Moylan’s victory puts district into ‘lockdown’
by RUSS STEWART
There is a numeric difference between a legislative or congressional district that is deemed “safe” for a particular party and one which has been put in “lockdown” by an incumbent, and that difference is 10 percent.
As Democrat Marty Moylan proved in 2016, his Park Ridge-Des Plaines 55th Illinois House District is in lockdown, but it never will be safe. The former means that the incumbent won with 55 to 60 percent of the vote or was unopposed; the latter means that one party’s candidates always win with 60 to 70 percent of the vote.
Moylan won his third term 25,717-17,811, garnering 59 percent of the vote in a turnout of 43,528. His 2016 margin of 7,906 votes over hapless, woefully underfunded Republican Dan Gott culminates a 6-year, three-election-cycle marathon to put the historically Republican district into Democratic lockdown. After winning by 2,610 votes in 2012 and by 1,562 votes in 2014, Moylan tripled his margin in 2016, but the district has too many Republicans to ever be totally safe.
The 55th District is a textbook example of how lockdown works and why Mike Madigan is still the speaker of the Illinois House. The key stages are to defeat (2012), to demoralize (2014) and finally to defund (2016). Moylan’s Republican predecessor was the late Rosemary Mulligan, who was first elected in 1992 and who was referred to as the “Representative from Personal PAC,” Illinois’ premier abortion rights fund-raising committee. In Springfield, the liberal Mulligan was the House’s foremost champion of private and state social service agencies, as well as abortion rights, and those two Democratic constituencies, so near and dear to Madigan (and who gave him oodles of dollars), enabled her to put the district in lockdown. Throughout the 1990s and 2000s, while her district was becoming less conservative and less Republican, Madigan gave her a free pass, never recruiting nor funding a worthy opponent. She beat a pro-life Democrat, Thomas Cahill, in 1998 by 14,380-8,987. In 2002, after the 2001 remap, she won with 60.7 percent of the vote.
Personal Pac’s specialty is compiling lists. Anyone who has donated to a pro-choice or feminist group in the last 20 years is on its database, broken down by area or district. Just prior to a primary or an election, Personal PAC sends out an endorsement to pro-choice households. In most cases, the materials go out to support Madigan-picked Democrats against Republicans, but Mulligan always got their backing, and it was more than enough to keep her in office.
Meanwhile, the abortion issue was tearing apart the Maine Township Republicans, and Mulligan’s political base was crumbling. Mulligan beat Penny Pullen, a virulent pro-lifer, in 1992, and her conservative descendants vowed, but never got, revenge — until 2012.
Madigan sensed a 55th District opportunity in 2008, when the Bush Administration was hugely unpopular, recruiting an Asian-American Park Ridge attorney, Aurora Austriaco, and funding her. Mulligan, of Des Plaines, won 21,410-17,816, but for Personal PAC, she would have lost. Lockdown was locked out.
There are both demographic and ideological polarities in the district, between conservative, working-class Des Plaines, with its 1950s housing stock, and upscale, liberal, largely professional Park Ridge, with its country club and pre-World War II housing stock. Mulligan, with her Des Plaines base and Park Ridge appeal, bridged the gap.
Madigan gave Mulligan a pass in 2010, and Mulligan beat her arch enemies, the township officials’ clique, for Republican committeeman, but there was no longer a viable Republican organization nor a Mulligan precinct organization. Her only asset was name recognition. In 2012 her political acumen hit rock bottom, as she botched her nominating petitions and was disqualified from the ballot for insufficient signatures. She tried a write-in campaign, but Springfield Republicans, eager to be rid of her, dispatched money and manpower, and Susan Sweeney, a think tank analyst and a social conservative from Park Ridge, got more write-in votes. Mulligan was locked out, and the district was up for grabs.
Ever watchful, Madigan made sure the 2011 remap made the district winnable and recruited Moylan, the Des Plaines mayor, as the Democratic candidate. The key to an eventual lockdown is to find a candidate who fits the district, with gender, geography and ideology the top criteria. A retired International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers union official and a onetime Republican, Moylan was elected mayor in 2009, and he basked in the glow surrounding the new Rivers Casino, which in 2012 precipitated an $8.8 million cash infusion, which will replicate annually forever. Madigan searches for candidates who have won local office, have a geographic base and name identification, have a work ethic and the time to campaign 5 to 8 hours per day, can waffle on the issues, and will do and vote as they’re told. They’re not plentiful, but Madigan finds them.
The first stage was to defeat Sweeney for the open seat, which Moylan did 21,321-18,711, getting 53.3 percent of the vote and winning by a margin of 2,610 votes in a turnout of 40,032. Moylan was for abortion rights, gun control and gay marriage, but his fliers were almost Republican, proclaiming that as mayor he kept the budget and tax levy under control, that he “opposed higher (state) taxes,” that he would “hold the line” on property taxes, and that he “demanded fiscal responsibility.” Of course, that was just rhetoric, as Madigan would dictate his vote.
The Madigan/Moylan tandem spent close to $1 million, deluged the district with 20 mailers, got Personal Pac’s endorsement, and carried Des Plaines with 53 percent of the vote, offsetting Sweeney’s Park Ridge edge. There were 66 precincts in the district, 44 in Des Plaines and 20 in Park Ridge. Moylan carried every Des Plaines precinct in his base and lost all but one in Park Ridge, Sweeney’s base. The disgruntled Mulligan endorsed Moylan. It was just enough for a Moylan win.
The second stage was to demoralize the Republicans, who recruited Park Ridge Park Board member Mel Thillens to run in 2014. The first re-election is critical, and Madigan and Moylan knew it, as did the Republicans. The key component to any retention is the incumbent’s work ethic. He or she must be on the street, with a goal of 100 “contacts” per day. Madigan assigns two state Democratic Party staffers to every tier one race, and they are like ramrods, keeping the candidate moving daily.
Illinois’ population was reported in the 2010 census as 12,882,135, which means that there are an average of about 109,000 people in each of the 118 Illinois House districts, of whom only about a third vote. The 55th District turnout was 40,032 in 2012, 28,856 in 2014 and 43,528 in 2016. Moylan was in lockdown when he hit 24,000 votes, which he did in 2016.
Moylan’s 2014 campaign was masterpiece of deception and disinformation. Republican Bruce Rauner won the district in 2014, and Moylan ran a Rauner-type campaign. He rejected taking a state pension, not mentioning that he already has union and municipal pensions, he donated his salary increase to charity, he backed term limits, he verbally opposed any income tax hike and voted against fee increases, he was a critic of O’Hare noise and free lifetime health care for retired state employees, and like Rauner he advocated a property tax freeze.
Madigan never allowed an income tax hike to come to a House vote during 2013-14, so the deluge of Moylan’s mailers could plausibly claim that he “worked to prevent” any increases. Thillens was demonized as a “big spender” because the park board issued $11.6 million in bonds to buy an 11-acre tract of land. Both candidates were relentless in their door-to-door efforts, but Thillens had no ground game and Moylan had 20 mailers. Moylan spent $1 million to $500,000 for Thillens, and the Democrat won 15,209-13,647, getting 52.7 percent of the vote and carrying 46 of the 69 suburban precincts, with his Des Plaines edge barely eclipsing Thillens’ Park Ridge base. The Republicans were demoralized.
The third stage was to defund. Rauner was the governor, and he pumped $100 million into the state Republican Party for 2016 state races, but not a dollar flowed into Gott’s campaign. Moylan’s two wins put the district into lockdown, and Springfield Republicans directed their resources elsewhere. Moylan was his usual energetic self, in the precincts every day, but had only 10 mailers with bromides such as he “kept his promises,” voted “independent” and was “fighting for you.”
Moylan raised $844,755, to $13,896 for Gott. It was a total mismatch, and Moylan will win as long as he runs . . . and doesn’t vote for a tax hike. Three of the district’s 70 precincts are in Chicago, and the remaining 67 are in Maine, Leyden, Elk Grove and Norwood Park townships. Moylan carried 57 of those 70 precincts. So confident was Moylan that he gave $521,500 of his campaign money to other House Democratic candidates, including Merry Marwig.
Now comes the hard part. The parties’ Senate leadership are attempting to concoct a “grand bargain” to resolve the state’s budget impasse and pension woes. The projected fiscal year 2017 deficit is $4.3 billion, with $11 billion in unpaid vendors. An income tax hike to 4.95 percent, a soda tax and workers’ compensation reforms are part of the deal. Madigan’s majority is 67-51, and he is not going to jeopardize his majority (and job) by passing any hikes without 20 to 30 Republicans signing on. Then he could allow his potentially vulnerable incumbents, like Moylan and Sam Yingling, to vote “no.”
For Moylan, a pro-tax vote would unlock his lockdown. Sweeney, who is running for township trustee, and Thillens are eager for a second crack at him.
Send e-mail to russ@russstewart. com or visit his Web site at www. russstewart.com.