March 5, 2003


In any political race, the aim of an incumbent is to both avoid collateral damage and to exhibit collateral estoppel.

In other words, the incumbent must effectively rebut and repel all challengers' attacks on his or her character and performance, so as to remain credible for future races, and the incumbent also must convincingly defeat those foes, so as to forestall future competition.

On Feb. 25, Northwest Side Aldermen Pat Levar (45th), Brian Doherty (41st), Tom Allen (38th), Gene Schulter (47th) and Berny Stone (50th) achieved those goals. All were opposed, and all won resoundingly. None had their reputations irrevocably sullied, and all won by margins big enough to give pause to potential 2007 opponents.

Among challengers, the primary goal, short of victory, is to avoid collateral estoppel -- in other words: don't lose by too large a margin, so as not to eviscerate credibility for a future race. Given the outcome of the area's ward races, none of the 2003 crop of losing challengers is credible for a second shot.

The one area non-incumbent winner, Rey Colon, pulled an upset in the Puerto Rican-majority 35th Ward, around Logan Square, where he adroitly exploited Alderman Vilma Colom's ties to political powerhouse Alderman Dick Mell (33rd), Illinois' "First Father-in-Law" (of Governor Rod Blagojevich). He also campaigned as an independent free of ties to Mayor Rich Daley. Even though Colom was backed by Daley and the powerful Hispanic Democratic Organization, and the ward's precincts were flooded with pro-Colom city workers, Hispanic voters sent a clear message: They want an alderman who is not a stooge of Mell or Daley. Here's an analysis of area contests:

45th Ward: For Levar, to use sports vernacular, it was a matter of winning ugly, as Levar's workers waged a frenzied but effective campaign, calling in a lot of IOUs. The incumbent avoided collateral damage, and his 65 percent victory should ensure collateral estoppel. But, nevertheless, some candidates are already planning to take on Levar in 2007.

Both Levar, who has served for 16 years, and 45th Ward Democratic Committeeman Tom Lyons, viewed the 2003 race as mortal combat. Paranoia about a credible challenge surfaced early. Lyons' precinct captains got more than 13,000 signatures on Levar's nominating petitions. Lyons' lawyer succeeded in knocking several candidates off the ballot, and 16th District police officer Mike Lappe withdrew after being challenged. Lyons' workers were relentless in identifying pro-Levar voters.

The Lyons-Levar operation treated their remaining foes -- Pete Conway and Bruce Best -- as though they were the invading Iraqi army. According to Conway, his lawn signs disappeared in the blink of an eye. Lest he made any verbal blunder, Levar refused to make any joint appearances with his foes. According to Conway and Lappe, Lyons' precinct captains made the rounds with a "list" -- an itemization of everybody who ever got a favor or a city service -- and they reminded residents of that fact, and of the fact that they might need help in the future. And on Feb. 25, Lyons' workers, who numbered five or more in every precinct, got their pro-Levar vote to the polls. The result was that the opposition was obliterated.

Conway tried to portray Levar as ineffectual, but he lacked the money and manpower to get his message across. Best never was a factor.

Levar came in with 8,667 votes (65 percent), roughly double Conway's 4,475, with Best coming in last with 261 votes, in a turnout of 13,403. Levar's foes can be encouraged by the fact that his 2003 vote total is the lowest of any of his aldermanic campaigns. He got 15,615 votes in 1987, 15,850 in 1991, 10,842 in 1995 and 14,199 in 1999 (when he has unopposed). The 2003 race much resembles that of 1995, when Levar faced three foes, and they got a combined 4,952 votes, almost identical to the 2003 field's 4,736. However, Levar got almost 2,200 fewer votes in 2003 than in 1995.

Levar's backers, however, are heartened by the fact that when he lost a bid for the Democratic nomination for clerk of the Circuit Court, he got 6,883 votes (66.3 percent) in the ward, and he got almost 1,800 more in 2003. So this much is clear: There is a built-in floor of about 9,000 votes that Lyons can deliver to his anointed aldermanic choice, and there is a built-in reservoir of about 5,000 voters who will vote against Levar in the future. Conway and Lappe will be back for another crack in 2007, but neither can win unless they can generate a ward turnout of more than 18,000.

41st Ward: Like in the 45th Ward, Alderman Brian Doherty's "Ferocious Four" field of opponents -- Mike Marzullo, Gloria Jean Sykes, Shari Centrone and Wayne Dembowski -- verbally assaulted him at every opportunity, blaming him for every ill imaginable. But, unlike Levar and Lyons, Doherty didn't get anxious or paranoid; instead, he ignored his foes, ran a low-key campaign, imported a lot of campaign workers from Leyden Township, and won a stunning triumph.

Doherty amassed an impressive 10,777 votes (73 percent), in a turnout of 14,788; Marzullo finished a very distant second with 1,955 votes (13 percent), followed by Sykes (1,206), Dembowski (442) and Centrone (408). The total anti-Doherty vote amounted to 4,011 -- hardly a testimonial to any great disenchantment with the incumbent. In fact, Doherty's 2003 vote was almost identical to that received by his ally, state Representative Mike McAuliffe (R-20), in his hard-fought 2002 contest with Democrat Bob Bugielski. Despite a legion of troops sent into the ward from 36th Ward Alderman Bill Banks' organization, McAuliffe carried the 41st Ward by 10,188-6,109. McAuliffe's win effectively sealed Doherty's re-election.

To be sure, Doherty's 2003 vote is lower than in his past two re-election bids, but so was the turnout this year. Doherty got 14,182 votes in 1999 (to his foe's 4,822) in a turnout of 19,004, and he got 12,469 votes in 1995 (to his foes' 3,928) in a turnout of 16,397. But there is no longer a viable Democratic organization in the 41st Ward, and it looks like there is a solid pro-Doherty base vote of 10,000 and a solid anti-Doherty base vote of 4,000. The alderman looks intimidating to any 2007 challenger.

47th Ward: This was a grudge match between incumbent Schulter and ward Democratic Committeeman Ed Kelly. But it wasn't much of a match, as Schulter easily demolished Kelly's candidate, Jack Lydon, by 7,714-4,319, getting 64 percent of the vote. The Ravenswood-area ward is undergoing significant demographic changes, with an influx of upscale residents buying pricey properties. But Lydon failed to articulate a reason to oust Schulter, and Kelly's crude criticisms of Schulter backfired. Voters are concerned about services (which Schulter has provided), not about political bickering. Kelly beat Schulter for committeeman in 2000 by 4,841-4,706.

The 2003 result clearly shows that Kelly's anti-Schulter base vote is in the range of 4,500, and that Schulter is reasonably popular. Schulter will try to take out Kelly again in 2004, and the 2003 outcome bodes ill for Kelly. If Kelly is ousted, Schulter will be safe as alderman for the foreseeable future.

50th Ward: Stone has proven to be an enduring fixture in this polyglot West Rogers Park ward. However, given that Stone is age 75, he may have won his last term, defeating Tom Morris by 5,755-1,803, with 76 percent of the vote. Stone was unopposed in 1999, and he got 7,445 votes. In 1995 he faced two foes and got 5,676 votes (57 percent), and in 1991 he faced a single strong opponent and got 8,654 votes (56 percent). It is apparent that there is a built-in pro-Stone vote of just under 6,000 votes.

The huge number of non-voting, non-citizen Pakistani, Asian Indian, Russian Jewish, Vietnamese and Korean immigrants in the ward do not provide any anti-Stone base. Stone, who is the Democratic ward committeeman, will be able to dictate his successor in 2007.

38th Ward: Like the 47th Ward, the 38th is undergoing major demographic change, with an influx of Hispanics and an outflow of ethnic whites, primarily Poles. But Allen has proven to be enduring, and he was helped by a flawed 2003 opponent. Allen beat Chicago police officer Chester Hornowski by an overwhelming 7,024-847, getting 89 percent of the vote. Hornowski generated headlines when he allegedly took photos while on duty of the home of Mell's foe, Deb Gordils. Hornowski denied it, but his campaign was invisible. Allen was unopposed in 1999, and he got 8,498 votes (65 percent) in 1995, his first re-election bid. Allen is closely allied with Democratic Committeeman Patty Jo Cullerton, and his base vote is in the realm of at least 6,000; he won't be beaten in 2007.


Next week: An analysis of the results in the area Hispanic-majority wards.


45th Ward: Levar 8,667


Conway 4,475


Best 261


41st Ward: Doherty 10,777


Marzullo 1,955 13
Sykes 1,206 8
Dembowski 442 3
Centrone 408 3
47th Ward: Schulter 7,714 64
Lydon 4,319 36
50th Ward: Stone 5,755 76
Morris 1,803 24
38th Ward: Allen 7,024 89
Hornowski 847 1