Democratic white men hit proverbial ‘glass ceiling’
by RUSS STEWART
Tokenism, as an adjective defined by Webster’s Dictionary, is an act merely simulated, of slight or no account. As a noun, it is an act of accommodation to a demand by slight and merely formal concessions.
For Democrats in Cook County, August’s slatemaking for their 2018 ticket was both a noun and an adjective, particularly regarding white men. Of the 16 candidates endorsed by the party for countywide offices, including judges, a grand total of three are while males, or about 18 percent. In the Democratic Party, men have hit the proverbial "glass ceiling." Having a white man on the ticket is now of slight or no account.
Of the remaining 13, seven are black, of which four are black women. That’s 44 percent. Seven are women. That’s another 44 percent. And two are Hispanics. That’s just 12 percent. As a noun, every key Democratic constituency got more than token accommodation. White males are no longer a key constituency.
As expected, the Big Three – County Board president Toni Preckwinkle, House Speaker and state Democratic chairman Mike Madigan, and Alderman Ed Burke (14th) – did the dictating, with Burke picking the judges, and the 50 city and 30 suburban committeemen did the capitulating. Preckwinkle is expanding her empire exponentially, and is at the top of the heap.
In the 2016 cycle, Preckwinkle engineered the slating of her county aide, Kim Foxx, for state’s attorney. She easily beat incumbent Anita Alvarez in the primary. She also worked with Madigan, dispatching another aide, Juliana Stratton, to run against independent-minded Ken Dunkin, who had the temerity to defy Madigan on several Illinois House votes. With a flood of Madigan money, Stratton buried Dunkin, and Madigan got another ally in Springfield. Now Preckwinkle and Madigan have worked again, plunking Stratton on J.B. Pritzker’s ticket for lieutenant governor in the March 2018 primary, and then delivering an endorsement of Pritzker for governor. Crafting a Pritzker-Stratton ticket sealed the deal, and Preckwinkle delivered all the black committeemen at slatemaking.
And finally, another former Preckwinkle aide, Kim du Buclet, now a state representative, got slated for the 2-year Metropolitan Water Reclamation District term, beating a Hispanic backed by state Representative Luis Arroyo (D-3), and a longtime insider and donor associated with the North Shore Realtors. In the slating for county clerk, a job David Orr is relinquishing after 28 years, Recorder Karen Yarbrough, who is black and a Madigan protege, was slated. For Preckwinkle, despite the soda tax snafu, it’s "Veni, vidi, vici" – "I came, I saw, I conquered."
One interesting takeaway from the slatemaking is the deteriorating political viability of the Madigans – both Mike and Attorney General Lisa Madigan. The speaker needs Pritzker, because J.B. will spend $200 million of his own money, and not tap into normal Democratic sources. Then Madigan can raise $15 million to $18 million to keep his 67 to 51 House majority. And having a black woman as the LG candidate will spur black turnout, who will presumably vote for other Democrats, like his daughter.
According to Republican sources, polling shows Lisa Madigan’s name recognition high but her "approval" squishy-soft. She’s been in office since 2002, but has not clearly defined herself, and is associated with no specific issue or cause. She is the "Other Madigan," which voters are coming to conclude is two too many. Republicans have recruited Erika Harold, the 2003 Miss America and Urbana attorney, who is multi-racial. The speaker has cause for concern, especially if Governor Bruce Rauner puts $10 million behind Harold, as he did for Leslie Munger in the 2016 comptroller’s race. Lisa Madigan had $2,301,199 on-hand as of June 30, but she has become complacent. She will have to step up her game real quick.
To be slated is not necessarily to be nominated, especially in judicial races. But it is a given that Democratic incumbents Preckwinkle (black/woman) for county board president, Maria Pappas (white/ woman) for treasurer and Tom Dart (white/man) for sheriff will be renominated, all without major opposition. Eddie Acevedo, the Mexican-American son of a former South Side state representative, appeared at slatemaking for sheriff, but the white worthies of the Southwest Side 19th Ward are not about to give up that plum. The "succession" was once planned, with Ed Burke Jr. taking Dart’s job after Dart became mayor or a statewide official. But Burke quit, Dart’s ambitions stalled, and Dart is on track, like Pappas and Orr, to being a "lifer" as sheriff. He hasn’t the "fire in his belly" to seek higher office. Eventually, a Hispanic will get the sheriff’s job.
In the assessor’s race, incumbent Joe Berrios, who is also Democratic county chairman and 31st Ward Democratic committeeman, looks less and less like a primary loser. To be sure, the media has consistently pounded him for office nepotism, pay-to-play fund-raising, and lack of minority outreach. Berrios was a Board of Review commissioner from 1988 to 2010, a post where he could lower assessed valuation with the stroke of a pen. He became assessor in 2010, winning the primary with 39.1 percent. As assessor, he can also lower assessed valuations. In the 29 years since 1988, encompassing 15 election cycles, Berrios has collected at least $1 million per cycle, and has $1,638,683 on-hand. And the source of that cash has been mostly from the lawyers who get the reductions for their clients.
To be fair, Berrios has run the office competently. Tax bills are timely. Exemptions are processed quickly. The staff has been cut from 388 to 288. There is a minority outreach program, but you just can’t make taxpayers appeal, no matter how many seminars he holds. Berrios has two advantages going into 2018:
First, he has the support of Preckwinkle, and he will be spreading around his money in the black wards and townships. Second, his putative opponent, Fritz Kaegi, is totally unknown, and Germanic names never do well on the ballot. Kaegi, a portfolio manager at a firm that funds small companies in emerging foreign markets, is mouthing the usual anti-Berrios platitudes, and has the support of the party’s "progressive" wing, including Jan Schakowsky, John Arena and Scott Waguespack. To win, Kaegi will have to spend at least $10 million, win the suburbs, white ethnic wards and the Lakefront by 60-40, and keep Berrios’ margin under 2-1 in black and Hispanic areas. Berrios is favored.
Voters in 2016 approved a merger of the Clerk’s and Recorder’s offices, effective in 2020. Yarbrough is the Democratic committeeman of west suburban Proviso Township, which includes the Village of Maywood. She will win in 2018, and then quit her current job, giving Preckwinkle and the county board the power to appoint her 2-year replacement.
Here’s a cool acronym: MWRD is MAAS. That means the 4 Metropolitan Water Reclamation District commissioner contests are Much Ado About Something. The part-time job pays $60,000, requires attendance at 22 morning meetings per year, and provides an office, staff and car, plus pension credits. Those spots are desirable.
For 2018, incumbents Barbara McDonough, who is black and an ally of Preckwinkle, Debra Shore, who is an open lesbian and has ties to Jan Schakowsky’s North Shore machine, and Marty Durkan, who won an upset in 2016 and is close to the trades unions, were slated for the three 6-year terms. Du Buclet was slated for the 2-year term over Marcelino Garcia, Arroyo’s guy, and Brian Bernardoni, an executive with the North Shore Realtors. Either or both might primary her, as might Joe Cook, who lost in 2016. There will be separate elections to nominate three candidates for the 6-year terms, and one for the 2-year term.
Also in the mix is the ubiquitous Todd Stroger, whose shortcomings have dimmed since Preckwinkle beat him in 2010. He has high name recognition, and will probably opt for a 6-year spot. He will get a solid black vote. Three others, Renee Avila, Andrew Pucinski and Alisa Joyce are forming a ticket for the 6-year spots, as it takes 8,000 nominating petition signatures at a minimum to get on the ballot. The surnames Avila and Pucinski are familiar, although neither is a relation.
In MWRD races voters have no clue who is running, so gender, top ballot position, name recognition, endorsements, ethnicity/race and slating matter.
Circuit Court: Judges are elected both countywide and in the 15 subcircuits for 6-year terms. For 2018, seven judges elected countywide retired, and Democrats slated seven replacements, of which five were men: Oren Whiting, Jonathan Clark Green and Preston Jones Jr., who are black, Peter Gonzalez, who is Hispanic, and Jack Hegarty, who is white. The two white women are Clare Quish, a sitting judge, and Cecelia Horan, president of the Lesbian and Gay Bar Association of Chicago. Each slated candidate must "donate" $40,000 to the county party to pay for "expenses," like advertising and a place on the sample ballot.
It is a certainty that one or more Irish-surnamed females will file against Whiting, Green, Jones and Gonzalez, insuring their defeat. If Hegarty has too many women opponents, he could survive.
Another eight lawyers were chosen as "alternates," which means they are on standby in case any other judges propitiously decide to retire before filing ends on Dec. 8. At least five to eight judges will quit around Thanksgiving, and Democrats will get 8,000 signatures in a week, leaving them unopposed. Thus are judges made in Cook County.
Send e-mail to russ@russstew art.com or visit his Web site at www.russstewart.com.