May 28, 2003


For a few resourceful and durable Chicago politicians, retirement or ejection from powerful public office has not adversely affected their continued "clout" and occupancy of party office.

But, for at least three "Old Bull" Democratic ward committeemen -- former county assessor Tom Hynes, former County Board president George Dunne and former city parks superintendent Ed Kelly -- the end of their days as clout-heavy party functionaries may be near. Each faces a potentially difficult re-election challenge in the March 2004 Democratic primary, and one or more could lose. Here's an analysis:

19th Ward: On Chicago's Far Southwest Side, containing predominantly white Beverly, Mount Greenwood and Morgan Park and extending from 87th Street to 119th Street, between Vincennes and Cicero, the ward has the highest number per capita of ambitious and connected politicians in the city, and it has phenomenal influence with the Daley Administration. Hynes, age 64, was elected state senator in 1970, Democratic ward committeeman in 1976, Illinois Senate president in 1977 and Cook County assessor in 1978. He has been a long-time ally of Rich Daley, having served with him in the Senate, having backed him in his 1983 mayoral bid and his 1980 state's attorney race, and having gotten Daley's support to run against Mayor Harold Washington as an independent in 1987, when he quit the before the election.

Hynes resigned as assessor in 1997, and he turned his focus to more familial pursuits, especially the political advancement of his son, Dan Hynes, whom he got slated and elected as state comptroller in 1998. Tom Hynes is now Illinois' Democratic national committeeman, which expands his influence to Washington. His focus on state and national Democratic matters seems to have estranged him from the more mundane political maneuverings in the 19th Ward.

The 19th Ward's pinnacle of clout is the triumvirate which consists of Hynes, Cook County Sheriff Mike Sheahan, who was an alderman from 1979 until his election as sheriff in 1990, and mega-lobbyist Jeremiah Joyce, who upset an incumbent's organization to win a special election for alderman in 1975 and who was elected a state senator in 1978, serving in Springfield until 1992. While Hynes is still king of the hill in his ward, the ebb and flow of ambition among a slew of 19th Ward players has put his 2004 re-election as committeeman in jeopardy, with both Sheahan and Joyce's son, state Representative Kevin Joyce, angling to dispossess him of his perch on the hill. Here's what's happening, and it takes a scorecard to keep track:

The next generation of 19th Ward pro-Daley, Irish-American politicians is bursting to take charge, and their leaders are multiplying. Tom Dart, who was a state representative from 1993 until 2002, when he lost a bid for state treasurer, is still smarting from the aftermath of his defeat. Dart was the roommate of Governor Rod Blagojevich when Blagojevich was a state representative during the 1993-96 period. Dart supported him for governor in 2002, and he expected to be appointed as director of the Illinois state police, which would have given him the credibility to run for Cook County sheriff in 2006. Instead, Blagojevich offered Dart the directorship of the Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority -- a virtually invisible and politically useless sinecure, which Dart rejected.

With Dart reportedly very unhappy about Blagojevich's refusal to name him to a major state post, Sheahan came to Dart's rescue and appointed him as his $98,000-a-year chief of staff in the sheriff's office. The presumption now is that Sheahan will run for County Board president in 2006, when incumbent John Stroger is expected to retire, and that Dart will run to succeed Sheahan as sheriff.

But back in the 19th Ward, the political situation is as murky as ever. When Sheahan was elected sheriff in 1990, both he and Hynes backed Ginger Rugai as his aldermanic successor. She won easily in 1991, 1995 and 1999, but in 2003 she had tough competition from John Somerville, an attorney who ran Dart's statewide campaign for treasurer. The rumor was that Dart encouraged Somerville to run because he was miffed at the alleged failure of Tom and Dan Hynes to exert themselves on Dart's behalf in the treasurer's race, which he lost to Republican incumbent Judy Baar Topinka by 1,879,867-1,475,322, a margin of 404,545 votes. Since Dart was the only Democrat to lose statewide in 2002, his defeat was especially embarrassing.

After Somerville announced, Dart endorsed Rugai, as did Daley, both Hyneses and Sheahan, but the Joyces were uninvolved, and they made no endorsement. Despite her overwhelming organizational support, which included the infusion into the ward of more than 1,000 campaign workers, Rugai beat Somerville by a margin of only 2,796 votes, 10,701-7,905. Quite clearly, there is discontent with Rugai, and, by implication, with her backers such as Dan Hynes.

The bottom line: Both Sheahan and Dart have countywide ambitions for 2006. Tom Hynes has statewide ambitions for his son in 2004. The Hyneses cannot afford a divisive fight for dominance in the 19th Ward in 2004, so expect Tom Hynes to step aside as committeeman in favor of Kevin Joyce, whose agenda will be to promote Dan Hynes in 2004, Sheahan and Dart in 2006, and himself for re-election to the Illinois House. The next "king" of the 19th Ward will be Jeremiah Joyce.

42nd Ward: Much as he might resist the accolade, George Dunne is the Strom Thurmond of Chicago and Cook County politics. Dunne has been Democratic committeeman of the Lakefront 42nd Ward since 1961, he was a county commissioner from 1960 to 1990, and he was the Cook County Board president from 1968 to 1990. According to sources, Dunne, who would be age 91 when he seeks re-election as committeeman in 2004, he is running for yet another term as committeeman.

The ward, which encompasses the city's Loop, Gold Coast, north Rush Street and south Lincoln Park, has been trending Republican in recent elections, as younger, affluent, conservative voters move in. Al Gore beat George Bush by 19,127-10,972 in 2000, but Democrats Blagojevich and Lisa Madigan (for attorney general) won the ward by roughly 3,000 votes in 2002.

Alderman Burt Natarus, age 69, first elected in 1971 and a longtime Dunne ally and protege, won in 1995 with 51.3 percent of the vote, in 1999 with 56 percent and again in 2003 with 56 percent, topping Rich Gordon, the ward's Republican committeeman, by just 1,162 votes. Gordon is set to run again in 2007, and the Dunne-Natarus organization clearly is in decline.

Dunne's hold on the ward is very tenuous. In 2000 he beat Patty Young, a Metropolitan Water Reclamation District commissioner, who said she ran because of the "failure of the Democrats to slate more women for office," by 3,226-2,209. Young also ran in that primary for clerk of the Circuit Court, finishing a distant third. In 1996 Dunne was opposed by businesswoman Kathryn Kinnerk, and he beat her 3,205-2,202 - almost the same margin as in 2000.

The bottom line: Young will not run against Dunne in 2004 because she has been remapped out of the ward. Young claims that Dunne colluded with Alderman Dick Mell, the City Council's remap chairman, and with the council's insiders to remap her into the 2nd Ward.

Natarus got 5,540 votes in 2003, which proves that the Democratic base vote exceeds 5,000. Dunne's core vote exceeds 3,000. Somebody will oppose him in 2004, but Dunne will win again.

47th Ward: Kelly was once a powerhouse in city politics, as general superintendent of the Chicago Park District from 1973 to 1986. But that was long ago. Kelly, age 78, has suffered the fate of most political mentors: He groomed and used his organization to elect an alderman, and that alderman, Gene Schulter, has now turned on him, attempting to assert his own dominance in the ward.

Schulter, age 55, was first elected in 1975 with Kelly's backing, beating incumbent Republican John Hoellen. Schulter was a loyal cog in Kelly's political machine, but in 2000 he rebelled and ran against Kelly for Democratic committeeman, losing 2,619-2,539, a margin of just 80 votes.

Kelly attempted to exact retribution in 2003, but Schulter crushed Jack Lydon, who was backed by Kelly, by 7,714-4,319 -- a major blowout. "He ran his own campaign his own way," said Kelly as a lame excuse. "I wasn't involved. But he still got a lot of votes, so it means that Schulter is not popular."

Schulter said he is likely to run for committeeman in 2004, and Kelly said that he is undecided about his 2004 plans. My prediction: Kelly won't run, and Schulter will win the job by default in 2004.

(Next week: a look at other ward committeeman contests.)