August 27, 2003


Unlike the storied Douglas MacArthur, the popular general who was fired by President Harry Truman during the Korean War, veteran Northwest Side state Representative Ralph Capparelli (D-15) apparently has no intention of fading away. "I'm running for re-election," Capparelli said.

But as Capparelli, first elected in 1970, ponders using all or part of his $974,000 campaign warchest to run for an 18th term in 2004 in the 20th District, the attitude of Republican Mike McAuliffe, the incumbent state representative in the 20th District, is expressed succinctly: "If he wants to beat me, he's going to have to spend it all," said McAuliffe.

"He can't let go," one prominent area Democrat said of Capparelli. As the dean of the Illinois House, as the deputy House majority leader, and as the 41st Ward Democratic committeeman, Capparelli, age 79, has long thought himself to be indispensable. But with a Democratic governor and a 66-52 House Democratic majority, the return of Capparelli to Springfield for the 2005-06 session is a priority of absolutely nobody except Capparelli. He's now very dispensable.

For over three decades, Capparelli was safely ensconced in his Far Northwest Side district, and Springfield Democrats, including Speaker Mike Madigan, feared that if he quit the seat would go to a Republican, so they wouldn't let him go.

In 2002, after Madigan redrew legislative district lines to ensure a Democratic House majority for the next decade, Capparelli made a fateful decision. He decided to run in the adjacent 15th District, a newly created district centered on the 39th and 40th wards, rather than in the 20th District, where he lived, centered on the 41st and 36th wards and Norwood Park Township.

Capparelli ran in the 15th District, which contained part of his old 13th District, in order to let his buddy, state Representative Bob Bugielski, run in the 20th District. With Capparelli out and Bugielski in, McAuliffe opted to run in the 20th District, and not in a suburban district. McAuliffe campaigned hard, pummeled Bugielski as a tax-hiker, and won the seat by 2,583 votes. Thus, the Democrats' longtime fear was realized: Without Capparelli, they lost the seat.

Capparelli could have kept the 15th District seat forever, provided he moved into the district. But he didn't, so now, to stay in Springfield, he must beat McAuliffe.

And, as Capparelli embarks on what will be a Herculean battle, five relevant aspects must be considered:

First, Madigan and the Democrats don't need to beat McAuliffe to keep their majority, so they're not going to fund Capparelli. If Capparelli runs, he'll have to self-fund his campaign.

Second, Capparelli could retire and pay that $974,000 to himself. After paying income tax, he would net $600,000. If he runs and spends it, in effect two of every three dollars will come out of his pocket.

Third, Capparelli's great appeal has always been his fiscal and social conservatism and his aversion to supporting any tax hike. Be assured that McAuliffe will thoroughly research Capparelli's record and that he will find some tax-hike votes. As shown in the adjoining vote chart, this year Capparelli voted to increase the riverboat casino tax, increase state liquor license fees, increase 90 various state fees, and impose a sales tax on aircraft sales.

In 2002 McAuliffe made Bugielski appear as the "Abominable Taxman," and it was fatal. McAuliffe surely will unearth upwards of 100 Capparelli votes for tax and fee hikes over the past 33 years, and he'll go negative on his opponent. Does Capparelli really have the desire to accept that kind of abuse? And does he have the fortitude to reciprocate and go negative on McAuliffe?

Fourth, what is the rationale for another Capparelli term? McAuliffe, age 39, is young, vigorous, and just as conservative as Capparelli. He is a "lifer," a politician who will serve in the General Assembly for his whole life and who has no ambition for higher office. McAuliffe has served since 1996 and, over time, he will accumulate more seniority and clout, which will help his district. So Capparelli must convince voters to give him, at age 79, another term or two, rather than retain the younger and more vigorous McAuliffe.

 And lastly, there's ego. Does Capparelli really want to risk ending his long career with a defeat?

Included in the adjoining vote chart for the 2003 session are five area Democrats -- Capparelli, Joe Lyons (D-19), John Fritchey (D-11) and Rich Bradley (D-40), all of Chicago, and Lou Lang (D-16) of Skokie -- and two Republicans -- McAuliffe of Chicago and Rosemary Mulligan (R-65) of Des Plaines. All except Lang and Mulligan are "House lifers." Lang, who briefly ran for governor during 2001, likely will run for state treasurer in 2006. Mulligan covets Henry Hyde's (R-6) congressional seat, and she will run for it when Hyde retires.

 The representatives voted alike on about two-thirds of all 2003 roll calls, but major differences surfaced on the SBC rate hike (Capparelli, Fritchey and Lyons opposed it), the riverboat casino tax hike (Lang and McAuliffe opposed it), the state fee hikes (Lang and Mulligan opposed them), and the inclusion of contraceptives under prescription drug coverage for state insurers (Capparelli and Lyons opposed that). Either Capparelli or McAuliffe won't be back in 2005, but the other incumbents are secure in 2004, and Democrat John D'Amico will win Capparelli's 15th District seat.