September 25, 2002


History is poised to repeat itself in Chicago’s Northwest Side 20th Illinois House District. The contest between the more energetic Republican incumbent, Mike McAuliffe, and the more sedentary Democratic incumbent, Bob Bugielski, occasioned by redistricting, is a case of déjà vu all over.

Twenty years ago, in 1982, when the Illinois House contracted from 177 to 118 members, McAuliffe’s father, then-State Representative Roger McAuliffe, a Republican, was mapped into the same Northwest Side district with then-State Representative Roman Kosinski, a Democrat. Roger McAuliffe, then age 44, was the hungrier and more energetic of the two, and out-hustled and out-campaigned the more sedentary Kosinski, then age 56.

1982 was not an auspicious year for Republicans. The country was in an economic recession. Republican Governor Jim Thompson was re-elected by just 5,074 votes. And McAuliffe beat Kosinski by just 607 votes.

2002 looms as an equally inauspicious year for Republicans. Jim Ryan is trailing Rod Blagojevich for governor, and Democrats are likely to capture both chambers of the state legislature, and most, if not all, statewide offices. But young McAuliffe, age 38, who succeeded to his father’s seat in 1996 when Roger McAuliffe drowned in a boating accident, is likely to narrowly beat Bugielski, age 55, who has served in Springfield since 1986.

In any political contest, five key criteria determine the outcome: demographics, campaign ability, name identification, issues, and precinct (and election day) coverage. McAuliffe has a definite edge in the first four of those five.

The Democratic-controlled remap created the 20th District for longtime Democratic State Representative Ralph Capparelli, the deputy majority leader and 41st Ward Democratic Committeeman. The district is basically a rectangle, running from Touhy to Belmont, between Nagle and Cumberland, with a slight jut into Niles.  The area north of Lawrence and west of Canfield, where McAuliffe lives, was put into a suburban district, and Bugielski’s home, around Belmont-Central, was placed in a Hispanic-majority district. But Capparelli, a close buddy of Bugielski, chose to run in the 19th District, just to the east, thereby enabling Bugielski to file in the 20th District, as did McAuliffe. A candidate need only be a district resident after his election.

Of the district’s 122 precincts, 49 are in the 41st Ward, 35 are in the 36th Ward, six are in the 38th Ward, 25 are in Norwood Park Township (Norridge and Harwood Heights), one is in Niles Township, and six are in Maine Township.

Bugielski’s base is the 36th Ward, and his mentor and clout is 36th Ward Alderman and Democratic Committeeman Bill Banks, a powerful City Hall insider, close ally of Mayor Rich Daley, and chairman of the council’s Zoning committee. To win, Bugielski must win the 36th Ward by better than 65 percent, break even in Norwood Park Township, and get not less than 45 percent in the 41st Ward.

McAuliffe’s base is in the 41st Ward, where he is the Republican Committeeman. His chief ally is popular 41st Ward Alderman Brian Doherty, who is his campaign manager. To win, McAuliffe must carry the 41st Ward by at least 60-40, keep Bugielski under 65 percent in the 36th Ward, and get close to 55 percent in Norwood Park Township.

Demographically, the 41st Ward comprises a larger share of the district than does the 36th Ward: 49 precincts versus 35. That helps McAuliffe. Also, of the 20th District’s 122 precincts, 60 are from McAuliffe’s old 14th District, compared to just 30 from Bugielski’s old 19th District. The remaining 32 precincts are from Capparelli’s old 13th District, with 25 of those in the 41st Ward, and the rest in the suburbs. Demographically, much more of McAuliffe’s base is in the new district than is Bugielski’s, so give McAuliffe a definite edge here.

In terms of name recognition, the McAuliffe name is far better known. Roger McAuliffe was state representative from 1973 until 1996, and was 38th Ward Republican Committeeman from 1968 until his death. Young McAuliffe was born and raised in the area around Shabbona Park; that area was moved from the 38th to the 36th Ward in the 1991 city remap. McAuliffe expects to do well in that area. Bugielski, despite his 16 years of incumbency, never had a serious primary challenge, or serious Republican challenger. As such, he never had any reason to campaign hard or broaden his name identification.

Bugielski’s chief asset is his Polish-American name. The 20th District has a large Polish-American population, and leaders of that ethnic group are solidly behind Bugielski. After the March primary defeats of Ted Lechowicz, Mike Wojcik, and Nancy Kaszak, Bugielski is the only remaining Northwest Side officeholder of Polish ancestry. But areas of the 20th District, like Edison Park, have a huge numbers of voters of Irish ancestry.  So a demographic edge goes to McAuliffe, and Bugielski’s Polish ethnicity appeal is neutralized by McAuliffe’s Irish appeal.

Ditto for campaign ability. McAuliffe won an extremely tough 1996 race by just 1,895 votes over Tom Needham, an attorney and protégé of Daley. McAuliffe spent $346,917 to Needham’s $256,227. McAuliffe won with 66.5 percent in 1998, and with 61.7 percent in 2000. One key to McAuliffe’s success is that he spends the bulk of his time walking precincts; in this year’s contest, he spends eight hours a day knocking on doors. Bugielski said that he “has been spending a lot of time” working precincts, “especially in the 41st Ward. I’ve gotten a good reception.” But Bugielski had quadruple heart by-pass surgery last winter, and is no physical dynamo. On campaign ability and sheer energy, a definite edge goes to McAuliffe – as it did in 1982, for his father.

In terms of finances, both are on equal footing. McAuliffe is well-funded, both through his personal fundraising, and by the Springfield House Republican Campaign Committee. He will spend over $350,000, and will have over eight direct mailings. Banks’ 36th Ward campaign fund has nearly $1 million, as does Capparelli’s House account. Speaker Mike Madigan is focusing on daughter Lisa’s run for attorney general, and he has reportedly told Bugielski not to expect any Springfield money. Nevertheless, Bugielski has already sent out one general mailing, and one senior citizen mailing. He will likely have six more, and his race will cost over $500,000.

On the last two criteria – issues and precinct coverage – the differences between McAuliffe and Bugielski are both stark and critical. McAuliffe is a strident social and fiscal conservative, and, like Capparelli (and his father before him), is on record as never voting for any tax or spending hike. Bugielski, who represented for 16 years a barbell-shaped district running from Cicero to Cumberland, between Belmont and Fullerton, with the west end extending from Irving Park to Cortland, and the east end from Montrose to Palmer, voted for numerous tax and spending hikes.

According to McAuliffe, Bugielski voted for a grand total of $8.3 billion in 16 tax or fee hikes over the past 15 years, including five votes to increase or make permanent a hike in the state income tax; nine votes to hike taxes on liquor, cigarettes, fuel, telecom, and insurance policies; one vote to hike license plate fees; and one vote to “decouple” state from federal taxes (resulting in higher state taxes).

Bugielski offers a lame excuse: “I was in a different district,” he said, “and the economy demanded it. I will oppose any future tax increases” Excuse me, but do voters in the Belmont-Central area support tax hikes, while those farther Northwest oppose them?  According to Bugielski, they did, and that’s why he voted for them. I’m sure that the fact that Bugielski had a safe seat had nothing to do with it. “He (Bugielski) was under the thumb of (Speaker) Madigan, and voted as he was told,” said McAuliffe. “How can we trust him (Bugielski) to vote against tax hikes when, in the past, he voted for them?”

Bugielski’s  assertion that “the economy warranted” a tax hike is equally lame, if not disingenuous. The last recession was 1989-92, and Bugielski voted for seven tax hikes during that span; but he then voted for eight tax/fee hikes during the 1993-2000 period, when the economy was booming, and one during 2001, when the economy declined. Expect an avalanche of McAuliffe mailings blasting Bugielski as a tax-hiker, and as the “8.3 billion-dollar man.” On the Northwest Side, that’s a silver bullet.

Bugielski’s only advantage is in precinct coverage. Banks’ workers will be six-deep in the 36th Ward, and Capparelli claims that he will have Bugielski workers in “every 41st Ward precinct.” In the March Democratic primary, which Bugielski won with 10,544 votes (53.4 percent), he faced two 41st Ward contenders: Frank Coconate (who lost to McAuliffe in 2000), who had 5,443 votes, and Lou Giovannetti, who had 3,740 votes. In the primary, Bugielski had upwards of six workers in every 20th District precinct, including in-poll checkers, outside leafleters, plus drivers and “runners” who knock on the doors of as-yet non-voters.

Bugielski is counting on Banks’ workers to carry him in the 36th Ward. He is counting on Norwood Park Township Democratic Committeeman Robert Martwick to carry him in that township; Martwick’s son, Rob Martwick, is running for Cook County Commissioner in the 9th District against Republican incumbent Pete Silvestri, a Doherty-McAuliffe ally, and both Banks and Capparelli are supposed to be pushing a Blagojevich-Bugielski-Martwick-Madigan slate. John Malatesta, a longtime Daley operative, is running Bugielski’s 41st Ward precinct operation, in conjunction with Capparelli. Malatesta, a former city Streets and Sanitation official, is gearing up to challenge Doherty for alderman in the February, 2003 election. He’s using the Bugielski campaign to get his precinct organization in place.

Also allegedly involved on Bugielski’s behalf in the 41st Ward is Dominic Longo’s  “Coalition for Better Government,” a roving precinct operation with 100-plus workers that was active in Blagojevich’s March primary, as well as in previous Blagojevich congressional campaigns.  Longo, a former city worker, was convicted of vote fraud in 1984. “I have many volunteers,” said Bugielski, refusing to confirm or deny Longo’s  involvement in his campaign. McAuliffe expects to have workers in every precinct.

My prediction: Despite the inauspiciousness of 2002 for Republicans, McAuliffe will win. Bugielski’s tax-hike votes will devastate him in the 41st Ward, and McAuliffe will win districtwide by 900 votes – a  margin much like his father’s, 20 years ago.