Incrementalism, overlap and luck drive judge races
by RUSS STEWART
Incrementalism in Cook County judicial races is defined as the process of becoming greater or larger, as in persistently gathering more contacts, visibility, credibility and, ultimately, enough votes to win. Just keep trying if you lose is the motto.
An overlap is politically defined as extending beyond a base into another base. And luck is being born with an opportune name, race/ethnicity and gender, and then getting an opportune ballot position, beatable opponent and vote-grabbing endorsements.
Qualifications? What qualifications? That matters very little.
There were 55 judicial candidates on the March 17 Democratic primary ballot for 16 countywide judgeships – 13 for the Circuit Court, two for the Appellate Court and one for the Supreme Court. There were 57 candidates for 16 vacancies in the 15 subcircuits. Primary turnout was far below expectations: 479,902, or 31.5 percent, in Chicago and 387,778, or 25.6 percent, in the suburbs, for a total of 867,680.
Of course COVID-19 had an impact.
These are the takeaways:
(1) The lower the turnout, the more important is party slating. Of the 16 judicial openings, the slated candidates won 11 judgeships, or 69 percent. In a year of supposed "change," with new, energized and/or younger voters supposedly flocking to the polls, it was close to the SAME OLD/SAME OLD. Older voters voted the party sample ballot.
(2) It was distinctly non-advantageous to be a man on the ballot. Of the 16 county contests, a man won four, and two were white. That is a 75 percent success rate for women. The rule is that in a one-on-one male/female contest, the woman almost always wins. But in a race with a multiplicity (two or more) of women, the man usually wins. The guys who did win did so only because they didn’t have a one-on-one gender situation. Appointed and slated Supreme Court justice Scott Neville, who occupies the Court’s "African-American seat," had six opponents, including two other African-Americans and two women. He got 25.4 percent, and a lifetime seat. For one Appellate Court vacancy, appointed justice Michael Hyman fortuitously was opposed by three women. Hyman got 30.7 percent. For the other vacancy, Sharon Johnson beat the appointed white man John Griffin with 53 percent. For two Circuit Court vacancies, the slated Levander Smith beat two Irish-surnamed females with 44.1 percent. And the androgynously named and slated Chris Stacey had five opponents, including two blacks, one Hispanic man, four women, of which three were Irish-surnamed whites. He won with 26.7 percent, with one woman being a shill and taking 12.2 percent. BUT FOR those auspicious circumstances, a man would not have won any judgeship.
But let’s put this in perspective. There are 3,030,759 registered voters in Cook County. A total of 867,680, or 28.6 percent, voted in the March 17 Democratic primary. In the combative state’s attorney’s race turnout was 809,974, and Kim Foxx won 409,010 versus her three white opponents, who got a combined 400,964 votes, or 49.6 percent. The turnout in lower-ballot judicial races was less. It was 740,888 for the Supreme Court, 770,767 for the Appellate Court, and 757,594 for the Circuit Court contests. Women were about 55 to 57 percent of the Democratic voter universe, and serious leftists about 45 to 50 percent. Sanders got 198,242 votes, or 42.3 percent, in Chicago and 125,357 votes, or 32.9 percent, in the suburbs.
The average vote per contest was 670,000, with the winners’ vote ranging from a high of 490,478 (Molina) in a 2-candidate race to lows of 179,089 (Stacey) and 188,278 (Neville), both in a 7-candidate race. Lynn Weaver Boyle was unopposed and got 607,208 votes. The average vote of the 16 slated Democrats was 225,000. So that means 300,000 votes is more than enough to win a judgeship nomination, or just 9.5 percent of the county’s registered voters. It’s not that the voters are predisposed to elect women. Rather, it’s that the party’s politically correct base, especially women, now habitually vote for any woman over any man. Which makes sense.
(3) Hispanic women didn’t quite rule, winning 2 of 4 judicial races, but they did better than Hispanic men, who were 0-for-2. Jesse Reyes lost to Neville and Joseph Chico to Stacey.
Hispanics account for 10 to 12 percent of the primary electorate, but a Latina name is a significant factor.
Three Latinas were slated: Laura Ayala-Gonzalez and Teresa Molina, who won, and Araceli Reyes De La Cruz, who lost. Ayala-Gonzalez won in a blowout, getting 414,717 votes, or 61.7 percent, against two men. Molina did likewise, getting 490,487 votes, or 74.1 percent, against an Irish-surnamed man. De La Cruz, however, lost to Lorraine Murphy by 25,891 votes, getting 42.6 percent and 257,045 votes, with a man also running.
Sandra Ramos ran against Hyman, but the presence of two Irish-surnamed women (Carolyn Gallagher and Maureen O’Leary) doomed her. Ramos got 363,190 votes, or 53 percent.
(4) The Democratic slate contained six blacks, three Latinas, nine women, seven men, one transgender woman, one gay candidate and 4 Irish-surnamed women. Slating provides a vote floor of about 30 to 33 percent. OVERLAP was the word. Each slatee, except the three white men, had gender and/or racial appeal to augment their party base. Five of those slated lost, including two black men – defeated by white Irish-surnamed women, as was De La Cruz. Paradoxically, two Irish-surnamed slatees – John Griffin and Kerrie Maloney Layton – lost to Johnson and Teisha Smith.
Slating has a price, which is $40,000 paid to the party for sample ballots and a countywide mailing. In 2020, it was a good investment.
(5) African-Americans comprise about a third of the Democratic base, and they vote their race…especially for black women. Kim Foxx got 56.4 percent of the Chicago vote because she got 80 to 90 percent in black-majority wards, for 252,038 votes, with a lot of Lakefront white liberals contributing. Bill Conway, who spent over $15 million, got 27.3 percent in Chicago. Foxx got just 40.4 percent in the suburbs, but Conway even less, just 33.5 percent. Black voters have a political antenna. They know who their candidates are. Neville had two black foes for the Supreme Court, plus Shelly Harris, who spent $5 million on TV ads, plus an Irish-surnamed woman (Margaret Stanton McBride), plus the ubiquitous Jesse Reyes, an indefatigable campaigner. Neville got 109,208 votes in Chicago, particularly on the South Side, for an overall 188,270-154,505-115,594-97,739-93,922-60,106-37,344 win, with 25.4 percent. Reyes was second, Harris third, McBride fourth and Cynthia Cobbs fifth. The total vote for the black candidates (Neville, Cobbs and Nathaniel Howse) was 319,574, or 43 percent. Neville won because he got a lot of white support, running first in the suburbs with 79,010 votes.
But Reyes, as a runner-up, gets the consolation prize – which is appointment to Justice Anne Burke’s seat when she retires, which won’t be until after husband Ed Burke’s legal problems are resolved. Reyes is an Appellate Court justice and would be the first Hispanic on the top court.
Johnson got 204,530 votes in Chicago, for an overall 363,190-321,167 win, with 53 percent. The two male Circuit candidates who lost, James Derico and Lloyd Brooks, were defeated by white Irish-surnamed women. The two slated black women who won, Celestia Mays and Sheree Henry, each beat two white Irish-surnamed women, as did Teisha Smith.
(6) The ASA slate, a group of nine prosecutors put together by O’Malley, won just two races: Murphy against De La Cruz and Elizabeth Ann Walsh against Brooks.
(7) Billboards don’t matter much. Consultant Tom Stapka put together a McSister slate, consisting of four Irish-surnamed women from Sauganash-Wildwood (Beth Ryan, Jennifer Callahan, Heather Ann Kent, and Suzanne McEneely), and filed them against the slate’s four men – Derico, Brooks, Smith and Stacey. Stapka’s strategy was that each spends $100,000 on billboards. Not all spent the money, but all lost anyway. Kent lost the Brooks race by 160,743 votes to the "more Irish" Walsh, who was first on the ballot. Callahan had shill Bonnie McGrath taking votes in the Stacey race, which she lost by 15,360 votes to Stacey. Ryan lost the Derico race to Kelly Marie McCarthy, who was first on the ballot, by 33,171 votes. And McEneely lost to Smith, who had a slated/black/gay overlap, by 88,704 votes because Megan Kathleen Mulay got 160,305 votes.
The "billboard" theory posits that a name, if seen repetitiously, sears into the unconscious memory. And, when voting for 55 judicial candidates, will look familiar. It didn’t work for the McSisters.
(8) What did work was first ballot position. The topmost candidate won in eight of 16 judge contests. Call it sheer, dumb luck.
(9) Incrementalism also works. ASA Murphy has been running for judge since Nov. 2017, losing a 2018 10th subcircuit race, but winning countywide. It’s all about attending events and making contacts, particularly with labor union leaders and party committeepersons. A Chicago Federation of Labor endorsement means all the trades send out letters to their members. Bar associations, of which there are 13, make endorsements, but only the most literate of voters take notice. But it’s all a process of addition through persistence.