O’Connor loss prompts blowback in 41st Ward
by RUSS STEWART
It’s blowback time in the Far Northwest Side 41st Ward. With first-term pro-Emanuel Alderman Mary O’Connor having blown her re-election, she now confronts considerable blowback if she chooses to seek re-election as the ward’s Democratic committeeman in 2016.
Likewise, two erstwhile allies, state Senator John Mulroe (D-10) and state Representative Mike McAuliffe (R-20), also could find themselves under siege in 2016.
Nature abhors a political vacuum, and O’Connor’s wholly unforeseen April 7 runoff defeat by neophyte Anthony Napolitano, a city firefighter, has sucked the oxygen out of the O’Connor-Mulroe-McAuliffe "nonaggression pact" and has left the Mayor Rahm Emanuel with no organization in the ward.
The 41st Ward is "now ripe for a hostile takeover" of the Democratic apparatus, a Napolitano strategist said. "Watch for (Illinois House Speaker Mike) Madigan to come in, and insert his guy as committeeman," the source said. "Rahm will give her a cushy job as a deputy commissioner in (the Department of) Aviation at O’Hare Airport," implying that O’Connor would be forced out of her party post in 2015 and either Mulroe or Madigan’s choice (presumed to be attorney Tom Needham) will be appointed to the job by the Cook County Democratic Party Central Committee, which happens to be chaired by Madigan ally Joe Berrios.
Madigan, the Southwest Side 13th Ward Democratic committeeman and state Democratic Party chairman, has a long history of "hostile takeovers." He has vast sums of money, raising $12 million per election cycle, he hires an army of paid precinct workers to be deployed as he sees fit, and the legion of Springfield staffers, both on the speaker’s payroll or attached to a House committee or commission, are dispatched to run campaigns. Madigan spent almost $1 million to elect Des Plaines Mayor Marty Moylan in the Park Ridge-Des Plaines 55th Illinois House District in 2012 and another $1 million to re-elect him in 2014. In 2013 he failed in his takeover of Norridge, where 60 workers in 10 precincts couldn’t elect his candidate for mayor.
During the 1990s Madigan’s minions took over almost every south suburban municipality and House district, and they continued that trend in the 2000s on the North Shore and west and northwest suburbs.
However, Madigan’s only priority is himself and keeping the speakership. He will remain as speaker until he quits, which he won’t do if his daughter Lisa Madigan is elected governor in 2018. If he hangs around until the 2020s, he would be America’s only 80-something speaker. His goal for 2016 is to retain his 71-47 super majority in the House, and that puts McAuliffe in his crosshairs. If the Democrats’ majority falls under 70, the House could not override gubernatorial vetoes.
"He’s going to go after McAuliffe," a Springfield source said of Madigan’s plans, adding that the impasse between Republican Governor Bruce Rauner and the General Assembly Democrats makes every seat critical. It is expected that Rauner, with his vast personal wealth and his circle of rich friends, will raise and spend in the realm of $7 million to defeat Democratic legislators and to elect his appointee Leslie Munger as comptroller. Madigan will do likewise, meaning that McAuliffe’s "free pass" days are over.
McAuliffe’s late father Roger, who died in a 1996 boating accident, was elected to the Illinois House in 1972, making him a contemporary of Madigan, who was elected in 1970. A Chicago cop, Roger McAuliffe was the quintessential Springfield go along, get along politician.
He sought state patronage jobs, he didn’t meddle in other districts, he had no ambitions beyond his House seat, and he rarely made a speech, and then only if it was on police and crime issues. McAuliffe thrived under three "let’s make a deal" Republican governors — Jim Thompson (1976-1990), Jim Edgar (1990-1998) and George Ryan (1998-2002). In an atmosphere where Republican governors had to work with the Madigan and the Democrats, partisanship and rancor were minimal and everyone benefited from the status quo. Tax hikes, construction of a stadium for the White Sox, more spending — it was always a done deal.
On the Northwest Side, McAuliffe, who was the 38th Ward Republican committeeman, had a nonaggression pact with the "Cullerton Clan," and his best buddy was Democratic state Representative Ralph Capparelli of the 41st Ward, a close ally of Madigan who was elected with him in 1970 who was part of the House leadership. After 1982 McAuliffe got a "free pass" from Madigan in every election.
In 1991 McAuliffe uncharacteristically decided to broaden his political base and ran his protege, Brian Doherty, for alderman in the 41st Ward against incumbent Roman Pucinski. After 18 years, "Pucinski fatigue" was widespread, and Capparelli, who was long estranged from the egotistical Pucinski, did nothing to help his fellow Democrat. Doherty won the runoff with 54.0 percent of the vote, and as if on cue, Capparelli defeated Pucinski 7,651-5,823 for Democratic committeeman in 1992. A McAuliffe-Capparelli-Doherty nonaggression pact was then in place, as McAuliffe and Doherty didn’t back any candidate against Capparelli and Capparelli didn’t back any one against Doherty. It was almost like heaven on earth. Who needed voters? It was a done deal. You can’t lose if no credible candidate runs.
Roger McAuliffe’s 1996 death upset the proverbial apple cart. The 1996 sacrificial Democratic candidate for McAuliffe’s seat, which then included the 38th Ward, Norwood Park Township (Norridge and Harwood Heights), Leyden Township (Franklin Park and Schiller Park, Rosemont), and Edison Park in the 41st Ward, was Tom Needham, an attorney who was Mulroe’s law partner. After McAuliffe’s death, Republican committeemen picked his son, a state employee, as his ballot replacement. Each party dumped $500,000 into the contest. McAuliffe won 20,666-18,771 (with 52.4 percent of the vote). The Democrats didn’t contest McAuliffe in 1998 or 2000, and he was elected 41st Ward Republican committeeman in 2000.
In 2001, the "done deal" was undone, as Madigan’s remap put McAuliffe and Capparelli in the same district. So much for loyalty.
Capparelli cut a deal with the 39th Ward "Laurino Clan" and the 36th Ward organization of Bill Banks and Jim DeLeo. He ran for re-election in the 15th District, leaving his buddy, Democratic incumbent Bob Bugielski, to move in and run against McAuliffe. McAuliffe creamed Bugielski 18,906-16,323 (with 53.7 percent of the vote). In 2004 Capparelli ran for re-election in McAuliffe’s 20th District, choosing not to move from his Edison Park residence, and McAuliffe beat him 25,022-17,249 (59.2 percent). Madigan was nowhere to be found, figuring that Capparelli’s $700,000-plus in campaign funds was enough to get him elected. It wasn’t.
By 2008, with Capparelli out of office and the Republicans dominant in the ward, O’Connor ran for Democratic committeeman and won with 45.3 percent of the vote, with Capparelli getting only 34.8 percent. End of pact. In 2010 Doherty ran against Mulroe for the retiring DeLeo’s Illinois Senate seat. Senate President John Cullerton pumped in about $1 million into the race, and Mulroe won 30,087-24,203 (with 55.4 percent of the vote). End of Republican dominance . . . but a new "done deal." Mulroe was unopposed in 2012, McAuliffe had desultory opposition in 2012 and 2014, O’Connor was supposed to have had a free ride in 2015, and Madigan acquiesced.
Getting back to O’Connor’s loss, it takes a special skill set to bungle re-election as alderman. O’Connor was up to the task. First, an alderman can pump $4.8 million into the ward over his or her term, with $1.2 million annually under the discretionary menu for any project the alderman wants. Second, the alderman has an office and four staffers who are paid $250,000 annually, or $1 million over the term. Their job can be easily summarized: Answer the phone. Pass on the constituent’s beef to the appropriate city agency. Follow up. Return e-mails and texts within an hour. Call back the constituent. Take credit. Third, the alderman makes $117,000 a year, or $468,000 over the term. It’s a full-time job, 24/7. He or she needs to be in the office or in the ward. Fourth, the alderman can raise ample money from special interests or businesses in the ward.
In short, a Chicago alderman is a glorified housekeeper. Fill the potholes, plow the snow, pick up the garbage, trim, plant, remove trees, repave the streets and alleys, etc. How hard is that? The alderman doesn’t do the work, the city bureaucracy does. The alderman is simply the conduit, and unlike congressmen or state legislators, aldermen don’t usually catch "hard" — meaning controversial — votes, although O’Connor’s opposition to the minimum wage hike and support for the O’Hare janitors’ layoff infuriated the unions, especially the Service Employees International Union, which funded Napolitano. Emanuel’s Chicago Forward political action committee spent heavily for O’Connor, paying for half of her 25 mailers.
However, O’Connor was neither salable nor re-inventible. She was plastic, distant and unlovable. She and her office failed to perform at an acceptable — and re-electable — level.
O’Connor won the 2011 runoff against Doherty aide Maurita Gavin 7,354-7,104, a margin of 250 votes. She won 21 of the ward’s 57 precincts. In the Feb. 24 municipal election, O’Connor got 7,132 votes (47.7 percent of the total cast), getting 222 fewer votes than she did in the 2011 runoff and winning 18 of the ward’s 47 precincts. Despite being outspent 3-1, Napolitano finished first in 19 precincts.
In the runoff, Napolitano beat O’Connor 9,702-9,087, getting 51.6 percent of the vote and carrying 28 of 47 precincts, with a tie in one. Napolitano got more than 60 percent of the vote in five precincts, and he swept Oriole Park, Norwood Park north of the Northwest Highway and most of Edison Park. Some politicians are gone but still remembered. Mary O’Connor is not one of them.
Send e-mail to russ@russstewart. com or visit his Web site at www. russstewart.com.