according to an old proverb, no good deed goes
unpunished, then the obverse is that no bad deed
47th Ward alderman Gene Schulter is the exception.
By bungling his aldermanic succession and fumbling
his attempt to secure appointment to Joe Berrios'
vacancy on the Board of Review, Schulter proved
that deceitful deeds are punished and boneheaded
judgment is not rewarded.
as if a glutton for more punishment, Schulter is
poised to embark on another journey into the
quagmire of political fantasy, subjecting himself
to yet another humiliation. According to sources
in the 47th Ward, Schulter will seek reelection as
the ward's Democratic committeeman and run in the
2012 primary for Board of Review commissioner from
the 2nd District. The incumbent, appointed to
replace Berrios, is Mike Cabonargi.
protege of political powerhouse Ed Kelly, Schulter
was elected alderman from the Ravenswood/Lincoln
Square ward in 1975. Although Mayor Harold
Washington ousted Kelly as Chicago Park District
superintendent in 1986, Schulter's assiduous
attention to constituent service kept him secure
in his gentrifying ward.
the early 1980s Schulter was part of the "Vrdoylak
29," the City Council majority dedicated to
thwarting Washington. However, in 1987 Schulter
had an epiphany and endorsed Washington, while
Kelly backed Tom Hynes, creating a rupture in the
47th Ward. In 2000 Schulter challenged Kelly for
committeeman, losing narrowly, and he finally
ousted him in 2004.
won reelection as alderman with 64.1 percent of
the vote in 2003 and with 78.5 percent in 2007,
Schulter looked unbeatable in this year's
election. He had $830,272 in his campaign account
at the end of last year.
at age 62, having maxed out his city pension after
36 years, Schulter decided he wanted Berrios' post
on the powerful Board of Review, which hear
appeals of assessed values set by the Cook County
Assessor's Office. Berrios, the county Democratic
chairman, was elected assessor in November,
beating independent Forrest Claypool by 220,211
votes. Claypool, who resides in the 47th Ward and
who, as a county commissioner, shared an office
with Schulter, had Schulter's endorsement -- much
to Berrios' outrage.
who resigned on Dec. 6 as a board commissioner
after he was sworn into office as assessor, had no
input into the succession. Under state law, the
chief judge of the Cook County Circuit Court, Tim
Evans, has that power. And, coincidentally, Evans
was Washington's City Council floor leader, a 1989
mayoral contender and an arch-foe of the "Vrdolyak
29." Surely Evans would pick his old council
crony, who renounced the Vrdolyakers. In addition,
Schulter's brother-in-law is Paul Biebel, chief
judge of the criminal court, who surely had
"clout" with Evans.
Evans dawdled. He asked for applications, with
more than 20 submitted. But Schulter couldn't
dawdle. He filed for reelection as alderman on
Nov. 15, and he arranged for one of his precinct
captains, Tom O'Donnell, an aide to Sheriff Tom
Dart, to file on the last day as a backup, should
Schulter get the Board of Review appointment.
Three other candidates, Ameya Pawar, Matt Reichel
and Tom Jacks, also had filed for alderman; none
was deemed formidable.
last day to withdraw was Jan. 17, and Evans had
made no pick. If Schulter was the pick, as he
expected, he would resign as alderman, but he
would still be on the February aldermanic ballot,
would generate a lot of votes, and would create
chaos in the 47th Ward, endangering O'Donnell's
seamless succession. So, in a leap of faith,
lo and behold, on Jan. 31 Evans appointed
Cabonargi, an obscure and politically unconnected
U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission senior
attorney and prosecutor, to the Berrios vacancy.
Cabonargi, who lives in Logan Square, had worked
as an aide to Democratic U.S. Senators Dick Durbin
and Paul Simon and as a law clerk to a federal
judge. But he had zero local "clout."
"Obviously, Judge Evans wanted the best
qualified candidate," Cabonargi said.
Schulter not only looked like a fool, but in the
47th Ward he was viewed as a huckster, attempting
to manipulate the system to deny voters an
opportunity to choose his replacement. Had he
honorably announced his retirement, dozens of
prominent residents of the ward would have run.
a 30-year-old Indian-American programming
assistant at Northwestern University with no roots
in the ward, got the major newspaper endorsements
and emerged as the stick-it-to-Schulter candidate.
In a stunning upset, Pawar got 8,572 votes (50.8
percent of the total cast), beating O'Donnell by
1,225 votes and winning outright. Pawar won a
majority in 32 of the ward's 52 precincts, while
O'Donnell won in eight.
was absolutely, positively a repudiation of
Schulter," said one 47th Ward precinct
captain. "These are intelligent voters, and
they were enraged and insulted."
to the future: Schulter is going to run for
reelection as committeeman, the precinct captain
predicted, since he will need a big 47th Ward vote
to defeat Cabonargi.
going to be a 'progressive' candidate for
committeeman," promised Pawar, who said he is
not interested in the job. "We will find and
I will support" a Schulter opponent, Pawar
said. He has also endorsed Cabonargi.
Pawar has been the alderman for only 3 months,
Schulter's precinct minions are already spewing
negativity throughout the ward. The accusations:
First, Pawar promised, in contrast to Schulter, to
do fund-raising only during his reelection year,
but he held a fund-raiser on the day he was sworn
in. Second, Pawar promised to forego half of his
$110,000 aldermanic salary. Since he has
substantial student loans, being in a lower salary
bracket defers payments, but the city cannot
reduce salaries on request, and Pawar gets his
pay. Third, Pawar promised to hire a
"professional engineer" as the ward
superintendent. Instead, he hired a Cook County
Forest Preserve District laborer. Fourth, Pawar is
palming off service requests to the 311 city
number instead of having his staff handle them.
false," retorts Pawar. "I promised not
to build a war chest like Gene. He had eight
staffers. I have three. I'm raising money through
the Friends of Pawar PAC so I can hire more ward
staffers. After I took office, the city needed 3
weeks to install its 311 system, and Schulter
shared no information and gave me no advice. We
now handle all inquiries.
will take 60 unpaid furlough days in 2011, which,
at $296.17 per day, means I am foregoing nearly
$18,000, and, concerning the ward superintendent,
there was minimal interest and few
applications." Eric Norton, who lives in the
ward, got the job.
2012 outlook: The county has three single-member
Board of Review districts, with roughly 1.7
million people per district. The suburban 1st
District encompasses most white areas plus parts
of the 41st, 36th and 19th wards but excludes the
North Shore and Hispanic west and predominantly
black south suburbs; it is represented by while
Republican Dan Patlak. The South Side 3rd District
is heavily black, and it is represented by black
Democrat Larry Rogers Jr.
2nd District was drawn to be safe for Berrios,
with a 30 percent Hispanic population, including
both the Southwest Side predominantly Mexican
areas and Logan Square predominantly Puerto Rican
areas. It also includes the Lakefront from
Chinatown to Kenilworth, most of the Northwest
Side, and the lower tier of north suburbs, from
Evanston west to Des Plaines.
huge fund-raising efforts stirred allegations of
pay-to-play politics, with critics accusing him of
raising money from attorneys and property owners
who benefited from board decisions. According to
statistics compiled by the Chicago Sun-Times, more
than $2 billion in assessed valuation reductions
went to 8 percent of the county's properties.
Berrios raised $2.21 from June of 2009 to December
of 2010. A new law now limits donations from
lawyers to $750.
the 2008 Democratic primary, which began Barack
Obama's march to the White House, Berrios defeated
Jay Paul Deratany, a white Lakefront liberal, by
153,053-107,889, getting 58.6 percent of the vote.
has been energetic, with 30 "outreach"
meetings in his district, at which taxpayers can
process property appeals. He has worked to make
all forms bilingual and to implement online
filing, and he encourages everybody to file an
appeal. "If you don't try, you can't
succeed," he said. "If your neighbor's
assessed valuation is lower than yours, we can
Cabonargi acknowledges that declining property
values and assessed valuations don't necessarily
mean lower taxes. It all depends on the tax levy.
"If government units don't reduce their
spending, then property taxes won't
decrease," he said.
has raised $100,000 in 5 months, and he has been
endorsed by many prominent Democrats, including
Toni Preckwinkle, Tom Dart, Anita Alvarez and John
Cullerton, but, notably, not by Berrios or any
prominent Hispanic politician or North Shore
Toia, whose family runs the Leona's restaurant
chain, and former county commissioner Joseph Mario
Moreno are likely to run in the primary, as will a
North Shore contender. In a five-candidate
contest, Schulter, provided he spends most of his
$800,000, might just blunder to victory.