O’Connor rejects idea of one term and done
by RUSS STEWART
Here’s a quiz for old timers who reside in the Northwest Side 41st Ward: Who is Harry Bell? Is there a "Curse of Harry Bell"?
Alderman Mary O’Connor (41st) scoffs at the notion. According to her senior advisor and spokesman Jason Hernandez, O’Connor, the ward’s first female alderman, is well positioned to win a second term in 2015. She’s not, he insists, going to be a one-termer, as was fellow Democrat Bell, who served from 1959 to 1963.
O’Connor’s most formidable 2015 opponents, Maurita Gavin and Rich Gonzalez, who finished second and third in the 2011 election, are out of the picture. Gavin, a top aide to O’Connor’s predecessor, Alderman Brian Doherty, now works for 36th Ward Alderman Nick Sposato, and Gonzalez, a Chicago police officer, has moved out of the ward.
Over the past 66 years, the 41st Ward has had just six aldermen — a remarkably low turnover rate, although three of those six were defeated. Chicago aldermanic elections are nonpartisan, but a professed Republican has represented the ward for 42 of the 66 years dating back to 1947. Only one alderman, Bell, was defeated after one term.
O’Connor was elected as the ward’s Democratic committeeman in 2008, defeating Ralph Capparelli. Doherty announced his retirement in 2010, and he ran a losing race for state senator against Democrat John Mulroe, O’Connor’s ally. Only key aldermen get the dwindling number of City Hall patronage jobs, and although the 41st Ward is loaded with police officers, firefighters, city workers and plenty of city and county bureaucrats, they are distinctly disinclined to work as Democratic precinct captains. O’Connor’s 20-year presence in the ward as a business woman and the former president of the Edison Park Chamber of Commerce, coupled with Mulroe’s 2010 operation, made O’Connor the best organized candidate in 2011, with the widest precinct coverage.
Doherty endorsed Gavin, as did state Representative Mike McAuliffe (R-20), the ward’s Republican committeeman. That gave her the second best organization.
Gonzalez, a member of the organization of Alderman Dick Mell (33rd), benefited from some 33rd Ward workers dispatched into the ward and tried to appeal to his base of fellow first responders.
In what was unquestionably an uninspiring 11-candidate field, O’Connor placed first in the municipal election. The ward had 36,785 registered voters, and turnout was 20,109. O’Connor got 6,132 votes (30.5 percent of the total), to 5,030 votes (25.0 percent) for Gavin. Gonzalez got 1,918 votes (9.5 percent), and the others were all under 9 percent. O’Connor placed first in 39 of 57 precincts, and Gavin was first in 17.
Turnout in the runoff plunged by 5,651 votes, to 14,458, a decline of 28 percent. Neither candidate was well funded, mailings were few, and it was a precinct battle of O’Connor-Mulroe versus Doherty-McAuliffe. The Democrats barely won. O’Connor topped Gavin 7,354-7,104, getting 50.9 percent of the vote and winning by a minuscule margin of 250 votes. O’Connor, whose base is in Edison Park, won 35 precincts, with one tied. Gavin, whose base is in Oriole Park, won 21 precincts. The vote in Norwood Park and the apartment precincts west of Cumberland Avenue was basically even, but O’Connor’s margin in Edgebrook put her over the top. To be sure, no 250-vote winner can be deemed "safe," and O’Connor’s fund-raising, with cash on hand of $7,674 as of June 30, is singularly dismal.
However, O’Connor ranks among the most obscure and least voluble of the city’s 50 aldermen. Neither a pip nor a squeak emanates from her mouth during City Council meetings. She is a reliable vote for Mayor Rahm Emanuel. Compared to her more boisterous, contentious and often obstreperous predecessors, O’Connor is a wallflower, as was Bell.
The ward’s aldermanic chronology is as follows:
1947 to 1959: Republican Joe Immel, an attorney, was part of the City Council’s 10-member "Economy Bloc," who outspokenly opposed the politics of mayors Martin Kennelly (who served from 1947 to 1955) and Richard J. Daley (who was elected in 1955). The ward then was a Republican bastion and the city’s largest, extending west from Cicero Avenue and north from Montrose Avenue to the city limits. The ward’s Republican committeeman, Tim Sheehan, was a congressman from 1950 to 1958. In 1959 Sheehan, who was defeated for re-election in 1958 by Roman Pucinski, ran for mayor, and Daley’s Democrats flooded into the ward. Bell beat Immel, and Sheehan was buried by Daley.
1959 to 1963: Bell served an undistinguished term, voting as a loyal cog in the "Daley Machine." When the 41st Ward was split in the 1962 remap, creating the 45th Ward in the east half, Daley made Bell the 41st Ward Democratic committeeman. The hapless Bell lost in 1963, and in 1964 Daley bounced Bell as the committeeman, replacing him with Pucinski, who moved in from the 35th Ward.
1963 to 1972: Ed Scholl, the "boy journalist," was just 25 when he beat Bell by a vote of 10,155-6,952. He was a writer for a local newspaper, and he had written a book titled "Seven Miles of Ideal Living," about Norwood Park, Oriole Park and Edison Park. Scholl used his public relations skills to become a City Council gadfly, criticizing Daley and voting against his budgets. His constituents were not displeased. Meanwhile, Pucinski was building up the ward’s Democrats, and Scholl squeaked to a 51.4 percent win in 1971. Scholl ran for a seat in the Illinois Senate in 1972, and in the Nixon landslide he beat Democratic incumbent Bob Egan 54,309-41,495, with 56.7 percent of the vote. Scholl faced Egan again in 1974. This time, burdened by Watergate and anti-Nixon revulsion, Scholl lost by a vote of 34,284-31,424.
Scholl was indicted for taking zoning bribes while he was an alderman, and he was convicted and incarcerated.
1973 to 1991: The loquacious and ubiquitous Pucinski, who had a lifelong love affair with microphones and television cameras, was notorious for never letting sound judgment get in the way of his ego. In 1972, despite 14 years of congressional seniority, he challenged Republican U.S.
enator Chuck Percy. His theme was, "a workhorse, not a showhorse." After the results were in, Pucinski was a dead horse. He lost 2,867,078-1,721,031, a margin of 1,146,071 votes. Frank Annunzio took Pucinski’s House seat, and "Pooch’s" career looked kaput.
However, Scholl’s vacancy serendipitously beckoned, and Pucinski eagerly grabbed the job, getting 84.0 percent of the vote in the 1973 election. Pucinski quickly emerged as the City Council’s best known "showhorse," generating headlines but never bucking the Daley machine.
Pucinski did buck the machine in 1977, running for mayor against the endorsed candidate Mike Bilandic and placing second in a six-candidate primary. Bilandic got 51.1 percent of the vote and Pucinski got 32.7 percent. Pucinski won the 41st Ward with 75 percent of the vote. The ward’s pro-Bilandic clique — Capparelli, Stanley Kusper and Harry Semrow — created a rump Democratic organization and began plotting Pucinski’s demise. However, again serendipitously, Bilandic lost to Jane Byrne in 1979, and Pucinski’s ward rivals vanished. After Harold Washington’s 1983 win, the ever-facile Pucinski emerged as a leader of the "Vrdolyak 29."
By 1991, after Pucinski had served 18 years as alderman, 41st Ward voters were weary. Seven candidates filed for the post, and Pucinski got 41.6 percent of the vote in the municipal election, with Doherty the runner-up at 30.6 percent. In the runoff, Doherty, who was a protege of the late state representative Roger McAuliffe, upset Pucinski 13,782-11,698, getting 54.1 percent of the vote. Capparelli ousted Pucinski as committeeman in 1992.
1991 to 2011: During the reign of Richard M. Daley, the mayor always had 40-plus City Council votes in his pocket. Having a token Republican in Doherty and a few liberal independents didn’t bother him. Even though Doherty always voted against the mayor’s budgets and any tax hike, he never publicly attacked Daley, and Daley never tried to beat Doherty or build up the ward’s Democrats. Doherty won easily in 1995, 1999, 2003 and 2007. He ran for state senator in 2010 and got whipped 30,087-24,203.
Now we come to O’Connor. What has she done in 2 years?
O’Connor declined to be interviewed, so all information was provided by Hernandez. He said that under Doherty there was "a disconnect, a communications gap," which O’Connor "solved" by holding eight public forums and by creating a 5,500-person e-mail list and a newsletter. She has used her $1.27 million "menu" allotment for 40 miles of street resurfacing and for repairing the Lehigh Avenue pedestrian underpass.
As for schools, Hernandez said, "We have serious space issues and overutilization problems." He said that "progress is being made" to establish Northwest Highway as a commercial corridor, with a new produce market, two bars and a shopping mall in Norwood Park. O’Connor also supported a plan to reduce business licenses from 142 to 40.
On zoning issues, O’Connor has maintained Doherty’s zoning advisory board. Senior housing has been approved for the Passionist Monastery property at Talcott and Harlem avenues, and a seven-story commercial and residential complex will be built at Bryn Mawr and Delphia avenues. The vacant property at Harlem and Bryn Mawr is still vacant.
O’Connor supplied this quote: "I have a working relationship with the mayor. My goal is to an effective alderman and improve the quality of life in my ward."
She also needs to improve the quantity of her vote. As for 2015, she is an early favorite.
Send e-mail to russ@russstewart. com or visit his Web site at www. russstewart.com.