Hereditary politics not as strong as once was
by RUSS STEWART
Some readers, especially Baby Boomers, will recall the lyrics from a classic 1960s song by Buffalo Springfield: "There’s something happening here but what it is ain’t exactly clear."
However, what is "exactly clear" is that Chicago’s "hereditary politics" is at an end. DNA no longer matters. In a city and county where handing off public and party office to spouses, kids and same-surnamed relatives is deemed business as usual, times have changed. Voters are revolted and repulsed.
While Mayor Rahm Emanuel whines that the problems he confronts were "30 years in the making," voters have begun to comprehend that a bunch of politicians or their kin have been around for more than 30 years, are pulling down generous pensions, and are responsible for the city, county and state’s egregious fiscal problems.
Here’s a look at some of Chicago’s "royalty":
The Madigans: Mike Madigan was elected to the Illinois House in 1970 at age 28 and as 13th Ward Democratic committeeman in 1972. He been the unchallenged boss of his Southwest Side ward, which is now majority Hispanic, for 43 years. He was elected speaker of the house in 1982, and he has held that post for 31 of the past 33 years. He is the unchallenged boss of the Illinois House, and he decides what legislation gets passed, which Democrats get nominated, which candidates get funded, and how state representatives vote. Madigan also is the state Democratic Party chairman, which puts him in a position to dictate who gets slated for statewide office. In both posts, he has the ability to raise upwards of $10 million per election cycle.
His daughter, Lisa Madigan, although well qualified, became a state senator in 1998 and Illinois attorney general in 2002 due to the power, influence and money of her father.
In the House, Madigan caters to special interests by either passing or not passing various pieces of legislation. The beneficiaries are expected to show their gratitude through their checkbook, by making contributions to Friends of Mike Madigan. His law firm specializes in commercial property tax appeals, has insider connections with the Board of Review and assessor’s office, and rarely loses an appeal. The corporate beneficiaries are expected to likewise show their appreciation, with donations to the Illinois Democratic Party. In any other state, liberals, independents and reformers would howl with righteous indignation over the concentration of power in Madigan’s hands. Not in Illinois. The fact that his daughter is the state’s top law enforcement officer, and is one of the five most powerful politicians in Illinois, is similarly ignored. The fact that Madigan, age 73, refuses to relinquish his power, commands a 71-47 House Democratic super majority, can readily spend up to $1 million in any district to re-elect his incumbents, and is grooming Lisa Madigan for governor in 2018, is a given.
The speaker’s current quandary is how to make Republican Governor Bruce Rauner look bad while not making himself look bad. If the General Assembly raises taxes or refuses to cut state spending and Rauner exercises a veto, it makes the Democrats look bad, and that would cost Madigan some seats. If, however, Madigan and Rauner cut a deal, with some tax hikes, serious cuts and pension reforms, then both look good, but that would infuriate some unions and special interests, and it could adversely affect Lisa Madigan’s 2018 prospects.
The Daleys: A Daley has been Chicago’s mayor for 44 of the past 60 years. During that period, spending, debt and pensions soared, public sector unions got generous deals, trade unions got plenty of construction projects, and everybody who was anybody got a payroll job. Foist a huge part of the blame for Chicago’s current mess on Richard I and Richard II, especially the latter, who specialized in finding some quick-fix revenue source (as in the Skyway and parking meter deals) to avoid property tax hikes.
Of the second generation, only John Daley remains. He is the Cook County Board county Finance Committee chairman and the 11th Ward Democratic committeeman. Bill Daley scotched bids for governor and senator. The next Daley — or maybe the last Daley — is nephew Patrick Daley Thompson, currently a Metropolitan Water Reclamation District commissioner. He sought the open 11th Ward aldermanic seat. If he doesn’t win the April 7 runoff, he’s the last. If he does, he’ll be groomed to run for mayor in 2019 or 2023, but the mere fact that he didn’t get coronated and was forced into a runoff shows that the magic of the Daley name is nearly extinguished.
The Mells: When people say Dick Mell always puts his family first, they mean he puts them into the first available office. Illinois can thank Mell for putting his son-in-law Rod Blagojevich into the governorship. First, Mell put Blagojevich into the Illinois House and then into the U.S. Congress. The 33rd Ward can thank Mell for putting his daughter Deb Mell into the Illinois House and then making her an alderman when he retired. In fact, voters were so appreciative that Deb Mell avoided a runoff by fewer than a dozen votes. By 2019 the battle cry will be: "No More Mells."
The Laurinos: For 50 years, a Laurino has been the 39th Ward alderman — first Tony Laurino, then his daughter Marge. For 50 years, a Laurino or kin has been 39th Ward Democratic committeeman — first Tony, then his son-in-law Randy Barnette. For 35 of the past 45 years, a Laurino has been a state representative — first Tony’s son Bill, then his grandson John D’Amico. The presumption is that they "own" the ward and control all the levers of power, and that John D’Amico will be the alderman some day. The "Laurino Clan" got a rude awakening on Feb. 24, when Laurino limped to an unimpressive 53 percent re-election win.
Laurino, a tight Emanuel ally, is president pro tem of the City Council, which means that she presides over the council when the mayor is absent. That could sink her in 2019, as it almost did in February. The house that Tony Laurino built is falling down.
The Cullertons: A Cullerton or kin has sat in the City Council for 129 of the past 145 years. They should have had a special desk marked Cullerton Only. On Feb. 24, the "Cullerton Dynasty" came to an abrupt and ignominious conclusion.
A long line of Cullertons and their kin have graced the council: Eddie, P.J., Wilie, Tom, Tom Allen, and now Tim, who chose not to seek re-election in 2015. For the first time since 1935, no Cullerton was on the municipal ballot. The last Cullerton is Patti Jo, the 38th Ward Democratic committeeman. When the council did the 2011 remap, it joined the 38th and 36th wards, with the expectation being that Tim Cullerton would run and beat the 36th Ward incumbent, Nick Sposato, in 2015. The "Cullerton Clan’s" February candidate was Heather Sattler, the daughter of Tim Cullerton’s chief of staff. The result was a stunner: In a seven-candidate field, Sposato won outright with 53.6 percent of the vote, with Sattler finishing a weak second at 16.2 percent.
Sposato will run for committeeman in 2016. For the Cullertons, it’s over — except for their pensions.
The Burkes: Illinois’ premier power couple are Alderman Ed Burke and state Supreme Court Justice Anne Burke. The alderman chairs the council’s finance committee, the Democrats’ judicial slating committee, and has a mega-lucrative law practice. As they say in legal circles, to get on the bench, you have to get anointed by the Burkes. The alderman gets them slated, and the Justice (along with two colleagues) gets them appointed. The alderman has over $8 million in his campaign account, which he will soon use to get son Ed Burke Jr. elected as sheriff.
The Berrios’s: Joe Berrios is at the top of the political heap. He’s the county assessor, county Democratic Party chairman, the 31st Ward Democratic committeeman, and arguably (until Chuy Garcia’s candidacy) was the county’s and city’s most powerful Hispanic politician. At last count, 22 of Berrios’ kin are or were on some payroll. Now the heap is collapsing. His daughter Toni lost her state House seat in 2014, while 31st Ward Alderman Ray Suarez was forced into a runoff and Berrios’ expectation that he could dictate the next 36th Ward alderman met stiff resistance. Not only are the good old days over, but Berrios’ days as a rainmaking power broker are numbered.
The Hynes’s: The 19th Ward, on the Far Southwest Side, has long rivaled the 11th Ward in delivering Democratic votes, exercising clout and amassing patronage jobs. Tom Hynes was elected state senator in 1970 at age 32 and assessor in 1978 at age 40. He built a powerful machine, and in 1990 he added the sheriff’s office to his ward’s stable of office holders. In 1998 he cleared the field for his 30-year-old son, Dan Hynes, to be nominated unopposed for comptroller and got him elected.
Dan Hynes was on a track to be governor until Blagojevich derailed it. When Tom Hynes resigned as assessor in 2001, he made sure that Jim Houlihan, with 19th Ward roots, got the job, and when Sheriff Mike Sheahan quit, 19th Warder Tom Dart got his job, but then Dan Hynes lost the 2010 governor primary to Pat Quinn and the "House of Hynes" has been in exile since.
A few other royalists exist — Pucinski, McAuliffe, Lipinski, Sawyer — but voters are no longer of a mood to embrace bloodlines over new blood.
Send e-mail to russ@russstewart. com or visit his Web site at www. russstewart.com.