest Side 13th Ward. There was immediate resistance, as residents asked, "Who are these guys?" Chmura was a longtime village employee, and the presumption was that a coterie of "outsiders" wanted to seize fiscally solvent Norridge, run up bonded debt, build a bunch of projects, make money, and get out.

In a turnout of 3,611, Chmura won by 1,722-1,209, with 54.1 percent of the vote.

Benigno undoubtedly will adopt a kinder, gentler persona next year. How hard can it be to find 1,500 Norridge residents to vote for you? The 2017 election will be a referendum on Chmura, and Benigno must give voters some reason to oust the incumbent. If Benigno loses again, it will be an embarrassment of epic proportions.

1st U.S. House District: Bobby Rush, age 69, to use sports parlance, is "running out the clock." He’s sort of like Charlie Rangel of New York and John Conyers of Detroit. The former has been in Congress since 1970, and the latter since 1964. The black congressmen just won’t quit. It’s a lifetime job, and Rush is going to make sure he enjoys every last minute of it.

There’s a backlog of would-be congressmen in the majority-black 1st District, which stretches from the South Loop to Manhattan in Will County. With the city’s police shooting controversies, Rush’s haggard face is back on the television news, along with the equally shopworn Jesse Jackson. Unwilling to be patient and anticipating a bait and switch, Alderman Howard Brookins (21st) filed against Rush, expecting that Rush would submit his petitions, get on the ballot and then resign as the candidate, allowing Preckwinkle, the 4th Ward committeeman, to muscle the choice of her alderman, Will Burns (4th), as the replacement. Brookins would scream "bossism."

The 1st District has 462 precincts in Chicago in 15 wards, including 172 in the Hyde Park-area South Side, 67 in Brookins’ ward and 166 in the suburbs.

However, then the incomprehensible occurred: Burns, Emanuel’s most vociferous black council supporter, quit and Burns took a job with Airbnb, so now Brookins, who was re-elected alderman in 2015 with 51.1 percent of the vote, finds himself in the unenviable position of having to run against the iconic Rush, who was first elected in 1992.

There has been a constant drumbeat of questions regarding the operation of Rush’s ministry, but his health has been stable. He is not going to lose in 2016.

Rauner and Dunkin: There’s a new species afoot in the land. It’s called a "Rauner Democrat." In all likelihood, it will have the lifespan of a moth and it will be extinct on March 15, but it’s going to its afterlife with a golden parachute.

State Representative Ken Dunkin (D-5) had the temerity to twice vote contrary to the orders of House Speaker Mike Madigan. Now he’s a "rogue Democrat," and Madigan and the black political establishment will flood his South Side district with money and manpower. Juliana Stratton is his primary foe. Rauner’s and Dan Proft’s political action committees will spend $500,000 or more to rescue Dunkin.

Don’t bet on it, but do bet on Dunkin getting a nice state job if he loses.

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

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