Voters show muscle in judicial subcircuit vote


Once upon a time, like about 50 years ago, a Chicago Democratic ward committeeman could plausibly boast that he had a judge "in his pocket." It was like the "Godfather" movie, where the dons of the other New York mafia families whine that Don Corleone "won’t share his judges."

In 1991 the Illinois General Assembly (and even then Mike Madigan was the Illinois House speaker) passed a bill creating 15 judicial subcircuits in Cook County in order to encourage more diversity among judges. That meant that Chicago and the suburbs were sliced 15 ways, the anticipated end result being that more blacks, Hispanics and Republicans would be elected to the bench. At present, 157 of the county’s elected 242 Circuit Court judges are chosen in the subcircuits, not countywide, and another 138 are appointed associate judges.

However, as in the proverb, "blessed is he who expects nothing, for he shall never be disappointed." Since 1992 the Democratic bosses have not been disappointed, stuffing the bench with their favorite — and most generously donating — lawyers. There are now more black and Hispanic judges, but the system, as designed, has run amok. Democratic committeemen were supposed to have been the judge makers. Now it’s the voters. Is something wrong here?

Look at the 7th Subcircuit, on Chicago’s West Side, encompassing the heavily black 24th, 27th, 28th, 29th and 37th wards plus Hispanic Cicero and Berwyn. A white woman, Pat Spratt, was nominated with less than 30 percent of the vote, beating a Hispanic woman and four black men, including the slated man. The black political bosses couldn’t deliver. Look at the 6th Subcircuit, which emanates outward from Logan Square, reaching as far as Albany Park and the 47th Ward and south toward the Loop. In a battle of the bosses, Joe Berrios and Luis Arroyo were humiliated. Of the three subcircuit judgeships, a white candidate won two, with a white woman defeating the slated Hispanic candidate in one and a well heeled white man running unopposed in the other. Subcircuits were created to improve diversity, but now they reflect voter animosity.

"It was a perfect storm," said Mary Kay Dawson, a political consultant who advises clueless lawyers in judicial races. A lot of Democratic men voted for Donald Trump in the Republican primary, spiking the Democratic vote among women, Dawson said. Black voters were enraged by the party’s dumping of Dorothy Brown for Circuit Court clerk, she said. Being slated became toxic. The infusion of Bernie Sanders’ anti-everything voters into the primary meant every non-male and, if known, non-slated Democrat, got a boost. There also was a huge anti-Anita Alvarez, anti-Rahm Emanuel vote, which trickled down to judicial races.

Here’s a look at subcircuit races:

10th Subcircuit: It was 45th Ward Democratic Committeeman John Arena’s turn to pick a judge, and he chose Stephanie Saltauros, an assistant state’s attorney, who then quit. The subcircuit takes in most of the Northwest Side, covering 11 wards and four suburban townships, including Park Ridge and Rosemont. Since 1992 it has been a "pick a judge" situation, with each ward committeeman slating a judge every 2 years. In 2014 Pat O’Connor of the 40th Ward picked Anthony Kyriakopoulos, a Greek American from his ward who, miraculously, beat an Irish-surnamed female in a low turnout.

With no slated candidate, chaos ensued. Appointed judge Eve Marie Reilly lived in the subcircuit, and she was backed by state Senator John Mulroe (D-10) in a 41st Ward proxy war. Colleen Reardon Daly, whose husband is a Chicago cop, had the backing of the 39th Ward and 40th Ward Democratic organizations and the police union. Newly elected 41st Ward Alderman Anthony Napolitano supported Mike Malatesta, whose father was a former chief deputy state’s attorney. Also on the ballot was Rick Cenar, who was allied with the defunct organization of former 45th Ward alderman Pat Levar. The result was predictable: Irish-surnamed women virtually always beat ethnic-surnamed men. Reilly topped Daly 24,084-17,956, with Cenar (9,914) and Malatesta (7,713) well behind. Daly is a cinch to win a judgeship in 2018 or whenever the next 10th Subcircuit vacancy opens.

In the 41st Ward, where Napolitano upset Mary O’Connor by 715 votes in 2015, Reilly got 3,523 votes (37.0 percent of the total) to 2,128 (22.4 percent) for Malatesta. Give a round to Mulroe, but not a knockout.

11th Subcircuit: Appointed judge Marc Martin thought he got his long-delayed reward when he was appointed to the bench. As a federal criminal defense appellate attorney, Martin, who was associated with Ed Genson and Terry Gillespie, had plenty of work while Patrick Fitzgerald was the U.S. attorney indicting everybody, but that client pool evaporated, and the "Daley Clan" came to Martin’s rescue.

The subcircuit stretches from Park Ridge, where Martin lives, to Oak Park, where Martin was born, plus parts of the 36th and 38th wards. Martin had two opponents, Catherine Ann Smith of Oak Park and Jim DiChristofano, who had a base in Norridge. Martin lost by 967 votes because he ran an inept and invisible campaign.

At campaign events Martin just stood in the corner with the other judge hopefuls, never circulating. Schneider, with her base in Oak Park among women, liberals and gays, campaigned vigorously and beat Martin in Oak Park 8,182-5,436, a margin of 2,746 votes. Where was Don Harmon? He’s the Oak Park Township Democratic committeeman and a state senator. He’s the president pro tem of the Illinois Senate and close crony of Senate President John Cullerton, and he could not — or would not — deliver for Martin?

6th Subcircuit: Are Hispanic voters awake or asleep? In Hispanic-majority wards, they voted heavily for State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez, who got her clock cleaned by Kim Foxx, and for Hispanic female judicial candidates, but they skipped the Logan Square-area 6th Subcircuit.

There are bosses galore in the subcircuit, which contains all or parts of 13 wards, emanating out from Logan Square, including Committeemen Dick Mell (33rd), Joe Berrios (31st), Luis Arroyo (36th), Ariel Reboyras (30th) and Proco Joe Moreno (1st) and Alderman Scott Waguespack (32nd), but the March 15 election was all about who has the bigger clout . . . and it wasn’t Berrios, Arroyo and Reboyras.

There were three openings in the subcircuit. Two were filled by non-Hispanics. Rich Cooke, recently of River Forest, owned property in the subcircuit and plunked down $500,000 of his own money, thereby clearing out the field.

Appointed judge Anna Loftus, who was backed by Mell, Moreno and Waguespack, soundly defeated the slated Carlos Claudio, 25,964-20,745. With a third candidate running, Loftus still got 51.3 percent of the vote in Moreno’s ward, 55.4 percent in Waguespack’s and 46.3 percent in Mell’s. Berrios, the county assessor and county party chairman, was only able to deliver 55.6 percent of the vote in his ward, but Arroyo delivered 68.7 percent in his ward. In the Hispanic wards, Arroyo is now "Numero Uno."

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