Representative Mike McAuliffe (R-20), the
Northwest Side's near-legendary "Incredible
Campaigning Machine," has met his match.
renowned for the innumerable hours he's spent
walking precincts over many years, McAuliffe has a
competitor who, amazingly, works even longer and
harder: Democrat Dan Kotowski. Luckily for
McAuliffe, Kotowski ran not against McAuliffe, but
instead for state senator in an adjacent suburban
scored a humongous upset in the 33rd Illinois
Senate District, which encompasses Rosemont, Park
Ridge, Des Plaines, Mount Prospect, Elk Grove and
parts of Wheeling, Palatine and Rolling Meadows.
Kotowski beat appointed Republican incumbent
Cheryl Axley by 1,394 votes, making him the first
Democrat elected as a senator from that area since
age 39, is a "Perpetual Campaigning
Machine." His campaign strategy is simple:
door-to-door retail politics. It's more effective
than money or mailings. Kotowski said that,
beginning in February of 2005, he scheduled
himself for 5 hours of precinct work, from 3:30 to
8:30 p.m., during the week, and from 10 a.m. to 6
p.m. on weekends. That was more that 40 hours per
week, with between 50 to 75 contacts per day, or
at least 500 per week. Kotowski was a full-time
candidate, and precinct work was his full-time
job. He said he began walking Park Ridge from
Canfield westward and that by the end of 2005 had
finished Des Plaines and Mount Prospect.
"contact" was followed-up by a letter, a
phone call and then regular e-mails, and, later in
2005 or early 2006, by a repeat visit. Then there
were follow-ups by volunteers. Kotowski, a
Chicagoan by birth who moved to Park Ridge just 6
years ago, recognized that constant communication
first task was to engender a sense of interest. He
said he knocked on voters' doors and reeled off a
couple of "feel good" liberal issues,
like gun control to ensure neighborhood safety and
universal health care coverage. He criticized
Democratic Governor Rod Blagojevich's
"pay-to-play" fund-raising policies,
called for fiscal restraint and ethics reform, and
refused to endorse Blagojevich for re-election.
That made him a unique and "independent"
the first contact, Kotowski moved to the next
stage, which is voter commitment. Get the vote in
the bag. And, months later, after more
communication, the voter develops a personal stake
in the campaign and donates time and money to
ensure a victory.
March 2006 primary was a dry run for November.
Wealthy trial lawyer Jim Morici spent more than
$250,000 in a late-starting primary bid but lost
to Kotowski by 4,436-2,632. Morici never really
defined himself, and he never gave voters a reason
to vote against Kotowski. In that race Kotowski
had several notable mailings, one claiming that
the National Rifle Association had "put a
target on his back" since he was once the
executive director of the Illinois Council Against
Handgun Violence and another with a photo of a
young girl playing with a revolver near a box of
bullets. It took him a year, but Kotowski had
locked in almost 5,000 votes, or about 100 a week.
the Democratic turnout in the Kotowski-Morici race
was 7,068, which exceeded Axley's 5,818 in the
Republican primary, where she was unopposed. The
Kotowski win, coupled with the fact that he had
obviously succeeded in laying a base, should have
hoisted multiple warning flags for Axley and the
Republican leadership in the Illinois Senate. But
Park Ridge Republican has held the Senate seat for
29 of the past 40 years: Bill Carroll (1966 to
1972), Bob Kustra (1982 to 1990), who was elected
lieutenant governor in 1990, longtime Park Ridge
Mayor Marty Butler (1990 to 1998) and Dave
Sullivan, who resigned in 2005. Butler was
re-elected in 1998 with 60 percent of the vote.
Sullivan, an aide to George Ryan when he was
secretary of state, won with 60.5 percent of the
vote in 2000 and was unopposed in 2002.
33rd District includes the House seats of
Republicans Carolyn Krause (R-66), first elected
in 1992 and Mount Prospect's mayor from 1977 to
1989, and Rosemary Mulligan of Des Plaines, also
first elected in 1992 and a target of
anti-abortion conservatives. Both refused
appointment to Sullivan's seat. Axley, an
attorney, the Elk Grove Township Republican
committeeman and the township clerk from 1993 to
2005, allied with the Wheeling Township
committeeman and appointed herself in October of
into 2006, Axley had four serious problems:
she was only barely known in Elk Grove Township
and unknown in Wheeling and Maine Townships.
the Maine Township Republicans were prostrate,
with the anti-abortion conservatives led by
township Supervisor Bob Dudycz battling the pro-choicers
associated with Mulligan and township Committeeman
Mark Thompson. After nasty confrontations in 2001,
2002, 2005 and 2006, the Republican precinct
presence evaporated. The workers were gone. Dudycz,
Thompson and Mulligan all vocally backed Axley,
but there were no ground troops to support her.
Therefore, in Maine Township, Kotowski and his
volunteers were virtually unopposed.
the district's demographics are trending
Democratic. In 2000 George Bush got 51.9 percent
of the vote for president, and he got 50.5 percent
in 2004. Clearly, this is a marginal district.
fourth, Axley was a woefully inept candidate.
Unlike the intrepid Kotowski, Axley eschewed
precinct work and relied wholly on money and
mailings to secure her victory. Axley's campaign
was run by operatives of Senate Republican leader
Frank Watson, who figured that a deluge of
late-campaign mailings, attacking Kotowski as a
"Chicago liberal," would resonate with
the voters. They were sorely mistaken.
working precincts early and by regularly
communicating with voters, Kotowski successfully
inoculated himself against Axley's late attacks.
"I had contact with over 10,000 people,"
Kotowski said. "They knew me, they liked my
issue stances, and they rejected the negative
won Maine Township (Park Ridge, Des Plaines, Mount
Prospect) by 10,823-9,627, getting 52.9 percent of
the vote and carrying Park Ridge with 58 percent
of the vote. In Elk Grove Township, Axley's base,
she won by just 11,270-10,869 (50.9 percent), and
she won Wheeling Township by 4,095-3,700. Perhaps
due to both the Democratic trend and Axley's
weakness, Kotowski won Rosemont 681-571, Norwood
Park Township 1,228-954, Schaumburg 404-358 and
the 190 suburban precincts, Kotowski won
28,244-27,467, a margin of 777 votes and a share
of 50.7 percent. In the seven far Northwest Side
Chicago precincts, Kotowski won 1,069-452, a
margin of 617 votes and a share of 69.9 percent.
Kotowski's overall winning margin was 1,394 votes.
won a 2-year term and must run again in 2008.
Having more than $300,000 and having lost, Axley
must make a serious lifestyle decision: If she is
going to try again in 2008, does she want to
commit herself to 40 hours a week of grueling
precinct work? If not, she shouldn't run. And she
won't have Watson funding her again.
mastered the technique, Kotowski will replicate
his precinct-walking feat, except on the days when
he is in Springfield or the hours when he is in
the office. But even if he spends just 20 hours a
week knocking on doors, consider the impact: How
many voters have a state senator coming to their
house, asking their opinion and inquiring if they
have any needs?
Axley to take a pass, and expect Thompson to
emerge as a 2008 candidate. But the Dudycz faction
will do nothing to help him, since they are
already planning to oust Thompson as committeeman
in 2010 and Thompson is planning to oust Dudycz as
township supervisor in 2009. Could Kotowski ask
early outlook: Kotowski must be commended for his
industry and his insight. He worked ferociously
hard, and he won a race that was deemed unwinnable.
As such, he is a poster boy for outsiders
everywhere: Within reason, any local office can be
won by anybody who works hard enough and long
enough. Expect Kotowski to win again in 2008 and
to be thoroughly entrenched by 2012, when his next
District: Unlike Axley, Democrat Don Harmon is an
anointed state senator who happens to be in the
right district in the right year. An obscure Oak
Park attorney, Harmon was picked in 2002 by Phil
Rock to be his successor as township Democratic
committeeman and state senator. Harmon was
unopposed for both posts.
year, Republican Jim Rowe made a game effort and
was squashed. The district takes in most of
Republican-leaning west suburban Leyden Township,
plus heavily Democratic Oak Park and parts of the
black 29th and 37th wards. John Kerry won the
district in 2004 with 67.6 percent of the vote,
and the 2006 Senate contest was an absolute
blowout. Harmon won the Chicago precincts with
94.5 percent of the vote, carried his Oak Park
base with 85.2 percent, got 61.3 percent in Leyden
Township and won the suburbs with 71.3 percent.
is utterly unbeatable for the foreseeable future.