Russ Stewart
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Russ Stewart




After 33 years of writing a weekly "analysis and opinion," here's something completely different - a "gossip with analysis."

The political landscape, both in Illinois and Chicago, is in the throes of turmoil and uncertainty. How many more Hired Truck indictments will hit City Hall? How much blame will attach to Mayor Rich Daley? Will a Daley connection be poison in 2006? And will voter revulsion cause Daley to lose in 2007?

Now that the U.S. Attorney's Office is intensively investigating state hiring in the Blagojevich Administration, will the epitaph "scandal-plagued" soon attach itself to this governor? What if some indictments hit in 2006, in the midst of Governor Rod Blaogjevich's re-election campaign? Can the Republican candidate for governor exploit the "corruption" issue?

Nevertheless, maneuvering abounds in certain key races, and some interesting primaries are developing. Here's the latest political insight - which might also be construed as gossip - complete with subtitles:

"The Manny-Man." Many have awaited Republican Judy Baar Topinka's decision. Now that her state treasurer's post is open, a stampede of Democrats will run. Topinka was first elected treasurer in 1994 by 77,018 votes, with 50.4 percent of the votes cast, and she was re-elected in 1998 by 62,279 votes, getting 50.1 percent of the vote. By 2002, having entrenched herself and having built significant name identification, Topinka was re-elected handily, by 396,965 votes (54.8 percent). It was generally conceded that Topinka, age 61, would have won a fourth term had she run.

Ever-so-eager to seek the Democratic nomination for treasurer are Alderman Manny Flores (1st), state Senator Jim Clayborne (D-57) of East Saint Louis and 1998 loser Dan McLauglin, the mayor of south suburban Orland Park. City Clerk Jim Laski is not running. On Oct. 2 the state Democratic Party slated Knox County State's Attorney Paul Mangieri for treasurer.

The early outlook: Mangieri is unknown in the Cook County media market, and his pro-life views on abortion will estrange him from liberal voters. He's going nowhere.

The candidate to watch is Flores, age 33, who in 2003 ran as an insurgent and upset pro-Daley Alderman Jesse Granato in the 1st Ward runoff by 1,573 votes, getting 59 percent of the total. Flores was one of only three aldermen elected in 2003 who were opposed by Daley's forces. He has been supportive of the mayor in his City Council votes, but he has not been welcomed into Daley's circle. In 2004, when Flores wanted to run for Granato's job as 1st Ward Democratic committeeman, Daley's organization prevailed upon U.S. Representative Luis Gutierrez (D-4), the former 26th Ward alderman and committeeman whose home had been remapped into the 1st Ward, to seek the job. Gutierrez announced, and Flores promptly withdrew.

For 2006, a treasurer's race is a win-win situation for both Flores and the Daley machine. By running statewide, Flores will generate greater exposure and name identification, which will aid him in his 2007 re-election bid in his ward, and if he wins, it gets him out of Chicago politics and onto the statewide track, which aids Daley and enables him to appoint a new 1st Ward alderman.

If Clayborne runs, he will have solid backing from his black base, in both Chicago and Downstate. If Clayborne beats Flores in the primary, the alderman's credibility will take a huge hit, which could make him vulnerable in 2007. However, Clayborne's Senate term is up in 2006, so a treasurer's bid is an up-or-out proposition.

"The In-and-Out Man." It may not be a record, but Eric Leys' candidacy for state senator in the northwest suburban 34th District is noteworthy for its brevity. Incumbent Dave Sullivan of Park Ridge resigned in September, and the Republican township committeemen from the district thereafter appointed Cheryl Axley, the Elk Grove Township GOP committeeman, as his successor. Leys, the 25-year-old president of the Maine Township High School District 207 Board, promptly announced his candidacy, brandishing support from Maine Township Supervisor Bob Dudycz and Highway Commissioner Bob Provenzano, who head the party's more conservative faction in the township.

A nasty, bitter, ideologically and geographically divisive primary loomed. Provenzano is challenging Committeeman Mark Thompson in the 2006 primary, and Thompson is backing Axley. This strife would have helped Dan Kotowski, the Democratic candidate. But in late October Leys pulled the plug and endorsed Axley, who likely will be unopposed in the primary.

Contrary to rumor, Leys will not run for state representative against incumbent Rosemary Mulligan (R-65), a strong pro-choicer. The major beneficiary of Leys' decision is Provenzano. Without a state Senate primary to boost voter interest, and without abortion as an issue to bring out Mulligan backers, the turnout in the Republican committeeman's race will be light. Thompson won in 2002 by 153 votes in a turnout of 8,857. If turnout is under 7,500 in 2006, Provenzano will win, and if the Provenzano-Dudycz forces control the township Republican apparatus, Leys will be in an excellent position to challenge Mulligan in 2008.

"The Stealth Man." Larry Andolino is a young lawyer in a hurry to grab some judicial robes. The 36-year-old Andolino, who has been an attorney since 1995, works for the Vrdolyak Law Group, headed by controversial former alderman Ed Vrdolyak.

Despite his sparse credentials, Andolino ran for judge in 2004 in the 11th Judicial Subcircuit, which encompasses the Northwest Side 36th and 38th wards, Leyden Township, Oak Park and some West Side precincts. He was slated by the Democratic committeemen in the sub-circuit - conclusive evidence that Vrdolyak still has considerable clout among Democrats.

It will be recalled that Vrdolyak, as 10th Ward alderman, led the opposition to Mayor Harold Washington from 1983 to 1987. He retired in 1987 and ran for mayor as the Solidarity Party candidate. In 1988 he switched to the Republicans and ran for Circuit Court clerk. Despite that odyssey, Vrdolyak is still a key behind-the-scenes player in local political and legal circles.

Andolino's opponent in 2004 was Paula Daleo, a Chicago attorney backed by U.S. Representative Danny Davis' organization. Because Andolino had not been an attorney for at least 10 years, he was found "unqualified" by every bar association. Committeemen Bill Banks (36th) and P.J. Cullerton (38th) delivered 60-40 margins in their wards for Andolino, but he lost by more than 2-1 in Oak Park and the predominantly black wards, and he barely won Leyden Township. Overall, he triumphed by 36 votes, but Daleo filed a challenge, alleging fraud and intimidation by Andolino-supporting precinct captains in absentee ballot procurement. With subpoenas out for many of Banks' captains and with a trial looming, Andolino conceded, thereby avoiding the possibility of a finding of fraud.

Andolino is running again in 2006, and he is sweating out a possible primary. His worst nightmare: A female candidate from Oak Park. Bettina Gembala, who was an aide to Aurie Pucinski when she was clerk of court, was appointed an associate judge in 2003 and lives in the sub-circuit. If she runs, using her incumbency and court system experience, she would reap most media and bar association endorsements. All it would take to put her over the top is one negative mass mailing to Oak Park and black voters with six magical words: "Larry Andolino works for Ed Vrdolyak." Andolino will get on the bench only by stealth, which means having no opponent.

"The New Man." Cal Sutker, age 82, has had a long and distinguished career. He has been Niles Township Democratic committeeman since 1973, was a state representative for 5 years, and was a county commissioner for 8 years. During his long reign, Republicans have essentially vanished as a political factor in the township.

However, Sutker lost his bid for re-nomination for commissioner in 2002 to Larry Suffredin of Evanston by 4,427 votes. Sutker carried his township with 60.4 percent of the vote, but Suffredin won Evanston with 75.2 percent. Sutker has announced his retirement from the post, and he is backing state Representative Lou Lang (D-16) as his replacement. Lang explored a 2006 race for governor against Blagojevich, and he is the president of Sutker's organization. Lang is part of the House Democratic leadership and, at age 55, has a long career ahead of him. Rumors abounded that a Suffredin-backed candiate would run against Sutker, but Lang will be much more difficult to beat.

"The No-Petition Man." Frank Coconate, the chairman of the Northwest Democratic Organization, who is backing Jesse Jackson Jr. for mayor in 2007, will soon be opening a campaign headquarters in Jefferson Park. Coconate claims to be fielding 2006 Democratic primary candidates for state senator, state representative, county commissioner and state central committeeman. "There's nobody out there (passing petitions) for him," said state Senator Jim DeLeo (D-10), who Coconate promised to oppose. Is Coconate all talk, and no action? We'll soon find out.

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Copyright © 2011 Russ Stewart, Attorney at Law
 (11/23/2006 10:57)