‘All the same’ in slew of political races for 2018





With filing having closed on Dec. 4, the 2018 political season is upon us. It can be classically characterized as this: It’s ALMOST ABOUT THE SAME.

That means it’s almost about the same kind of tiresome and irritating candidates who ran in the past, almost about the same kind of turgid rhetoric, illusions and delusions of previous campaigns, almost about the same deluge of pernicious television ads, and almost about the same outcomes. Wake me when it’s over, or hand me a beer.

Too bad politics is not more like football, where 23 percent of this year’s players will be gone next year, and half in 2 years. The average player longevity in the NFL is 4.6 years. In Illinois, Cook County and Chicago politics, it will take at least a decade for 23 percent of this year’s officeholders to be gone. And it would not be surprising if Mike Madigan were still Illinois House speaker a decade from now.

COOK COUNTY BOARD PRESIDENT: There is a whiff in the wind, and the smell is that of voters who are disgruntled with government and those who govern in general, and with two-term incumbent Toni Preckwinkle in particular. On March 20, Preckwinkle is exactly the kind of candidate that they will enthusiastically come out to vote against. Memories of Preckwinkle’s sugary beverages tax and bringing back the one-percent sales tax will not dim soon. And the current controversy over where to slash $200 million from the county’s $5.2 billion 2018 budget only reinforces a perception of ineptitude.

Have no doubt about it: Somebody is going to get thrown under the bus in the Democratic primary, and Preckwinkle and Cook County Assessor Joe Berrios are on top of the toss-list, with Sheriff Tom Dart less likely.

From a political perspective, Preckwinkle caught a bad break when the ubiquitous Todd Stroger, her predecessor, decided not to file for board president, and instead filled for Metropolitan Water Reclamation District commissioner. Stroger is so reviled that voters would have voted for the somewhat less-reviled Preckwinkle just to beat him. A three-candidate contest provides voters with a "choice," and it looked to be a three-way between Preckwinkle and Stroger and former alderman Bob Fioretti, who ran for mayor in 2015. Who do we pick?

With Stroger out, March 20 now becomes a referendum on Preckwinkle. It will be an up-or-down vote on the incumbent. In a Preckwinkle-Stroger-Fioretti race, Fioretti would have had the daunting task of persuading voters to support him. Now all he has to do is just be there. Everybody who doesn’t want Preckwinkle has to vote for him.

And Fioretti’s petition-gathering is a definite sign that a lot of voters don’t want Preckwinkle. At filing deadline, Fioretti submitted petitions bearing 38,405 signatures, which was 5,000 more than the county Democratic slate submitted. Fioretti said he had about 100 workers, and that voters were "eager" to sign when they knew he was running against Preckwinkle.

"Illinoisans are voting with their feet," said Fioretti. "They are leaving. Illinois taxes are too high, as are Cook County taxes, as are Chicago taxes." Fioretti announced his candidacy at a shuttered private airport in Lansing, in south Cook County, which straddles the Illinois-Indiana border. Property taxes on the Indiana side, he said, were $20,000, while on the Illinois side they were $180,000. Health care costs are "out of control," with more than $183 million lost at Stroger Hospital due to a lack of billing, and $1.2 million spent to treat those involved in gang-related shootings.

"People want change" in Cook County, Fioretti said. "There is much to change. And Preckwinkle will not change it."

No incumbent wants to enter an election on a defensive, although Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel entered the 2015 mayoral runoff literally begging voters to forgive him for his imperiousness, and his mea culpa managed to get him 56.3 percent in the runoff against Chuy Garcia. (It must have been that sweater he was wearing in those TV ads.) But how does Preckwinkle pull off that stunt? She can’t promise to cut taxes. She can’t apologize for the soda tax, since that only reminds voters of her culpability. She can’t profess any great new "vision," since she’s been president for 8 years, but the county’s budget has decreased from $5.36 billion to $5.2 billion.

Her only plausible hope is to play the "race card," finding some issue in general or some specific rap against Fioretti to energize the black vote and get all the black committeemen in line, which, when coupled with the support of white Democratic committeemen and an expected 2018 bump in women’s vote for women on the ballot, could prevail. But that is problematic. Preckwinkle is 2018’s "Taxster." Fioretti has at least a 50/50 shot at winning.

ASSESSOR: Preckwinkle’s problem is Berrios’s problem. They are joined at the hip. Berrios has been in elective office since 1988, is county Democratic chairman and 31st Ward committeeman, and has two primary opponents – Fritz Kaegi and Andrea Raila. He has a reported long pay-to-play history, involving contributions from lawyers who got tax reductions for their corporate clients when Berrios was a Board of Review commissioner, plus ongoing media exposes of nepotism in the assessor’s office, plus allegations that the office doesn’t do enough to encourage homeowners, and specifically minority homeowners, to appeal their property’s assessed valuations.

Quite simply, Berrios cannot be re-nominated without a hefty black vote of at least 65 percent, and Berrios cannot get that vote without Preckwinkle’s public support. In 2010, Preckwinkle, then the South Side 4th Ward alderman, faced three candidates: Stroger, Clerk of Court Dorothy Brown and Terry O’Brien, the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District president, who had serious support among white committeemen.

Facing three black opponents, O’Brien should have won. Instead, it was a blowout for Preckwinkle, who won 34 of 50 Chicago wards and 20 of 30 suburban townships. Preckwinkle won a plurality in 15 of 19 black wards, and got upwards of 70 percent in the Lakefront 42nd, 43rd and 44th wards, and upwards of 65 percent in the north Lakefront 46th, 47th, 48th and 49th wards. Preckwinkle won Chicago 158,035-71,041-56,068-58,544 over O’Brien-Brown-Stroger, getting 45.9 percent, with almost all of the Stroger-Brown votes coming from black wards, where she got about 40 percent. Half of Preckwinkle’s vote came from white wards. That won’t recur in 2018. In the suburbs, Preckwinkle won 123,870-60-855-27,082-19,988, getting 53.4 percent. Overall, Preckwinkle got 281,905 votes, which was 50 percent.

Countywide, the total Preckwinkle-Brown-Stroger vote was 78 percent. To win, Fioretti needs to shave off more than 28 percent of Preckwinkle’s 2010 vote, which means almost all the white vote. That is doable.

As for Berrios, his prospects depend on how much Kaegi spends and on how the black turnout configures. In 2010, when Berrios ran for the open spot, two former aldermen, one black and one Hispanic — Robert Shaw and Raymond Figueroa, opposed him. Berrios was the slated candidate, and won countywide with only 39.2 percent, to Shaw’s 34 percent and Figueroa’s 26.7 percent. Going into 2018, Berrios can’t be beaten if he gets the 2010 Shaw vote, which means the black vote, which only Preckwinkle can deliver to him.

Kaegi, a financial manager, is already up on TV, and will get the bulk of the white suburban/independent/Lakefront vote. Kaegi can win if he directs voter ire over constantly rising property taxes toward Berrios, but he cannot win if black voters — about a third of the countywide total — do not respond. If the 2018 turnout replicates 2010’s 520,000, Berrios will need to-thirds or more of Shaw’s 2010 177,155 votes to beat Kaegi, who also has a 50/50 shot at winning.

SHERIFF: Tom Dart has held the job since 2006, and I think would dearly like to move up and out — like maybe governor or mayor. In 2018, he’ll have to settle for just staying put. Every day, with more than 2,000 employees and correction officers and close to 10,000 jail inmates, the possibility of some misdeed is enormous. Former State Representative Eddie Acevedo expects that there will be some "eruption" before the March 20 primary, and is opposing Dart. Acevedo is Mexican-American, and has a base in the Southwest Side 21st Ward; he was a legislator for 20 years, a Chicago police officer for 21 years, and a sheriff’s police sergeant for 5 years.

Unfortunately for Acevedo, Dart’s reputation is unsullied. "There will be something" before March 20, Acevedo predicted to me. If not, Acevedo will not eclipse 30 percent.

COUNTY CLERK: Recorder Karen Yarbrough’s job is being abolished in 2020, and her duties subsumed into the Clerk’s office. So she is running for retiring David Orr’s job in 2018, and will definitely win. Given her black base in the west suburbs, and her alliance with Preckwinkle, Yarbrough will easily beat Jan Kowalski McDonald and Nick Shields.

Metropolitan Water Reclamation District: Usually a steppingstone to nothing, hope nevertheless springs eternal. There are eight candidates for the three 6-year slots, and two, including Stroger, for the one 2-year slot. More about this in a future column.

Madigan antagonist Ken Dunkin filed for state representative, as Juliana Stratton, for whom Madigan spent $2 million to defeat him in 2016, is running for lieutenant governor.

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