February 5, 2003


There are two ways to view the 41st Ward aldermanic race, in which three-term incumbent Brian Doherty faces four opponents:

First, there's the conventional wisdom that Doherty was really re-elected last Nov. 5, when his political ally, state Representative Mike McAuliffe (R-20), stomped Democrat Bob Bugielski in the 41st Ward and effectively terminated the nascent aldermanic campaign of John Malatesta, Bugielski's campaign manager. Without an opponent backed by and funded by any ward Democratic organization, Doherty will win on Feb. 25 in a laugher.

Second, those contrarious souls in the ward, especially Doherty's four foes, believe that there is a volcanic amount of discontent, just waiting to erupt. The "Ferocious Four" -- Doherty's backers call them the "Feeble Four" -- believe that they are making progress in spreading the Doherty-must-go message, in a manner reminiscent of the Chinese proverb of death by a thousand cuts. Each of the candidates -- Mike Marzullo, Gloria Jean Sykes, Shari Centrone and Wayne Dembowski -- has a small base, be it geographic, gender or ethnic. They are all working to expand it. And they are all cutting at Doherty.

The question is: Can the "Ferocious Four," in aggregate, amass more than 50 percent of the vote and force Doherty into an April runoff? It happened 12 years ago, when Doherty, then an obscure aide to the late state Representative Roger McAuliffe, forced Alderman Roman Pucinski into a runoff and beat him. But there are two huge differences between 1991 and 2003: First, Pucinski had been alderman for 18 years and had alienated too many constituents; voters were ready for a change. They're not ready now. And second, Pucinski had seven foes, and together they amassed almost 58 percent of the vote. Doherty got only 31 percent of the vote in the first race, to Pucinski's 42 percent, but he then stunned the incumbent 54-46 in the runoff. Doherty's support level is not as low as was Pucinski's.

Nestled in Chicago's far northwest corner, the 41st Ward has long been a bastion of conservatism. Doherty is the City Council's only Republican, and the ward has had a Republican alderman for 22 of the past 40 years. Black and liberal candidates generally do not run well in the ward, but there is a sizable Democratic base. Carol Moseley-Braun lost the ward by 4,000 votes in 1998, but Al Gore won it by more than 1,000 votes in 2000.

On local issues, the ward's majority view can be succinctly put: For a cap on property taxes. Against school busing. For school choice. Against multi-unit housing development in R-1 and R-2 areas.

And when it comes to Mayor Rich Daley, a lot of voters in the ward hate his guts. According to Doherty, the 41st Ward has almost 3,000 current or retired police officers and more than 1,000 current or retired firefighters as residents, plus there may be another 3,000 city workers living in the ward. Daley's implacable opposition to police union contract demands, his refusal to approve a firefighters contract, and his recent layoff of city workers have created a pool of discontent. But almost everybody else in the ward thinks the mayor is just swell.

Nevertheless, a Daley endorsement is a mixed blessing, and Daley has not endorsed Doherty. "I do not expect the mayor's endorsement," Doherty said. Marzullo charged that Daley sent workers into the ward to help Doherty in 1995 and 1999 and that Doherty "is the mayor's guy."

Doherty said that his record "merits another term" and that he has "kept his pledge" by voting against every attempt by the City Council to raise property taxes; he did, however, vote for eight of the past 11 city budgets, and he did not vote either way on the recent aldermanic pay hike. Doherty acknowledged that many developers are eyeing the ward and that zoning issues are one of his top priorities.

Specifically, Doherty noted that he created a ward zoning advisory board, which meets monthly. He said that he helped to block construction of condominiums at Harlem-Bryn Mawr and that he has delayed redevelopment of the Health Mart property at Niagara-Northwest Highway. He also said that he worked to stop tear-downs, which usually result in a much larger structure, by backing a city ordinance which pegs the floor area ratio to the size of the lot (not more than 35 percent) and which limits lot subdivision.

On infrastructure, Doherty takes credit for two new libraries in the ward, the new 16th District police station, a new Norwood Park railway station, national landmark status for Old Norwood Park, and new parking spaces in Edison Park. A new Edison Park railway station, with 36 additional parking spaces, is in the works. Doherty said that he has "worked hard to increase the viability of the retail districts" in Edgebrook, Norwood Park and Edison Park. On providing city services -- an issue on which all his foes charge that he is deficient -- Doherty said that more than 95 percent of the ward's streets have been repaved since 1991, that 5,000 trees have been planted, and that Edgebrook has been streescaped.

"School reform is working," Doherty said. "Four of our grammar schools are among the best in the state. Taft is getting better. And crime is the lowest of any ward in the city."

Doherty prides himself on his attentiveness to the needs of police and firefighters: "I backed an ordinance to limit individual officers' liability in civil lawsuits. I opposed huge city payouts in settlements. I pushed for hepatitis coverage. I opposed reduced manning in trucks and ambulances. I backed a fee exemption for gun registration for retired officers."

Yet the "Ferocious Four" all chorus that the ward just ain't getting good service -- both constituent service from Doherty and city services to maintain the ward. Marzullo talks incessantly about "street sweeping" -- or, specifically, the lack thereof in the ward. "In every other Northwest Side ward, the streets get swept eight times a year. In the 41st Ward, it's once a year, and sometimes not at all. Every other ward has two (steet sweepers), but we have only one." The most active of the "Four," Marzullo has been campaigning since last August, and he said that he has "knocked on thousands of doors" while walking precincts. Marzullo, who lives in the Higgins-Harlem area, has worked for the city water department for 19 years.

Marzullo also blasted Doherty as being "ineffective" and "lacking influence" in City Hall. "The ward ranks among the bottom 15 percent of city wards in terms of city spending, yet we rank near the top in terms of per capita taxation," Marzullo said. "And Doherty is doing nothing to correct that situation." Marzullo also slammed the "understaffing" of police patrols and their "long response" time for emergency calls. He said that the ward "needs new sewers, not rainblockers."

Sykes and Centrone both are from Norwood Park. Centrone lives near Our Savior Lutheran School, which was sold to the Norwood Park Home; the home had planned to demolish the school buildings for expansion, but those plans are on hold. Doherty incurred the wrath of some residents of the area when it was perceived that he backed the Norwood Home's plans. Centrone, an executive with a marketing company, said that she will "establish a communicative" aldermanic office and "upgrade" aldermanic services. Sykes, a Norwood Park native who spend several years as a writer in California, rapped Doherty for "not listening" and for "doing things first without getting community input." Sykes called the Norwood Park train station a "$2 million dollar fiasco" and said that it is "still not open." Like Marzullo, Sykes criticized Doherty's support of the rainblocker system.

Dembowski, a police officer who lives around Olympia Park, said that Doherty "only takes care of the privileged few," noting that he "raised his own salary" but "opposed a pay hike for police and a contract for firefighters." Dembowski pledged to have satellite aldermanic offices if elected.

My prediction: As Doherty proved in 1991, you can beat somebody with nobody, provided that the "nobody" has money and manpower and the "somebody" is unpopular. Doherty is not unpopular, and none of the "Ferocious Four" has money or manpower. In the 1991 primary, turnout was 22,034, and Doherty got 6,758 votes; turnout zoomed to 25,480 in the runoff, and Doherty got 13,782 votes. Turnout in 1995 was 16,397, and Doherty got 12,469 votes. In 1999 turnout was 19,004, and Doherty got 14,182 votes. Note that Doherty's support level has not declined. In those three elections, turnout was high because there was a mayoral race in which Daley faced a black opponent. This year, with Daley facing only a minor black foe, turnout will be low.

In the 2002 election, McAuliffe beat Bugielski by 10,188-6,109 in the ward -- and the Feb. 25 results will be a replication. Voters aren't paying much attention to the "Ferocious Four," and those that are may not be impressed. Doherty's precinct workers will pull out their vote. In a 16,000 turnout, Doherty will come in with just over 10,000 votes, to 6,000 for the "Four," with Marzullo topping the bunch.