July 2, 2003


As voters lapse into the summer doldrums, eagerly avoiding any contemplation of Chicago and Cook County politics, the behind-the-scenes maneuvering of ambitious politicians grows ever more intense as the 2004 campaign is poised to begin.

In fact, given the plethora of politicians aiming for a new job, another job or a job promotion, one would think that the nation's unemployment is rising at a record rate. Here's a synopsis:

Where's my new job? State Representative Ralph Capparelli (D-15) has served in Springfield since 1971 and is the deputy Democratic majority leader. But he won't be back for another term unless he defeats fellow incumbent Mike McAuliffe (R-20) in 2004 in the 20th District. This unusual situation emerged when Capparelli, who is the 41st Ward Democratic committeeman, ran for re-election in 2002 in the 15th District but chose not to move into the district after his election. Now he's barred by law from running there in 2004.

So it's either take on McAuliffe or retire or get a prestigious state job in the Blagojevich Administration to justify his resignation. "They've offered me several spots and I've turned them down," Capparelli said. As of now, Capparelli said he "probably" would run for re-election.

The governor's cabinet consists of 26 major departments and agencies, with combined annual expenditures of about $30 billion. Governor Rod Blagojevich has filled 25 of these positions -- with only the Department of Professional Regulation remaining. The governor has named sitting state legislators to key posts, including state Representative Chuck Hartke as agriculture director; state Senator Larry Woolard as assistant director for economic development in Southern Illinois, state Representative Joel Brunsvold as Natural Resources director and state Representative Julie Curry as deputy chief-of-staff.

The word is Capparelli wanted to be a departmental director, not a commission member. He reportedly eyed aging, veteran's affairs and labor, but all are filled. Capparelli didn't want to resign his seat until the spring session was concluded, but he waited too long. All the cream jobs are taken. If Capparelli is still in the legislature in November, he'll have to run again. To retire without the consolation prize of a top state job would be a huge embarrassment.

*Hey, Boss, where's my state job? Alderman Dick Mell (33rd), the governor's father-in-law, is a master of the art of making promises (usually of a job after the election) to potential precinct workers, and also a master of making excuses (invariably when a job cannot be found after the election) to actual precinct workers. Mell just had his annual fund-raiser on June 20, with tickets at $100 a pop.

A lot of jobless precinct workers milled about, asking a salient question: Why can't the governor's father-in-law get any state jobs from the governor? The answer, according to Mell: "I'm working on it." While he's working on it, most disgruntled captains won't be working for him.

Where's my second job? The 2003 election brought in a fresh crop of nine new aldermen, eight of whom are already plotting to run for Democratic ward committeeman in 2004. Their reasons are threefold: First, to consolidate their new power in their ward, they need control the committeeman's job, which gives them entrée into Democratic slatemaking sessions and access to patronage jobs with county agencies. Second, they don't want somebody else in the committeeman's post who could be a future rival, or who could support a future aldermanic challenger. And third, the sitting committeeman is, in some cases, the former alderman whom they beat in February -- and now they want to finish the job.

Since Mayor Rich Daley doles out city jobs and ward services to those alderman who are supportive of him, the new aldermen have a definite edge over the former aldermen in 2004. Likely rematches include Alderman George Cardenas against Committeeman Ray Frias in the Hispanic-majority 12th Ward, Alderman Howard Brookins against Committeeman Leonard DeVille in the black-majority 21st Ward, Alderman Manny Flores against Committeeman Jesse Granato in the gentrifying, but largely Hispanic, 1st Ward, and Alderman Rey Colon against Committeeman Vilma Colom in the Puerto Rican-majority 35th Ward. Each alderman is a solid favorite.

In four other wards, the new alderman will take over effortlessly, as the incumbent committeeman will step aside: They are Ariel Reboyras in the 30th, Emma Mitts in the 37th, Latasha Thomas in the 17th and Tom Tunney in the 44th. In the South Side 8th Ward, new Alderman Todd Stroger will become committeeman if and when his father, County Board President John Stroger, so dictates.

Where's my judgeship? Back in 1992, Jim McGing, an Edison Park attorney, was the Democratic candidate for state senator in the old 7th District, facing incumbent Republican Wally Dudycz. McGing spent $273,000 in his campaign, and he lost to Dudycz by just 3,111 votes. Dudycz spent $295,000. McGing blames Capparelli for his loss, claiming that he dispatched his volunteers to other parts of the district and that he relied on Capparelli, who had ousted Roman Pucinski as 41st Ward Democratic committeeman in the 1992 primary, to carry his ward for McGing in the 1992 election. Dudycz won the 41st Ward.

McGing has worked on-and-off for Sheriff Mike Sheahan since 1992, and he currently is Sheahan's director of operations at Cook County Jail. He and Capparelli are still estranged. Now McGing wants to run for judge in the 10th subcircuit, and it is Capparelli's turn to pick the endorsed Democratic candidate. That "pick" rotates every 2 years among the committeemen in the subcircuit. Needless to say, McGing will not be Capparelli's "pick."

"He's gone to (39th Ward Committeeman Randy) Barnette for support," Capparelli said. "He hasn't asked me." McGing is pondering a run for committeeman against Capparelli if he doesn't run for judge. If McGing gets a bunch of 19th Ward and Sheahan workers to flood the 41st Ward on his behalf and knock out Capparelli, then in 2010 McGing can "pick" himself to be judge. Or, if he's committeeman, he can run for judge anyway, without having to worry about Capparelli's opposition.

Other potential candidates for ward committeeman against Capparelli are Frank Coconate, head of the Northwest Democratic Organization, Lou Giovanetti, a teacher who ran for state representative in the 2002 primary, and Mike Marzullo, a city worker who ran for alderman in 2003.

Who's the early bird, and where's the worm? In the Northwest Side 45th Ward, the 2003 re-election of Alderman Pat Levar is seen by some as simply a temporary distraction from real target: the 2007 election, when Levar presumably won't be running.

Levar, first elected in 1987, ran for his fifth term in 2003, winning with a sizable 65 percent of the vote and drawing 8,667 votes to Pete Conway's 4,475 (33 percent) and Bruce Best's 261 (2 percent). Levar raised and spent more than $200,000 on the race, to Conway's $20,000. In addition, the ward organization headed by Committeeman Tom Lyons, a longtime Daley ally who is the county Democratic chairman, deployed precinct manpower in staggering numbers, with up to six workers in most precincts.

But, just a few months into Levar's new term, the race for 2007 is already crystallizing. Conway, an investment banker, said he is "absolutely running" in 2007, and 16th District neighborhood relations police officer Mike Lappe, who withdrew from the 2003 contest after Levar challenged his petitions, also is a certain candidate.

But neither will make the mistake of onetime 45th Ward Alderman Gerry McLaughlin (1983-87), who ousted Dick Clewis, Lyons' alderman, in 1983, and then tried to oust Lyons himself in 1984. They won't take on Lyons for committeeman. "I intend to run (for re-election as committeeman) in 2004, and I intend to run for re-election as county chairman," Lyons said.

Lyons backed Daley for mayor in 1983, the only Northwest Side committeeman to do so. Had Jane Byrne been re-elected, Lyons would be history, and McLaughlin likely still would be the alderman. But Lyons persevered, beat McLaughlin in 1984, and then backed Levar, one of his top precinct captains, and ousted McLaughlin in 1987. When Daley won the mayoralty in 1989, Lyons' power was augmented and solidified in the ward, and he became county chairman in 1990. Levar has won easy re-elections in 1991, 1995, 1999 and 2003, and Lyons has been unchallenged.

So what's going on? Neither Conway nor Lappe, wisely, are running for committeeman in 2004. But both anticipate a 2007 war for the succession, perhaps pitting a son of Levar against a son of Lyons, and dividing the organization. They also anticipate the continued gentrification of Portage Park in particular, and of the ward as a whole, bringing in younger, more affluent families, of independent political leanings, who are not susceptible to persuasion by the Lyons-Levar precinct army.

If Levar retires, his son Patrick Jr., who has worked closely with his father in the aldermanic office and on campaigns, is considered a possible successor. But Lyons, age 73, who has been the ward committeeman since 1968, discounts any dynasty involving his sons, Thomas, an assistant state's attorney who is a supervisor in the office's civil division and Frank, an environmental law specialist in a Loop law fir. Both live in the suburbs. "They're not involved in ward politics," Lyons said. Tom Lyons' cousin, state Representative Joe Lyons (D-19), is the likely successor as committeeman some day, but he will stay in Springfield, where he will soon enter the Democratic leadership, rather than run for alderman. In the 45th Ward, there are no doldrums, in the summer or any other time.