Writing on the wall for area political dynasties
by RUSS STEWART
That "snap, crackle, pop" heard on March 15 did not emanate from a bowl of Rice Krispies. Instead, it came from the long-overdue collapse of the Democratic political establishment, especially the creaking political dynasties on the Northwest Side.
"We eradicated 126 years of dynastic rule," crowed Robert Murphy, the newly elected Democratic committeeman of the 39th Ward, long the bastion of the Laurino/D’Amico machine. Actually, Murphy is wrong, it’s 174 years, and had Dianne Daleiden beaten Pat O’Connor in the 40th Ward it would have been 207 years. Here’s the arithmetic:
In the 39th Ward, 52 years of dynastic rule went up in smoke, but the embers still smolder. Alderman Marge Laurino’s term extends through 2019. Anthony Laurino, Marge Laurino’s father, seized power as alderman and committeeman in 1964,and held it until 1994. Murphy ran for alderman in 2015 on the theme that "52 years is enough," getting a respectable 42.8 percent of the vote. The creaking got louder.
Randy Barnette, Laurino’s husband, resigned as committeeman in late 2015 and was replaced by Pat Molloy, a longtime precinct captain and city worker. The strategy was that since Laurino’s nephew, John D’Amico, was running for renomination as state representative, it might be wise to have a non-Laurino on the ballot.
It wasn’t even close. Murphy trounced Molloy 5,997-4,964, with 54.7 percent of the vote, winning 34 of the ward’s 45 precincts, and D’Amico, facing Murphy’s ally, Jac Charlier, won the ward 5,107-3,893, with 56.7 percent of the vote. Yogi Berra once famously remarked that "it ain’t over until it’s over." In the 39th Ward, it’s nearly over. Murphy will be elected alderman in 2019, when Laurino will wisely retire. That will end 55 years of dynastic rule. In 2018 Charlier will take on D’Amico again.
In the 33rd Ward, 41 years of dynastic rule went up in smoke, but the embers till smolder. Dick Mell didn’t want to be the Democratic committeeman anymore, nor did anyone else. Mell has run the ward since 1975, and his daughter Deb Mell is the alderman, and previously the state representative. Mell, who has a lucrative city lobbying business, wanted to bail out in order to avoid any conflicts of interest, but under pressure from party bigwigs, he filed for another term as committeeman and thereafter did nothing. The deal was that he would win, then quit.
Mell’s opponent was Aaron Goldstein, the lead counsel for Rod Blagojevich, Mell’s son-in-law, at his second trial. Goldstein opposed the Mell machine in 2014, getting a measly 10.6 percent of the vote in the Democratic primary for state representative, but in a stunner, Goldstein apparently won. The unofficial vote was 422-5,360, a margin of 62 votes, but a recount is under way. With Mell focused on making big money, the alderman will be on her own in 2019. Goldstein will have more than 2 years to build a political base and mount a challenge to her, or he may run for another office.
In the 40th Ward, 33 years of dynastic rule barely squeaked through. Alderman Pat O’Connor’s father was a crony of Mayor Richard J. Daley, a city official, and a power in the 40th Ward. He helped O’Connor get elected alderman in 1983 at age 29, and now O’Connor is Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s City Council floor leader, as he was for Rich Daley. However, the times are a-changin’. Paint crosshairs on O’Connor. As with Laurino, few expect that O’Connor will try for another term in 2019. His Emanuel connection is now toxic.
Daleiden, a community activist who ran a Quixotic, under-funded campaign for alderman in 2015, when she said, "Nobody else would do it, so I did it," is well positioned to be elected alderman in 2019. She lost to O’Connor 5,601-3,989 in 2015, and she lost to O’Connor 6,453-5,355 for committeeman on March 15. Neither loss was embarrassing. She clearly has staked herself out as the "anti-O’Connor" candidate for 2019, and that may be enough to win.
In the 38th Ward, the "Cullerton Clan" has dominated since 1935; that’s 81 years of dynastic rule in which a Cullerton or a Cullerton kin has been alderman and committeeman. It’s over.
Alderman Nick Sposato, who beat the 36th Ward Banks/DeLeo machine to get elected in 2011, had half his ward joined with Alderman Tim Cullerton’s 38th Ward in the 2011 remap. The expectation was that Cullerton would beat him in 2015, but Cullerton retired. The "Cullerton candidate," Heather Sattler, the daughter of Cullerton’s former chief of staff, got a whopping 16.2 percent of the vote in a seven-candidate field; Sposato prevailed with 53.6 percent of the vote. This year Committeeman Patty Jo Cullerton threw in the towel, and Sposato was elected unopposed.
To summarize, 174 years of dynastic rule went kaput. When O’Connor goes, it will be 207.
Here’s a look at other area contests:
15th Illinois House District: D’Amico’s victory equation was D&M + F&L + $500K + 23m = 11,289 votes. That means that D’Amico and House Speaker Mike Madigan, utilizing a torrent of fears and lies, spending $500,000, bombarding the district with 23 mailers, got 11,254 votes, which was enough to beat Jac Charlier, who spent $99,700. D’Amico won by 11,289-7,582, getting 59.8 percent of the votes cast and winning by a margin of 3,707 votes. D’Amico spent $44.29 per vote, and Charlier spent $13.15 per vote.
"They think the voters are stupid," Charlier said of Madigan and D’Amico. He said that the avalanche of mailers portrayed him as evil, a veritable Boogeyman who would cut social security, slash Medicare coverage, ban abortion and terminate state social services. "They fomented fear," Charlier said. "They manufactured lies."
Charlier is a "Rauner Republican," the mailings blared, and it worked. In the 39th Ward, D’Amico’s bastion, Charlier lost 5,107-3,893. "Where I campaigned, I won," said Charlier. "Where I didn’t campaign (which was primarily in the suburbs), I lost. The mailers beat me."
"Can you imagine?" Charlier said. "I could be one of 118 state representatives, and I’m going to have the power to cut social security?"
According to official tallies, D’Amico won the city precincts 6,414-5,322 and the 42 suburban precincts 4,875-2,260. Charlier’s suburban deficit was fatal.
According to Murphy, a "Two-Time Rule" applies. "You have to run once to develop credibility and name recognition," he said. "The second time you run to win." Murphy said that when he was knocking on doors, voters remembered him from the 2015 campaign, or at least remembered the name. "It’s a credibility factor," he said In addition to Murphy, other area anti-machine candidates who lost and then won include Sposato, Goldstein and Will Guzzardi.
41st Ward: In analyzing the Democratic committeeman’s contest, I cannot resist the compulsion to wax poetic. A saying comes to mind: "Blessed are those who expect nothing, for they shall not be disappointed." In a three-way contest between Tim Heneghan, Andy DeVito and Goran Davidovac, the operative saying would be: "Blessed are those who have an inept opponent, for they cannot lose."
DeVito was endorsed by Alderman Anthony Napolitano, but he ran a thoroughly inept campaign, hanging out in his Harlem-Foster campaign headquarters and expecting that his numerous lawn signs would carry the day. "He had no ground game," former 20-year alderman Brian Doherty, who ran Napolitano’s precinct operation to perfection in 2015, said. "He had no direct mail. He didn’t even have a list of ‘hard D’s.’" Doherty was not involved in DeVito’s campaign. "Hard D’s" are those who voted in at least three recent Democratic primaries. DeVito’s other mistake was that he let Heneghan snatch away the police and firefighter unions’ endorsements, which Napolitano got in 2015. DeVito, a longtime city employee and a union official, got a lot of trade union endorsements, but the public sector unions were the key.
"We had workers," said state Senator John Mulroe, who learned a lesson from ally Mary O’Connor’s runoff defeat by Napolitano in April of 2015. "We covered every precinct." Mulroe backed Heneghan, an Elmwood Park firefighter from Edison Park. Heneghan got 58.7 percent of the vote, defeating DeVito 6,722-3,874, with 852 for votes Davidovac. Heneghan got more than 50 percent of the vote in 34 of the ward’s 47 precincts. Last April Napolitano won 9,702-9,087. Obviously, there was no rub-off factor.
The 2019 election already looms large in 41st Ward politicians’ minds. On one side is Napolitano, who has an anti-Emanuel voting record. On the other is the amorphous "Irish guys" non-aggression coalition, including Mulroe (D-10), Republican state Representative Mike McAuliffe (R-20) and Heneghan. "There’s a lot of moving parts," said Doherty, McAuliffe’s ally — and also Napolitano’s.
"Watch Marty," Doherty said, referring to Marty Durkan of Edison Park, who won an upset victory in the Democratic primary for the 2-year Metropolitan Water Reclamation District commissioner post. Durkan got 57.8 percent of the vote in the 41st Ward. "He had a lot of union money," Doherty said, noting that Durkan had three 70,000-household countywide mailers and had a ton of lawn signs in the 41st Ward. Durkan will be on the ballot three more times before 2019. He will be the Mulroe/Emanuel/anti-Napolitano candidate, Doherty said.
Send e-mail to russ@russstewart. com or visit his Web site at www. russstewart.com.